SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – Arranged marriages are an ancient Hindu tradition, but when a Massachusetts family went to meet a bride-to-be in India and judged her too ugly for the groom, they chose a 21st century solution.

They sued, seeking damages from the Maryland couple who tried to orchestrate the match.

Vijai B. Pandey, 60, of Belchertown, Mass., filed a civil complaint in state court here last month against Lallan and Kanti Giri of Boyds, Md., charging them with fraud, conspiracy and violation of civil rights resulting in emotional distress, and claiming $200,000 in damages.

When the Giris proposed a marriage between Pranjul K. Pandey, 37, and their niece in India, Vijai Pandey and his wife, Lalita, 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 she was comparable, and would learn English. The Giris agreed to compensate Vijai Pandey “for everything” if their niece was found unsuitable, the lawsuit says.

The Pandeys got a photo of the prospective 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.

Then, last summer, Lalita Pandey and a daughter, Pramila, traveled to India with Pranjul to finalize the marriage, according to the lawsuit. After the Giris’ niece, her mother and sister met them in New Delhi, the Pandeys called off the marriage.

They were “extremely shocked to find … she was ugly … with protruded bad teeth, and couldn’t speak English to hold a conversation,” Vijai Pandey states in his lawsuit. He also blames the woman’s complexion for the broken engagement.

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. He referred questions to Springfield lawyer Mark J. Albano, who refused to comment.

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 an interview.

Arranged marriages among Hindus remain “very common,” Nitai das said. “The families are much more active in the planning” than typical Americans, he said.

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.

Vijai Pandey says in his lawsuit that he 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.” The Giris declined.

The Pandeys and Giris had been friends since 1979, when the Giris lived in “extremely humble” circumstances in Amherst, Mass., 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 says in the lawsuit.

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 those charges were 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, others were settled.


(Marla A. Goldberg is a staff writer for The Republican of Springfield, Mass. She can be contacted at mgoldberg(at)repub.com.)

AP-NY-07-06-06 1652EDT

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