Hindu family sues over ugly bride
Marla A. Goldberg:
Arranged marriages are an ancient tradition in India, but when a Belchertown family went there to meet a bride-to-be and judged her too ugly for the groom, they chose a 21st-century solution. They called the wedding off, and the groom's father is now suing for damages.
Vijai B. Pandey, 60, filed a lawsuit in Hampden Superior Court last month against friends who tried to arrange a marriage between his son Pranjul K. and their niece. The Pandeys, after spending money on long-distance calls and airfare, found her much too homely.
When the Pandeys saw the bride in New Delhi last August, they were "extremely shocked to find ... she was ugly ... with protruded bad teeth, and couldn't speak English to hold a conversation," Vijai Pandey stated in the lawsuit. The woman's complexion was also cited for the broken engagement.
Pandey's civil complaint against Lallan and wife Kanti Giri of Boyds, Md., seeks $200,000 in damages, and charges them with fraud, conspiracy and violation of civil rights, among other claims resulting in emotional distress.
Lallan Giri, an anthrax expert who has spoken at major scientific conferences on anthrax vaccine safety, said only, "We plead not guilty, 120 percent," when reached last week. Giri referred questions to Springfield lawyer Mark J. Albano, who refused comment.
However, the Giris' former lawyer, Matthew R. Hertz, said the conflict doesn't belong in court, and Pandey mischaracterized the original plan. "It was more of an informal 'would you like to meet her' ... no money ever changed hands that would require reimbursement," said Hertz, of Solomon, Malech & Cohen in Bethesda, Md.
Nimai Nitai das, president of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness of New England in Boston, said he hears occasionally of Hindu families seeking reimbursement for marriage arrangements gone awry. "In the U.S., sooner or later, everything winds up in court ... but I've never heard of a lawsuit about this," he said in a recent interview.
Arranged marriages among Hindus remain "very common," Nitai das said, adding that Westerners hold misconceptions about the practice, and marriages aren't planned before a child's birth.
Indian law sets a minimum marriage registration age of 18 for men and 21 for women. However, registration only became mandatory this year, following a decision by India's Supreme Court in February. More than third of brides in India are married before age 18, the Christian Science Monitor reported in May.
In parts of India, contracts are still written, Nitai das said, with stipulations including the bride's dowry. However, in modern Hindu society, arranged marriage means "the families are much more active in the planning," than typical Americans, he said.
When the Giris initially proposed a marriage between Pranjul K. Pandey, 37, and their niece, the Pandeys pointed out that Pranjul was handsome, personable and spoke English, and asked if the young woman was "equally beautiful ... and a good match," Pandey's lawsuit states.
The Pandeys were assured that she was comparable, and would learn English. The Giris agreed to compensate Vijai Pandey "for everything," if their niece was found unsuitable, Pandey wrote.
The Pandeys got a photo of the potential bride, but "couldn't tell much" from it. Nonetheless, they became "heavily involved by long telephone calls to India," and sent money for the woman's passport, anticipating her move to the United States after the wedding, court documents state.
A trip to India last summer, by Vijai Pandey's wife Lalita, their daughter Pramila, and Pranjul, was to finalize Pranjul's marriage, according to the lawsuit. The Pandeys arranged for the Giris' niece, her mother and sister to travel to New Delhi from elsewhere in India, but after an Aug. 22 meeting, called the marriage off.
Vijai Pandey asked the Giris for the compensation they promised, because they knew all along that the young woman "was homely and unsuitable and no match for Pranjul," he wrote. The Giris declined to give Pandey money, despite his phone calls to them last September, and a fax in March.
Nitai das said brides don't have to be pretty for arranged marriages to succeed. "I have seen some very handsome men who are happy with somewhat homely women," he said. Although Nitai das doesn't know people involved in the lawsuit, he said the plaintiffs may have been "reacting to ... the misrepresentation," about the young woman.
Lallan Giri is an executive at Emergent BioSolutions Inc. in Gaithersburg, Md., and Pandey, for reasons not fully explained, named the company as a defendant. Pandey is also suing Hertz and his law firm. Hertz sent Pandey a letter in March on the Giris' behalf, which was "extremely malicious," Pandey wrote.
The document was a standard "cease and desist," letter, Hertz said.
The Pandeys and Giris had been friends since 1979, when the Giris lived under "extremely humble," conditions in Amherst, the lawsuit states. Later, when Lallan Giri's career advanced and the Giris moved away, problems arose. "He started show-boating, boasting ... with (a) BMW, (a) Mansion, and acting as a big shot in a different class," Pandey wrote.
The Giris, Pandey said in the suit, made "innumerable, uninvited ... and imposing visits" to his Belchertown home, and used his computer for personal and official business.
In a brief phone interview, Pandey said he is a retired environmental engineer. He was once an Amherst insurance agent, according to newspaper archives.
In 1991, Pandey was sentenced to nine months in jail following a conviction for bank fraud in Springfield's U.S. District Court. In 1994, convictions from the 1980s, for larceny and leaving the scene of property damage, were overturned in Northampton District Court, and all charges dropped.
Pandey, who filed suit against the Giris on his own, has initiated several civil complaints since the 1980s. Defendants included Western Massachusetts judges and lawyers, an insurance company and others. Many cases were dismissed, and some were settled.
'Homely' bride prompts lawsuit