No is a difficult word


The road to school

Electoral carnivals, serial mayhem and, now, a sexual revolution. Bihar sports the entire range, as if for a spectator with an insatiable appetite for bizarre sociology. Two upper-caste, educated families in central Patna have been recently celebrating, with unabashed aplomb, their children�s wedding. The bride, Kirti Pandey, is seven and the groom, Raja Singh, is allegedly twelve, although he is known to be studying in class X. Their mothers are school teachers, the groom�s father a state government officer. The newly weds seem to be cohabiting in the Singh residence in the bustling heart of Patna, the constituency of the Bharatiya Janata Party legislator, Mr Sushil Modi. Kirti understands her wedded status, although she sullenly perceives it to be the fulfilment of her mother�s wishes. Astonishingly, both sets of parents are proud to have brought about a �revolution in society� for which they are willing to face police action and imprisonment. They feel triumphant for having slipped through a legal loophole: �if there is no complaint on child marriage, the police cannot touch you�. The police, after filing a first information report, has done nothing else so far. A few politicians have expressed varying degrees of official surprise and outrage .

This event, however, is not as revolutionary as its overseers would like to imagine. It can be understood in relation to a history determined, like most significant sociopolitical phenomena in Bihar, by the usual combination of factors � demographic patterns, caste, landed feudalism and custom. It so happens that there are more women than men in rural north Bihar, leaving the rich, feudal, land-owning upper castes, the Rajputs and the Bhumihars, in a crisis of succession and of property management. Landlords with a bevy of daughters are often in desperate need of able-bodied men to look after their property. This problem was resolved communally through annual child-marriage bazaars during the monsoon Shravanmela, a tradition rooted out in the last couple of years by the Rashtriya Janata Dal government, with its backward-caste �progressiveness� in these matters. This has, however, led to the frequent abduction of boys from their homes, followed by forced marriages with massive compensatory payments. Social pressure then prevents these boys from disowning their wives. With its splendid ability to turn the world upside down, Bihar thus manages to change patriarchy�s traditional hunters into the hunted. Nervous parents pack off their growing boys to the cities of south and central Bihar (where most train as bureaucrats), to save them from these rapacious rishtas. The terror is often kept up by the upper-caste militia, the Ranvir Sena. This rule of the gun has a political dimension as well. With the National Democratic Alliance consolidating its upper-caste electorate in north Bihar, the RJD hegemony of the �backward� is broken. The Rajputs and the Bhumihars are closing ranks against the Yadavs, and this changing political scenario provides covert encouragement to these feudal traditions. This is comparable to the resurgence of sati in certain parts of upper-caste, Congress-affiliated Rajasthan.

Kirti and Raja come from Bhumihar families, and with child marriages now frequently taking place in Patna�s Shitala temple and Arya Samaj, Bihar is perhaps witnessing the revival of a pre-modern culture in an urban context. This transposition gives to the practice a new � and professedly sexual � rationale, which is couched, in the case of these children, in a sickening and frightening version of petit bourgeois morality. The sanctity of infantile sexuality and the distractions of male puberty preoccupy their family guruji and mothers. This prompts these elders to recommend and enforce early wedlock as a �noble system� ensuring sexually secure, long and healthy lives. Ms Jagatnandini Pandey feels reassured that being married to Raja will guard her daughter from being �molested on the road to school�. The journey from agrarian feudalism to urban respectability is here completed. Bizarre indeed is the paradox of development, that the road from this middle-class haven leads � for mother and daughter � to school.    

Hansie Cronje is a serial confessor and he never repeats himself. He made a clean breast of his dealings with Indian bookies to the eminence grise of South African cricket, Dr Ali Bacher. Then he made a second clean breast of it to the South African sports minister. This was a different breast because Ali Bacher had been specific about the bookie payoffs Hansie had owned up to, but the breast bared to the sports minister was not just clean, it was Boer white, unmarked by the taint of money.

So Cronje had spoken of money but not received it; he had mentioned roping other players in without actually talking to them; he had conspired with bookies but had never actually fixed a match. Cronje wasn�t owning to the squalid south Asian habit of taking bribes. His sin, if he had sinned at all, was a more rarefied kind of wrongdoing, not a crime in law but an infringement of honour.

Cronje did the clean breast routine with his pastor too because he is, as South Africans are quick to tell us, a good Christian. We don�t know if this third confession matched the version according to Bacher or the version according to sports minister Ngconde Balfour or if it was one more variation played by the versatile Cronje on his mea culpa theme. Perhaps what he owned up to was the guilt of succumbing to temptation on a cellular phone, of talking the talk without doing the deed. A virtual sin if you like, not to be confused with the real thing.

Cronje, as his countrymen clearly see, is not a cheat. Alan Donald thinks he was set up. Bob Woolmer thinks he was set up. Barry Richards thinks he was naive and stupid. Ninety four percent of the respondents to a South African radio poll felt Cronje should play again. Ali Bacher, while relaying Hansie�s contrition, made it a point to say that Hansie was harassed by Indian bookies right through the Indian tour. A South African cricket official of Indian descent was beaten up by laager louts who knew � like Woolmer and Donald � that Cronje had had sin thrust upon him by desis.

