Editorial 1
Editorial 2
All bets are off
Fifth Column
This Above All
Letters to the editor


Poor thinking

The extreme left and extreme right were banging pots and pans when the figures for this year’s national sample survey were released. World Bank analysis of the data indicated that after a decade of reforms, the percentage of rural poor increased by one per cent. The NSS figures were quickly held up by the opponents of reforms as evidence India took a wrong turn in the road in 1991. But the survey painted a peculiar picture. One, it indicated the percentage of urban poor had fallen four points. Two, it showed that no income group, rich or poor or middling, had been affected by a decade of liberalization. The NSS survey, based on only 20,000 households, is now being questioned by economists. It is not merely that its picture of a stagnant decade flies in the face of observable reality. There is also a lot of countervailing information.

The most important of these is the Central Statistical Organization. More than half the CSO’s data comes from the NSS. Nonetheless its number crunchers concluded the economy experienced an average of six per cent growth through the Nineties. While the rewards were skewed to the rich, the CSO makes it clear that liberalization was a tide that raised all boats. The National Council of Applied Economic Research household survey is similar to that of the NSS’s. Its last set of measurements showed the percentage of low income Indian households falling by a tenth between 1988-89 and 1995-96 to 49 per cent. Finally, a Princeton University team headed by two academics took their own measures between 1987-88 and 1993-94. They came out with evidence of the percentage figures for rural Indians below the poverty level falling quite dramatically in this period. Rural poverty fell by seven percentage points and urban poverty by even more. Only part of this is attributable to liberalization. What even supporters of reform will admit is that poverty reduction was faster in the Eighties than the Nineties. Wages for the poorest of the poor — unskilled farm workers — rose an inflation adjusted 2.4 per cent a year during the Nineties. This was about half the rate of increase of the previous decade.

This may still give anti-reformists something to crow about. However, the figures would deceive. First, whatever the results of the Eighties, they were accomplished through policies that drove India to the point of insolvency in 1991. Second, every reformer from Mr Manmohan Singh onwards has said India needs to spend a lot more on education, healthcare and the like. They are the first to accept that the poor will never be able to reap the full benefits of the market otherwise. Such social development takes money. But this money is not forthcoming as long as it is spent on an unproductive public sector and on wasteful subsidies — both of which anti-reformists hold close to their hearts. Finally, and perhaps most noteworthy, is that liberalization has done little for the rural poor for the simple reason that the agricultural sector has not experienced an iota of reform. Again, this is because liberalizers have not been allowed to let the market loose in the fields. One truth remains. The most stunning examples of recent poverty alleviation have been in southeast Asia and China. China alone has lifted 200 million people above the poverty level in just two decades. Economic liberalization was the opening act for both historical dramas.    


Earthly knot

The region lying between civil law and personal has always been grey. Politics has further messed it up. The issue of an amendment in the Christian law of divorce has therefore been caught up in a controversy that now involves both the law ministry and representatives of various denominations of the church. The Christian divorce law is weighted in favour of the man, who can get a divorce on the basis of desertion or adultery. But a wife would have to establish desertion with adultery or incest or bigamy in order to obtain a divorce. So a woman who has not seen her husband for years must still prove her husband adulterous if she is to get a divorce. An amendment in this provision is more than welcome. It would also bring the law closer to constitutional aims of equality before the law. The proposal for an amendment was first put forward by Mr O. Rajagopal, the Union minister of state for law, in Thiruvananthapuram in November last year. This was a smart move by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government at a time anti-Christian activities seemed to be spinning out of control all over the country. The place for the announcement was well chosen, since Kerala has a huge Christian population and over 50,000 cases of divorce under the Christian Marriage Act piled up in the courts. Any sign that the BJP was thinking sensitively about the Christian community’s problems was seen as a positive sign.

