A 21-year-old Pakistani woman, unhappy in her new arranged marriage, is charged with murder after poisoning her husband’s milk that some two dozen members of his extended family later drank, resulting in 17 deaths, according to police.
The alleged incident took place in a rural village near the city of Multan in the eastern Punjab Province.
District police told NPR that the woman, identified by The Associated Press as Aasia Bibi, had earlier rejected two proposals from her current husband, but by the third proposal, her family forced her to marry him. The woman had wanted to wed a different man.
Days before the alleged poisoning, Bibi had fled her husband and returned to her parents’ house, pleading to stay. Police told NPR that Bibi’s parents forced her to return to her husband’s home, which the couple was sharing with his parents.
District police chief Sohail Habib Tajik told the AP that Bibi then obtained a poisonous substance from her boyfriend, Shahid Lashari, mixed it in milk and offered it to her husband last week. He never drank it.
Instead, his mother unknowingly used the poisoned milk to make yogurt lassis that she served to 27 members of the extended family.
The BBC reports that eight people died not long after consuming the drinks on Thursday, but the death toll has been rising and one week later, it stood at 17. Ten people remain hospitalized, reports AP.
On Tuesday, Bibi appeared before a judge to face murder charges and spoke to reporters gathered at the courthouse.
“I repeatedly asked my parents not to marry me against my will as my religion, Islam, also allows me to choose the man of my choice for marriage, but my parents rejected all of my pleas and they married me to a relative,” she said, according to AP.
The woman told reporters that her boyfriend gave her the poison that she mixed into her husband’s milk, reports the wire service. But she said she never intended for others to drink it and expressed remorse over their deaths.
NPR’s Diaa Hadid reports from Islamabad:
“In Pakistan, marriages arranged by families with minimal input by the bride and groom is common, although that is changing in urban areas. But in particularly traditional families, daughters are expected to comply entirely with their parent’s wishes. In those families and communities, girls can be promised to relatives or wealthier men when they are quite young. Divorce is seen as a deep shame which must be avoided at all costs, even if a woman stays in a violent or unhappy marriage.
“In such families, girls are also seen as a burden, because her family must provide for most, if not all, wedding expenses, pushing many into debt. That makes it even harder for families to support a daughter who seeks to divorce.
“But cases such as this — where a woman tries to kill her husband — is unusual. In Pakistan it is often the other way around: the country is one of the most dangerous in the world to be female.”
NPR’s Diaa Hadid and Abdul Sattar contributed to this report from Islamabad.