I found this rather strange folder in the Delhi archives: 1899/14 Rain Gambling – regarding gambling and opium. A notice of the Rain Gambling bill was circulated by a J. Wilson, Chief Sect to Gov, Punjab and Dependencies on 20th Dec 1898. The note states
STATEMENT OF OBJECTS AND REASONS:
The India Act III of 1867 was enacted with a view to suppress one form of gambling, i.e., with cards, dice and other similar instruments of gaming in public or common gaming houses. The ingenuity of man is, however, not wanting in devising means whereby while avoiding coming within the operation of that Act, he may yet indulge in the proclivity for gambling which is more or less natural to mankind. The Government is fully aware of the evil caused by public gambling. It has been fully established that it directly leads to crime. Recently the practice of rain-gambling has come into vogue at Delhi—the largest commercial town in the Province—to an extent which demands early action on the part of Government. It has already done much harm and tends to affect large numbers. In Egerton Road there are a number of shops occupied by men who register bets on the occurrence of rain within stated periods. In the rainy seson crowds of people of almost all classes gather in front of these shops, causing noise and uproar. In short a public nuisance exists which is causing much loss and misery. Instances have come to notice of ruin of several people. It is an immoral practice and is more calculated to have a demoralising and injurious effect on the people than almost any other form of gambling. The object of this Bill is to suppress this evil.
It appears to have caused some dispute with an official by the name of Maynard writing in reply that the account
‘seems to have been narrated by some native enthusiast who does not seem quite right about his facts. … as far as I know there is little if any rain gambling … the game indulged in is opium gambling as in Rewari.’
A second official, Davies, however points out that
‘there are 44 shops in Delhi where rain gambling is carried on. I attach list giving names of the shop keepers and streets etc.’
It appears that both rain gambling and opium gambling were common but rain gambling, perhaps predictably, only during the rainy season. Sarover Zaidi writes that rain gambling still happens in Bombay, ‘bets are laid on when the monsoon will hit’. Layli Uddin notes that rain gambling is also practised in Cambodia. Heid Jersten tells me that Stine Simonsen Puri is working on rain gambling in contemporary Rajasthan, you can watch a great presentation of her ethnography here. If anyone knows about ‘opium gambling’, I’d be interested to find out…
The illustration is of a rain gambling house in Calcutta from 1896.