It should be noticed that the formal proposal from the Centre has come when anti-Christian activity and protests from the community have intensified again. But this time it has come with a rider which community leaders are finding unacceptable. The Christian marriage bill to be put before Parliament proposes that only Christians be married under this act, and marriage with a non-Christian be registered under the Special Marriage Act. Since the Christian marriage law did not demand that both persons be Christian, the proposal is being seen as a trick to isolate conversions. The church feels it would also curb the freedom to decide how to marry. It will be truly sad if this controversy prevents the amendment to the Christian divorce law. This is one change that is sorely needed.    

We are paying a price, an unacceptably heavy price, for keeping betting on cricket illegal. The entire operation is controlled by a network of illegal bookies whose tentacles crisscross the whole of India and several other countries which share our ridiculous policies.

The underground does not care two hoots about the finer points of cricket. When it is already breaking the law by accepting bets, it is not going to be deterred from going one step further by conniving to fix the outcome of a match on which millions of rupees are riding.

This is the pernicious effect of laws that victimize those they are supposed to protect. If Indians make so many laws, and laws of such a nature that otherwise upright individuals are forced to break them, a law abiding nation is turned into a country of habitual lawbreakers. And all just to stop people from having a drink or placing a bet.

Disrespect for one set of laws usually leads to disrespect of all laws — even laws which are actually for our good. Time and time again, experience has shown it is not possible to abolish a popular activity by fiat. Whether it is drinking, gambling or prostitution, delegitimization merely drives the activity underground; from the custody of entrepreneurs into the hands of criminals.

The surest way to ensure criminals run an activity is to criminalize it. The best way to ensure law abiding business people are in charge of an activity is to declare it legal. During the Twenties prohibition era in the United States, the mafia controlled the manufacture, purchase distribution and sale of alcohol. When prohibition was repealed, the liquor trade, like trade in soft drinks, passed into the hands of corporations operating within the ambit of the law.

It took time, but ultimately the liquor business passed from the hands of Chicago gangsters like Al Capone to the distributors of John Walker & Sons, makers of the Scotch, Johnnie Walker, and James B. Beam Distillers., makers of the bourbon whisky, Jim Beam.

If the US brought back prohibition now, people would not stop drinking. But corporations would be forced to move out of the liquor business. The liquor trade would move back to where it was during prohibition — with gangsters like Al Capone.

The story in India has been no different. The Gandhian ideal of a liquor free India has remained just that: an ideal. The moment any state tries to enforce prohibition, the trade passes into the hands of criminals who are just waiting in the wings. The ill-effects of such “idealistic” policies soon become so pervasive that, as in the US, state after state in India has reluctantly had to admit defeat and decriminalize liquor and drinking. Andhra Pradesh and Haryana being the most recent examples.

Gambling is no different. Till the mid 20th century gambling in the US was controlled by the mob, much as it is controlled in India today. The likes of Bugsy Siegel ran the vast gambling networks in the U.S. In an exact parallel, our own homegrown Mumbai mafia controls betting on cricket.

The tentacles of this mafia, as happened in the US half a century ago, have spread across the length and breadth of this country. Underworld bookies, often operating hand in glove with law enforcement authorities, make it possible for virtually anyone in the country to be never more than a local call away from placing an illicit bet.

As cricket gambling is totally clandestine, the amount which changes hands with every one-day matches cannot be estimated precisely. Considered guesses vary from a conservative one billion rupees to well over five billion rupees being wagered on each one-day event. It would have been impossible to have such an elaborate network in place without the active connivance of India’s police.

The U.S. learnt its lesson from prohibition. Drink was legalized. The lessons are so ingrained in the American psyche that no one dares talks of reintroducing prohibition for fear of derision.

The US also found it impossible to control, let alone abolish, gambling. In the Forties, the state of Nevada decided to take advantage of the human propensity to gamble and legalized games of chance. Again, it took years to pry the business out of the hands of organized crime into the care of huge legitimate corporations like Mirage Resorts, MGM, Hilton and Sheraton.

Today Las Vegas, Nevada’s largest city, is home to nine of the world’s 10 biggest hotels. Its 5,000 room hotel-casinos are run by firms who employ career professionals. Tough competition ensures that consumers, that is the betting public, get a fair deal, and more.