Cronje, naive? This is the man who threatened to desert the South African team for a fat county salary unless the board offered him a more lucrative contract � and got his way. Cronje has two homes, the captaincy of a sports-mad nation�s cricket team, adulation and lots of money. He wanted more money and didn�t mind how he got it. That makes him greedy and cynical, not naive and stupid. Ambushed by the Delhi police�s tapes, he lied to everyone; confronted with the evidence, he confessed to everyone � and then dissembled about his confession.

That makes him greedy, cynical, dishonest and manipulative. Cronje confessed to Bacher that he had taken money from a bookie during the tri-nation series in South Africa before the Indian tour. A man who has signalled that he�s open to suggestions when the price is right can�t turn around and claim to have been harassed by bookies. When you�re selling, buyers will call to get their bids in.

The good Dr Bacher is keen on context. The Indian subcontinent, he pointed out in his statement, was the Problem. This is true. Mr Muthiah and Mr Dalmiya are in denial but sooner rather than later several Indian players will be fished out of the septic tank that passes for subcontinental cricket and hung out to dry. Outlook magazine will say �we told you so�, Mr Bindra will say �I told you so� and Mr Dalmiya will hold his nose and claim the revelations would never have come about but for his leadership of the International Cricket Council. And Dr Bacher? Dr Bacher will claim that he knew all along.

Already Outlook, the magazine that first broke the matchfixing story years ago, has praised Bacher�s acuteness in diagnosing the root of the ailment. It hasn�t occurred to the crusaders in that magazine that it is curious that this insight came to him only after the Cronje scandal broke. Had Bacher made a public statement about matchfixing before, that would have been an act of statesmanship, the intervention of a man concerned about the health of the game. Now it looks remarkably like damage limitation in Bacher�s backyard.

Suddenly, everyone in the cricketing world � players, umpires, cricket administrators � has a bookie story to tell. Cyril Mitchley, the South African umpire, has surfaced to tell of the times he was offered money by bookies. Why haven�t we heard of this before? Why didn�t match referees � allegedly informed of these offers � tell the ICC? Chris Lewis, the English all rounder, sold a story to the News of the World telling of English test players in the pay of Indian bookies. He first went to the English cricket authorities with this story eight months ago but nothing happened. The official investigating his complaint didn�t even ask for the names of the three players that Lewis claimed were involved in throwing matches. (Now why does this sound familiar?)

Bacher�s most recent statement to the press would do a tabloid proud: it�s stuffed with sensational allegations � about matchfixing during the world cup, about the Pakistan team throwing the fixture against Bangladesh, about the likely involvement of the Pakistani umpire, Javed Akhtar. Bacher explicitly charges Akhtar with fixing the last test match between England and South Africa by handing the English a series of leg-before-wicket decisions. This is a career-ending charge against a test umpire: so has Bacher learnt something about Akhtar recently that he didn�t know earlier? If he knew that umpires were fixing test matches why didn�t he say a word then and why is he singing now?

The answer�s simple: the men administering the game knew there was matchfixing going on but national honour in every case demanded that the truth be suppressed, that inconvenient witnesses be fobbed off with token enquiries. Cricket relies on chauvinism for its television money and gate receipts � no country was about to admit to its black sheep first.

The perfect example of this attitude is the furtive, hole-in-the-corner way in which the Australian authorities dealt with Shane Warne and Mark Waugh when they were discovered taking money from bookies. The incident was suppressed and Mark Waugh had the gall to journey to Pakistan to testify in a matchfixing enquiry conducted by the Pakistanis. When the scandal broke afterwards, Warne and Waugh claimed they had been paid for information about the pitch and the weather! They got away with a slap on the wrist and a fine.

Unhappily for Bacher, Cronje is on tape and the Delhi police keeps serializing his story. Cronje has tried the Australian Defence (I-sold-information-not-matches) but it doesn�t seem to be working, so we have Bacher down in the dirt, shovelling, hoping to spread the manure around. This is Plan B or the Warren Hastings Defence.

It goes like this. The subcontinent is a swamp of oriental corruption. The usually upright Occidental doesn�t stand a chance: he�s sucked into the slime. It�s nearly involuntary and not really his fault. Cronje�s little payoffs, Warne�s indiscretions (like Hastings� East India fortune) are symptoms of an Indian disease. So if the Indians and Pakistanis reform their bookies, make betting legal and generally stop being corrupt, seduced white men could go back to being honest again.

It�s a decent defence and 200 years ago it worked; Hastings was acquitted. Legalized betting might largely replace shady bookies with respectable bookmakers and genuine punters but it wouldn�t stop players making money on the side. Rodney Marsh and Dennis Lillee bet on England winning a match against an Australian team of which they were key members, at odds of 500 to 1, and collected because Australia lost against the odds.

Exemplary punishment might make players think twice about extra-curricular earnings but nothing in the Australian record suggests an enthusiasm for punishment: Rodney Marsh runs the Australian Cricket Board�s cricket academy and Shane Warne (only half-jokingly) is looking forward to his knighthood.

Instead of waiting for the Indians to lead them not into temptation (or deliver them from evil), Dr Bacher might teach his South African charges a lesson they should have learnt in Bible class: the notion of individual responsibility. He could have them coached on how to turn down bookies without hurting their feelings. And the Board of Control for Cricket in India could help by supplying him (and the Aussies) a list of Indian synonyms for �no�.    


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