Dalit youths in Rajasthan are asserting their individuality by defying caste-based social conventions and taboos that robbed them of their dignity.
For decades, bridegrooms from lower castes were forbidden to imitate the high castes, especially by riding a horse in wedding processions.
The ‘logic’ apparently was that horse riding was symbolic of noble birth and valour, a trait of the high born, and that a man who descended from generations of menial workers and scavengers had no right to even dream of such pretensions.
It’s a whole new twist to the adage ‘If wishes were horses, beggars would ride’.
There have been several incidents in the past of the such wedding processions being waylaid by high caste mobs, who would pull the hapless bridegroom off his horse and thrash him soundly.
In a manner of speaking, a Dalit lad riding a mare to a his wedding was a bleeding nightmare !
In 2018, India Times reported that a horse used in a wedding procession died of injuries it had sustained during a stone pelting incident at Khambhisar village of Modasa tehsil in Aravalli district.
On May 12, that year, upper caste men pelted stones when a Dalit groom, Jayesh Rathod, was rising horse in the village. This was the first time the upper caste people set eyes on a Dalit bridegroom astride a horse.
The police registered a case under various provisions of IPC and Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocity) Act. The stone pelters were from Patiday community and included 16 women and 27 men.
This incident evidently put a damper on the nuptials, if a Dalit guy wanted to be brave enough to hire a nag to buck the trend. ‘Put a Dalit guy on horseback, and there’s no guarantee you’ll get your horse back’ was the signal to the local wedding planners.
Such incidents have been reported from various small towns and villages across North and Central India: Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh to name a few states.
In July last year, police in Meeerut, Uttar Pradesh had to provide police protection to a Dalit Bridegroom, who had received death threats from the Thakurs of Sardhana village, reports ANI.
Now, that’s changing ...
Dalit youth in Bundi district have regained confidence, asserted their constitutional rights, and tied the nuptial knots with dignity thanks to Operation Samanta (equality), which was launched by the police and the local administration.
The administration’s initiative has aided the Scheduled Castes in breaking the taboos that have been imposed on them.
The new social trend of Dalit men riding a mare at their wedding, seen by the higher castes as an act of defiance, has instilled confidence among underprivileged people living in the margins in a State with a long feudal history. The baraatis (who arrive in the wedding procession) and government officials celebrate together with pomp and show at these extraordinary marriage events.
The unconventional campaign has also persuaded powerful people in communities to treat their fellow residents with respect and to acknowledge their rights.
Shriram Meghwal, 27, was the first Dalit bridegroom in Bundi district’s Chadi village to complete all wedding ceremonies, including a horse ride, in January this year.
A group of cops accompanied the wedding procession. The children and women danced and cheered to music as they passed through the ‘upper caste’ area of the village.
Manoj Bairwa, 24, rode a horse in the alleyways of Neem Ka Kheda village for his wedding procession earlier this month, some 30 years after his uncle was thrashed in the same town when he dared to ride a horse on his wedding day.
Villagers from all castes greeted him with garlands, instead of bamboo sticks this time.
The administration’s initiative, according to Bundi Superintendent of Police Jai Yadav, entailed identifying areas having a history of prejudice against Dalits, then appointing ‘Samanta Committees’ to meet with people from both the Dalit and higher castes.
The Sarpanch, Village Development Officer, Station House Officer, and two elders from each community make up these committees.
“The drive has received community support in a proportion more than I had expected initially. It has turned out to be a success because of influential villagers being made stakeholders in the action to create harmony,” Mr. Yadav said.
Members of the committee visit Dalit families on a regular basis to inform them of their rights and to clarify the law’s provisions to those from upper castes, urging them to abandon conventional customs.
If the authorities suspect that someone is planning to cause trouble for Dalit families during their wedding ceremonies, they intervene quickly.
Since Operation Samanta began, more than a dozen Dalit marriage events have taken place in a peaceful manner.
Satish Kumar, director of the Jaipur-based Centre for Dalit Rights, warned that attacks on Dalits are liable to continue unless higher castes changed their feudal mentality.
With some inputs from Nishant Mishra