Casinos in the US feature gambling of all sorts — card games to dice, banks of slot machines to betting on sporting events all over the world. The free-market ensures the survival of only those corporations who can provide the utmost in consumer service. Unethical and incompetent firms end up bankrupt just like in any other business. Huge gambling casino-hotels are frequently dynamited and wiped off the Las Vegas skyline to clear the way for more efficient and ever more customer friendly establishments.

We need to decriminalize cricket betting in India. We are a cricket-crazy society, and for many of us betting on the games adds to the excitement of watching matches. What is the rationale for keeping such betting illegal? Even if we were to concede the presumption that a ban serves some greater social purpose, it is universally acknowledged that it is just not possible to stop this activity.

The law as it stands today serves no purpose. Its only use is to protect the mafia from competition from legitimate businessmen. It is precisely free competition which would result in far greater protection for the consumer, by ensuring better odds for the vast majority of the betting public.

It is only when this mammoth operation passes into the hands of corporations like the Hilton in the U.S. and Ladbrokes in the United Kingdom that the various abuses associated with it will stop. Corporations have very little to gain and much to lose from match fixing scandals and other scandals. Their reputations cannot afford to be tarnished by the smallest stain of suspicion. When was the last time anyone heard of Ladbrokes or Hilton trying to fix any sort of sporting match? It is simply unheard of.

If the mafia is to be forced out of cricket, if we are to avoid match-fixing scandals, there is really no option but to legalize gambling. As it is, even if such a law was passed, it would take many years before gambling would pass fully into the hands of legitimate businessmen and companies. The mafia will not be displaced overnight.

Thanks to the government, right now only the mafia has the expertise to run sports betting in India. Betting should have been liberalized when it started. The next best time is now. The debate must begin. It takes no time at all for a mafia to seize control of an activity once it is declared illegal. It takes years for legitimate, consumer conscious businesses to take over and run an enterprise, including gambling. Irrespective of what inquiries are held or how many people are arrested, if gambling remains against the law, cricket will never be free of the mafia

The author is a casino manager in Kathmandu, Nepal    


A pile on in the road to justice

A recent newspaper report reveals that nearly 250,000 cases are pending before the Calcutta high court and that an average 20,000 new cases appear before it annually. Every court in India is similarly over-burdened. No wonder justice is delayed and thus denied to a large section of people. Eminent jurists warn that unless systematic steps are taken to improve it, the entire judicial administration will collapse.

Mounting costs of litigation is the primary obstacle to justice. Ordinary citizens find it too expensive to obtain justice; often the aggrieved would rather bear with injustice than seek legal redress. Constitutionally, every citizen has equal right of access to courts for redressing grievances. But, at times, one party in a law suit can afford the prolonged services of eminent jurists while his opponent cannot, and hence gives up the battle.

In some developed countries, the government helps people who cannot seek judicial remedy. But in India, no such measure has been adopted . The 42nd amendment of the Constitution says the state should ensure that “the legal system promotes justice on the basis of equal opportunity and...ensures that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disabilities”. But, this provision was integrated into the Directive Principles which are non-enforceable in nature.

Delayed is denied

The state has also not reduced the court fees which the poor find difficult to pay. Back in 1982, the Union law minister had said that the government was contemplating such a proposal, but nothing has yet been done in the matter. Also, there is no ceiling on fees charged by leading jurists.

Moreover, there is the crucial problem of delay. The judicial process seeks to establish the truth by examination and re-examination, arguments and counter-arguments, which naturally take time. But for the citizen, justice delayed is justice denied. The law commission estimates that only 36 per cent of the cases that come up for disposal every year are actually decided.

Judicial settlement in India is often a three or even four-tier affair, because many appellate cases are finally decided by either the high court or the Supreme Court. Often, the waste of time and money takes away the energy to wait for the final verdict. In 1973 about 411,000 cases were pending before 17 high courts. This figure rose to 810,100 by September 1980. The Supreme Court too is similarly burdened — thousands of new cases joining the already formidable backlog, leading to cases snowballing.

