New Delhi: After fighting for more than two months, in court and with the upper castes, a Dalit man finally has the permission to ride a horse and carry his marriage procession through the village.
Sanjay Jatav and his bride-to-be Sheetal are both Dalits and the procession route he had in mind wound through Thakur-dominated areas of her village in Kasganj district.
The Thakurs refused, and instead suggested the wedding be moved to an open ground close by the bride’s home, to “eliminate the need for an elaborate baraat".
Although the Constitution outlaws the practice of untouchability, discrimination persists in different forms. Dalits are often pushed into menial jobs like manual scavenging; subjected to forms of violence like rape and murder; denied access to public services; even punished for just asserting their rights.
Only a month ago, a 21-year-old Dalit man was hacked to death in Gujarat by three Kshatriya men, apparently because he owned and rode a horse. In a symbol of Dalit defiance, Pradip Rathod’s funeral procession was led by his horse, Raju.
Last April, a Dalit groom in Haryana was pushed off the horse he was riding while his family members in the wedding procession were beaten up by upper caste men. A month later, another Dalit groom was beaten up for “daring" to ride a decorated car in Chhatarpur district of Madhya Pradesh.
A 2006 survey of untouchability in rural India, which studied 565 villages in 11 states, said Dalit wedding processions were banned in 47% of the villages and that a marriage procession passing through a village street was “the most severely sanctioned public activity."
“Once upon a time Dalits were not even allowed to walk on the upper caste streets. Now Dalits walk on the streets, celebrating with these higher markers of comfort like band baja, horses, expensive cars…And obviously all of this still causes discomfort to the upper castes," said Dalit entrepreneur and writer Chandra Bhan Prasad.
In Jatav’s case too, Kasganj district magistrate R.P. Singh was quoted by an article in The Indian Express as saying he would not concede to Jatav’s demands because it would “start a fight" and break “paramapara" (tradition).
“When the Constitution says we are all equal, and chief minister Yogi Adityanath says we are all Hindus…why am I facing such a situation?" Jatav, a 27-year-old law student, told The Indian Express.