Sons-in-law in Odisha town get gambling allowance

Sons-in-law in Odisha town get gambling allowance

Gambling is illegal in India and police try their best to put an end to the age-old practice of  people wagering on virtually everything for about a month in the name of tradition in Ganjam district in Odisha.  Their efforts have yielded very little results and many a time they hit roadblock.

Berhampur town in Ganjam district virtually transforms itself into a mini Macau in China or Las Vegas in the United States. Comparisons may be a bit exaggeration but still the scale with which betting is done will allow the town to bid for mini-Macau or mini-Las Vegas title. However, there is a major difference between Macau and Las Vegas and Berhampur—while two centres are busy throughout the year, the Odisha town becomes a gamblers’ paradise for a month or so.

The authorities are at their wits end as parents give money to their children. The practice may sound too bizarre to belive but that happens in Berhampur--sons-in-law of the families are given “gambling allowance.” Also, people have lost lives in fights during or after gambling on petty issues.

The practice in the town even might put Chinese to shame as they are notorious for gambling. They bet on anything and everything from the birth of child to the death of a person on different issues. They love to engage themselves in betting if one were to go by Chinese at major gambling centres across the world.

The reason behind this tradition of large-scale gambling is the popular belief that indulging in such acts after Dasara, particularly on the night of Kumar Purnima, would bring in wealth and prosperity. There is also another belief  that will send shivers down the spines of believers-- not gambling could make them a owl in their next birth!

The history of gambling in the southern Odisha town dates back to centuries. “The tradition of gambling exists in Berhampur town and other areas of Ganjam district as well as in neighbouring districts for long. I have been seeing this from my childhood,” said Dr Jayanta Mohapatra, an eminent educationist from south Odisha and currently the Vice-Chancellor of the government-run Berhampur University.

Every year, a large-scale gambling -- in almost every household to be precise-- starts in Berhampur town and adjoining areas soon after Dasara. It reaches its peak on the night of Kumar Purnima and Laxmi Puja which were celebrated across Odisha on October 29 this year. It gradually reduces and comes to an end around Diwali.

During this period, everybody in the family-- old and young, male and female and even children-- indulge in gambling with their friends and relatives.

Playing cards appears to be the most preferred form of betting. They play popular gambling card games like “Kampi”, “Set”, “Nox”, “”Sequence” and “Pata”. The stakes range from a token Re one to over Rs one lakh. When people run out of cash, they do not mind placing valuables like gold rings and chains and even vehicles on the table. Apart from their homes, people also indulge in betting in illegal gambling dens which mushroom in the town during the season.

Every year, the police and the local administration, particularly in Berhampur town, try their best to stop these large-scale illegal gambling but in vain. They face stiff resistance from the  locals.

A few days back , a police team raided a library in Ankoli under Baidyanathpur police station limits of Berhampur following a tip off that a gambling session was on. However, as soon as the police reached the spot people started throwing stones and damaged their vehicle. Just a day before that incident, two policemen were seriously injured when their team was attacked by locals in Govindpur village under Seragada police station
limits near Berhampur while on an anti-gambling drive.

These setbacks, however, have not discouraged the authorities and they continue with their anti-gambling operations and nearly 500 people have already been arrested from different parts of Ganjam district. “Gambling may be a tradition here but it violates the Orissa Prevention of Gambling Act (OPGA) which is already existing in the state.
Therefore, we have to take action against the violators of the act,” said a Ganjam-based
senior police official.

Many observers are of the view that the tradition cannot be stopped by use of force or a legislation. What is needed is social awareness among common people about the negative impact of the tradition on their day-to-day life. “As gambling is a popular tradition observed by a large number of people, it can not be totally stopped. But it can be reduced through social awareness. Efforts must be made to save those who lose everything while indulging in betting and gambling,” said Dr Mohapatra, who hails from Parlakhemundi in Gajapati district which was earlier part of Ganjam district.

What also worries the observers as well as the police is the increase in the number of major crimes like murder during gambling season every year.  Just a few days back, a youth in a Ganjam village murdered a 22-year-old woman after an argument with her husband over Rs 700 lost in gambling. He was under the influence of alcohol when he committed the crime.

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