Recently, the law minister directed the chief justice to see what could be done to tackle the worsening situation. The chief justice, in turn, conveyed his concern to the high courts. But there was little improvement, since the problem cannot be solved by the isolated efforts of a few judges, however energetic.

Change for the faster

Procedural changes may be one way to check delays. For example, disallowing adjournments for insufficient reasons. Lawyers often ask for adjournments since it is profitable for them. On occasion, rich litigants ask for them to force poor opponents to seek a disadvantageous out-of-court settlement. Greater care should also be taken in choosing judges since a good judge takes less time than an inefficient one. The administration’s tardiness in filling up vacancies in the judiciary is another case for delays.

Lok adalats have greatly helped to make justice affordable for the poor. But adalats have not been established evenly or systematically in the country, hence a large number remains outside their scope. The higher courts have also done well to start accepting public interest litigations, even on the basis of newspaper reports or personal letters. These have helped the people, but governments are not too happy with judicial interference.

Above all, legal procedures remain cumbersome, unintelligible and obscure to most people. They are conducted by professional jurists, litigants on both sides hardly appreciating the underlying niceties. Also the law is often un-Indian in spirit, content, even language. There is a huge gulf between the judiciary and the masses and unfortunately no serious attempt has been made to bridge it. It needs to be reoriented to serve the interests of the people, and to address the deficiencies of society.    


Torrid trail from dargah to madhouse

She was working in a college run by a dargah, in all probability located in Hyderabad. Her husband, Srinivas Ranganathan, dealt in real estate and looked for patronage from the family which managed the dargah. Their son Ganesh was in school and a close friend of the grandson of the imam. Most important, Prema was a stunning beauty and something of a nymphomaniac. And indiscreet.

She became the mistress of the imam’s eldest son, Murtaza. One afternoon, while they were making love, Prema’s son returned unexpectedly early from school and watched the goings-on in the bedroom through the keyhole. On his part, Murtaza left one of Prema’s torrid love letters in his unlocked table drawer.

It was found by the principal of the college who strongly resented Prema’s hold on the boss’s son and passed it on to the imam. Prema got the sack. A day later the imam died of a stroke and Murtaza succeeded him as the imam. Much to the chagrin of Murtaza’s wife, her husband resumed his liaison with Prema.

Some days later, Prema was abducted and taken to a faraway farmhouse. She had no compunction in enjoying sex with her abductor. The ransom of rupees one lakh was paid by her husband (assisted by Murtaza) and Prema was back home.

Once again she was kidnapped, this time by Murtaza’s younger brother, Shakil, who was a nut case. He took her in the farmhouse, murdered and buried her. A snooper who had spied the burial of Prema’s corpse informed the police.

Shakil was arrested and tried for murder. Under his lawyer’s advice he pleaded guilty but insane and enacted a scene of a fit of madness in court. All he got was six months in a lunatic asylum.

In the nut house he befriended a young, beautiful virgin. There the Muslim male and Hindu virgin consummated their love. Murtaza’s wife rejoined her errant husband. Prema’s bereaved husband found another wife. Shakil no doubt managed to get his nutty girl out of the nut house to live with him. All’s well that ends well.

Out of this contrived story Shiv Kumar has churned out a novella, Infatuation: The Crescent and the Vermilion . He is described as a novelist, short story writer, poet, playwright, translator and critic.

His academic achievements are formidable: a doctorate in English literature from Cambridge, a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature (London) and winner of the Sahitya Akademi award for his collection of poems, Trap Falls in the Sky. He was professor of English at the Osmania University, Hyderabad, and lives in comfortable retirement in the city.

Shiv Kumar is a gifted poet — poetry is a gift given by the gods. They have not been as generous in gifting him qualities that go towards making a good novelist. Apart from cooking up an unlikely plot around which he has woven his story, none of his characters come alive, they use the same sort of language (Shiv Kumar’s), their profiles are stereotyped and even his explicit descriptions of copulations are in turgid prose. He should stick to doing what he is best at — composing poetry and translating Urdu poetry into English.

