Fear of wrath of upper caste makes dreams of Dalit grooms to ride a mare on wedding day a nightmare in Gujarat

Weddings are a joyful occasion but in many villages, in Gujarat, Dalit weddings are becoming about asserting their rights which in turn is leading to caste conflicts in the villages. Dalit grooms who are riding a mare in their wedding processions are angering the upper and other dominant castes, which in turn is creating caste conflicts and also leading to boycotts.

 Fear of wrath of upper caste makes dreams of Dalit grooms to ride a mare on wedding day a nightmare in Gujarat

Representational image. Getty images

This is the marriage season and Dalit weddings where they are planning to ride a mare during the wedding procession are seeking police protection in their villages to avoid caste clashes in Gujarat. Dalit activists are saying that instead of ensuring that the rights of the Dalits are protection some police officials have asked them to avoid taking the marriage processions from the areas where the upper castes reside to avoid a conflict.

Mehul Rathod’s wedding in Lhor village in Kadi taluka in Mehsana district grabbed media attention when his wedding procession was opposed by Thakor community as he wanted to ride a mare in his wedding procession in mid-May. His father Manubhai Rathod said, “This is for the first time that a Dalit groom in my village has ridden a mare in his wedding procession. My son wanted to do it so I supported him. We also informed the police about it.” Mehul works in Ahmedabad in a private hospital.

Dalit activist Bharat Parmar said, “Though police have been informed days before the wedding, they were late and did not arrive till the situation turned tense. Following the wedding procession which was eventually conducted the villagers boycotted the Dalits of Lhor village.”

The sarpanch of Lhor village Vinuji Thakor made an announcement from the village temple that anyone who would sell groceries and milk, ground their wheat or ferried them in their autorickshaws would have to pay a fine of Rs 5,000. So the Dalits, numbering about 40 families in Lhor village were boycotted. Incidentally, Lhor village has a population of around 1,600 people.

It was only after Dalit activists and police intervened and booked the sarpanch for atrocities that the matter was resolved.

In several villages, especially in north Gujarat, Dalits faced opposition during their wedding celebrations. In Boriyav village in Sabarkantha in North Gujarat, Sanjay Rathod, a constable in the Gujarat Police mounted a mare during his wedding procession. He too faced opposition for this. Incidentally, Sanjay Rathod’s father too faced opposition in 1982 when he got married. He wasn’t allowed to serve delicacies at his wedding or decorate his house then.

In Sitvada village in Prantij taluka of Sabarkantha district, Anil Rathod’s wedding procession was stalled on 12 May. Here the dominant Darbars and Thakors, both OBC communities, opposed the Dalit wedding. Anil Rathod is a mechanic in the state transport depot in Naroda, Ahmedabad.

Again in Khambisar village in Aravalli district, Jayesh Rathod’s wedding was disrupted by Patels on 12 May. Jayesh has earlier infuriated Patels of his village when he took out a procession on 14 April to mark the birth anniversary of BR Ambedkar. Jayesh also inaugurated a library with 500 books in his house on the same day and is now seen as a beacon of Dalit aspirations in the village.

Bharat Parmar, who works for Navsarjan, an NGO for Dalit rights, said, educated Dalit youth are eager to exercise their rights and they are no longer afraid like their fathers or grandfathers were in earlier times. Also, with education, some measure of affluence has also come. Kiritbhai Parmar, another Dalit activist from Navsarjan said, “Now that the Dalit youth are educated and are working in cities, they are not ready to back down. They know their rights and want to do simple things like ride a mare on their wedding day, sport a moustache, wear fashionable clothes, ride bikes, have stylish haircuts, etc. They don’t see why they can’t aspire for such simple things and they are not afraid.”

However, the dominant castes are not used to Dalits spreading their wings and they are not amused with it.

Independent MLA from Vadgam and Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani speaking to this correspondent said, “Casteism is all over India but when the police have been informed it is their responsibility to ensure that peace is maintained. Also, police should have taken preventive measures to ensure that caste violence doesn’t occur. The government hasn’t undertaken any campaign to eradicate caste discrimination and neither have non-Dalit civil society groups spoken up against this current situation which the Dalits are facing.”  He said that this is the age of Dalit assertion which is not going down well with the dominant castes.

Dalit civil society groups including Navsarjan and also Mevani organised a meeting to tackle discrimination being faced by Dalits on 22 May, 2019 in Lhor village in Kadi taluka. Earlier, Dalit leader from Uttar Pradesh Chandrashekar Azad also visited the affected villages and met the families of the grooms and other Dalit leaders. He assured them his support.

Additional DGP KK Ojha in-charge of Prevention of Atrocities on SC, ST and Weaker Sections spoke to this correspondent on this caste-based clashes. He said, “We are being watchful and we have asked all district superintendents of police to regularly visit the villages to ensure that peace is maintained.”

Ojha denied that there was any leniency on the part of the police though he accepted that while trying to maintain peace in one wedding Aravalli DSP Falguni Patel might not have been able to control the crowd effectively in Khambisar village. In Lhor village, however, DSP Mehsana Manjita Vanjhara successfully controlled the situation and ensured that the wedding procession of Mehul went off peacefully.

However, a tense situation prevails in these villages in north Gujarat. Dalit activists said that since it is the wedding season many weddings are still scheduled and it is for the police to ensure that peace is maintained.

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Updated Date: May 27, 2019 15:40:55 IST