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Modern Bharat gambler pledges daughter

Sometime before 6th century BC: Yudishthir loses his wife, brothers and himself in a game of dice.

1886: Hay-trusser Michael Henchard auctions his wife and baby daughter to a sailor for five guineas in a drunken stupor in Thomas Hardy’s Mayor of Casterbridge.

2013: A Malda father who failed to pay Rs 85,000 he lost in a gamble decides to marry his minor daughter off to the winner.

A tale of primitive trade-offs and poverty-driven compulsions is playing out in a Malda village as the 14-year-old girl says she does not want to get married but will obey her parents and a section of the administration shows reluctance to get involved in a “family matter”.

The girl’s father, a paddy trader and habitual gambler, decided to marry off his school-going daughter to a 30-year-old trader in paddy, jute and mango after losing the card game in November.

Although the father refused to speak to this correspondent, the girl’s mother said the family was helpless.

“What can we do? My husband ran up a huge debt while gambling. Since then, the person to whom he lost has been coming to our home and demanding his money. When we told him that we were too poor to pay, he suggested that we marry off the older of our two daughters to him. We had no option but to agree,” she said.

Told that it was against the law to get a girl married off before she turned 18, the mother said: “She is growing up and is regularly teased on her way to school and back by youths of the village. We fear something bad might happen to her. That is why we thought it was better to marry her off.”

The girl said she did not want to marry but could not disobey her parents. “I do not feel like getting married, but I cannot go against the wishes of my parents,” she said.

She has a younger sister and a brother.

The two families did an ashirbad (blessing) ceremony on December 6. The mother of the prospective groom said she was against the wedding but dared not go against her son’s wishes. The wedding is supposed to be held on January 20.

“My daughter is doing her masters and we had planned to get her married first. But my son is stubborn and I had to agree to his wishes,” she said.

Told about the incident, Sabitri Mitra, the women and child development minister who hails from Malda, said this amounted to “the father selling his daughter to write off the debt”. “This cannot be tolerated,” she added.

A gram panchayat member who attended the ashirbad ceremony said she had told the girl’s family members that marrying off a minor was against the law, but they paid no heed. Asked why she did not lodge a police complaint, the panchayat member said she did “not want to get involved as both families had agreed to the marriage”.

Malda police chief Kalyan Mukherjee said that although the police had “not received any complaint from anyone yet”, he was making enquiries about the incident. “Marrying off a minor is a crime,” he added.

The Socialist Party gram panchayat member said she had been invited to the ashirbad along with her husband.

“This is a village matter and that is why I did not say anything. Both families have agreed to the wedding and that is why I went to both the houses for the ashirbad. I have informed the panchayat pradhan,” she said.

The Congress gram panchayat pradhan said he had heard about the wedding plan. “This is unfortunate. I will talk to both families and try to convince them that what they are doing is illegal,” he said.