Fresh air and frontage

For many years past I spent my Christmas and New Year’s day in Goa in the same hotel on the same beach, Bogmalo. The hotel changed ownership and names, managers came and went, most of the staff stayed and gave it a sense of continuity.

I got to know many of them by name as I did those of a few restaurant owners in Bogmalo village. I was hoping to spend the Christmas of 1999 and New Year’s Day of 2000 in the same hotel.

Despite a booking made a year earlier, the management expressed its inability to offer me a room during the peak seasons as they expected an invasion of foreign tourists for the millennium celebrations. For the same reason no airlines company was willing to give me confirmed seats on Delhi-Goa-Delhi flights.

But the millennium celebrations turned out to be a flop: all Goa hotels had lots of vacancies and there were plenty of seats available in flights to and out of Goa. That was little consolation for me and I reconciled myself to the notion that I’d never see Goa again.

The guru heard my prayer. He made the Punjab government bestow the Nishan-e-Khalsa on me at Anandpur on Baisakhi of 1999. I was invited to participate in a seminar to mark the end of the tercentenary celebrations of the founding of the Khalsa on Baisakhi day in Goa.

So I found myself aboard a Sahara Airways flight under the command of Captain Bakshi whom I had met earlier.

I regaled the crew with the latest Punjabi jokes: the two and a half hour journey seemed to be over in 20 minutes. At Dabolim Airport I walked into a floral welcome given by a group of sardar families. Ten minutes later I was in Hotel Park Plaza: same smiling faces, to welcome back.

Though the peak tourist season was over, the hotel was full of foreigners with a sprinkling of Indians. In the lobby I heard English, French, German,Portuguese, Italian and lots of Gujarati. I heard the roar of the sea and breathed air as fresh as the day god created the world. Never before had I seen fatter men and women in the hotel than last year.

One young girl in particular, still in her teens, was bursting fore and aft — massive frontage balanced by an even more massive derrière. It occurred to me that ungainly people attract more attention than those with normal form and shape. There they lay sprawling round the bathing pool like walruses displaying their blubber through their very scanty bikinis. How could I keep my mind from straying from the novel I was reading to these splendid specimens of globular flesh?

I have yet to learn to be moderate about some things: one is coconut milk. No sooner I find myself in a coastal town, where coconuts are plentiful that I go for them like a camel which fills its belly with water before setting out on a long journey across the waterless desert.

Three to four coconuts a day with the usual intake of tea, coffee, beer before lunch, sodas with Scotch, wine with dinner till by bladder is full to bursting. Every two hours, be it day or night, I have to empty it.

At times it can be very embarrassing. So it was at my first official engagement: a meeting with the media. Goa has six Marathi dailies, one Konkanese and three English. So I was put through an hour and a half of question and answer grilling till my bladder called an end to the session.

Commander Niranjan Singh is a formidable character; short, stocky with a commanding voice. After he retired from the navy he decided to make his home in Goa. It is a large double storeyed house commanding a view of the sea. There he lives with his wife, four sons, daughters-in-law and many grand children.

They live in considerable style as he supplements his pension with income generated by two dredgers. His abiding passion is to spread the message of his gurus.

He is president of the two gurdwaras in Goa. He refused to have paid granthis, but has honorary sevadars (caretakers) to look after them. All akhand paths and kirtans are performed by volunteers. He was the moving spirit behind the decision of the government to finance a seminar on Guru Govind Singh.

I could sense his missionary zeal on the way to the venue of the meeting. With us in the car was his seven year old grandson. “Recite the mool mantra”, he ordered. The boy dutifully recited the opening lines of the Sikhs’ morning prayer. “Now name the ten gurus,” he ordered. The boy dutifully named the ten gurus.

I had prepared my speech for a non-Sikh audience. Facing me was a hall packed with sardars and their wives. I was disappointed. The only non-Sikhs I could notice were the young minister, Subhash Shirodkar; Archana Arora Naik, his assistant and perhaps a couple of others. I made a brief and listless speech. I did not stay for the second half of the seminar and got a lift from the naval airforce commodore, R. Gupta, and his lovely Goan wife, Helen, who lived close to my hotel.

The most important event in Goa was on April 15, 2000. It was the 54th birthday of its chief minister Francisco Sardinha. I counted the number of insertions, boxed with photographs, wishing him many happy returns in The Navhind Times. A large one on page one showed him with his finger pointing towards a great future.

Page three had only one; page four had five; page five one, but a large one; page seven was entirely devoted to him and his family comprising his wife and three children, his pictures with the president and the prime minister; page 12 had four which occupied three-fourths of the page; page 13 had 12 leaving only a quarter of the page for other news; page 15 had seven.

There was also an announcement that after attending mass, the chief minister would be available to the public for darshan: He has been given the title of the silent performer. He may be.

But in no other state have I met this form of shameless sycophancy; panchayats, youth clubs, gas stations, shop keepers, jewellers, professionals vying with each other to pay homage to their chief minister. I wonder if they did so before he became the chief minister or will do so after he ceases to be the chief minister.

Chooser takes all

One of the MLAs in Lucknow told a commission enquiring into a case of alleged bribery in the recent Rajya Sabha elections that he had received five lakh rupees from the BJP candidate. On cross-examination it was revealed that he had also received five lakh rupees to vote for the Congress candidate.

The chairman of the enquiry commission then asked the MLA: “For whom did you actually vote?” The MLA replied, “I voted, sir, according to my conscience.”

(Contributed by Judson K Cornelius, Hyderabad)    


The naked and the nude

Sir — The West’s continued obsession with nudity is difficult to understand, considering dress codes there are less strict than say, in India (“Good results”, April 21). Nudity on screen, too, has been done to death. Which is why one can’t quite make out what it is about stage nudity that has had the cash registers ringing in plays like The Blue Room and, recently, The Graduate. True, “a naked human being is the first icon and this first totem still has power”, but I don’t suppose Nicole Kidman or Kathleen Turner can at all be likened to naked, “unaccommodated man”. To the audience, they are “nudes”, at once immediate and distant, framed simultaneously by the intimacy and the remoteness of the lit stage. Clothes are a metaphor, for civilizational fetters, for racial differences, just as nudity too is a garb. Hence stage nudity can be used to enact a powerful critique of social mores. It is a pity that none of the two plays explores this potential but fritters it away on titillation instead.

Yours faithfully,
Srimoyee Sinha,

Dream merchants

Sir — This is with respect to the debate, “Free to charge or charged to kill” (April 20). I feel it would be better to discuss what is practical instead of what “should be done”, as recommended by the various interviewees regarding the raising of ticket prices in cinema halls. Let us start first by abandoning the concept of morals and culture, which has, any way, ceased to be of consequence.

The absence of scruples was amply demonstrated by the gross misuse of the Rs 15 railway monthly ticket. That “culture” no longer matters is clearly inferred from the innumerable films which pass through the censor board, sometimes with a “U” certificate, in which the dress, behaviour and violence are discordant with our culture.

The question is, why do we need to keep the cinema halls alive? The public has turned its back on them not only because of the advantages of television and video. Due to their disgusting ambience, a visit to most cinema halls is hardly a pleasant experience. There could only be one reason for the continuance of this institution — the benefit of a large number of people who depend on cinemas for their livelihood.

When a particularly popular film is released, irrespective of its quality or vintage, ticket blackers openly make money in front of the cinema halls. That means, the public has money to spare. Why not allow the exhibitors to be their own official “blackers” by allowing them to set whatever ticket price the market will bear? That way, a larger fraction of the ticket money will benefit the hall owners. If there is good money in showing films, there will be competition for providing the best service at the lowest price.

The hall owners will have the impetus to retain more employees and keep the halls clean. The cinema industry will thrive and more people get employed. In the districts, decent families might resist the surreptitious exhibition of blue films so that they can spend a nice evening in the cinema hall.

The next question is, how many people will be benefited? Beneficiaries of the present system are the blackers, the conniving hall employees, the local “tolabajs” and, of course, the police. Of these, only the blackers and the conniving hall employees will lose. Like squatters and hawkers, they also have the right to a livelihood.

Yours faithfully,
L.N. Roychoudhury,

Sir — The liberty to fix ticket prices can be granted to cinema hall owners. But this would benefit only a few cinemas in central and south Calcutta which comprise only two per cent of the 600 odd cinema houses in the state. While allowing for the fixing of prices, allowances should be made for Sundays, holidays and night shows where attendance has fallen drastically.

Furthermore, service charges should be increased at least three fold and a certain percentage should be used for staff welfare. This would prevent cinema halls from evading the payment of entertainment tax. A small percentage of relief should be given to cinema halls depositing high taxes at the end of each financial year.

Yours faithfully,
Sunit Singh,

Sir — Why shouldn’t cinema exhibitors be allowed to fix their ticket prices? After all, this entertainment business cannot come under the “essential commodities” section. Moreover, with the small screen having invaded homes with their multiple channels, those who come to the cinema exercise their will without compulsion. In a developing country only essential commodities should have their prices controlled.

But, in India, is the state in a position to control the prices of these commodities? Don’t people buy what they can afford? If that is so, why should there be such a hue and cry over cinema halls fixing their own ticket rates? In fact, cinegoers need not worry. There will be no cinema owner who would risk losing his clientele by fixing rates that will keep people away. Moreover, what does the state have to lose? The move will generate further revenue by way of additional taxes. The very fact cinema halls are having to close down shows this sector is in urgent need of additional revenue.

Yours faithfully,
Arun Dave, Calcutta

Child’s play

Sir — Bihar is a state where the inconceivable can happen any time — a place where facts are often stranger than fiction (“At gunpoint, child turns groom for 20 year old” and the editorial, “Road to school”, April 23). In the case of the first report, a seven-year old boy from Bhojpur was abducted and forced to marry a 20-year-old-girl, while in the second case, a 12-year-old boy was ceremoniously married to a seven-year-old girl with the full consent of the parents of both.

Other things apart, there is one important dimension to these incidents. In most communities in Bihar unmarried girls find it difficult to be accepted, which is why they are married off in whichever way possible. Bullying and kidnapping are the common ways of achieving the goal. What can be more shocking than the fact that the parents of both the 12-year-old boy and the seven-year-old girl are educated middle class people? It is also a sad commentary on the negative values our society still harbours.

But, it would be wrong to think that the entire Bihar functions in this way. It is because of certain groups and castes that Bihar has become a place where “angels fear to tread”.

Yours faithfully,
M.N. Anjum, ,
Sir — A debatable marriage has been solemnized in Bihar (“Made for each other at 7 and 12”, April 19). According to the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, the consent of the parties is a must and so is their capability — both physical and mental — to enter into the relationship. Obviously, in this case, keeping in mind their tender ages, neither the bride nor the groom can qualify on these counts. The parents of the children, in spite of being educated, have justified the marriage on the ground that girls are insecure in Bihar. But is that reason enough for imposing such an unhealthy relationship on their own children?

I think the parents are either oblivious to their moral duties as parents or they are deliberately choosing to ignore these duties.What now if the girl becomes a mother at the age of nine or 10? And what assurance is there that the girl will be spared harassment or molestation after marriage, as the parents think? Instead of trying to give these children a good education which will equip them to make the correct choices later in life, the parents have unwisely led them the wrong way.

If such gross violation of the law goes unchecked, then it will not be long before more parents with similar skewed ideas commit the same mistake. I do not appeal for punishment of the parents, only that the marriage be annulled till the children come of age.

Yours faithfully,
Kamal Kant Gupta, ,
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