Other States

On horseback, fighting an oppressive custom

Dalit bridegroom Manoj Bairwa during his wedding procession at
Neem Ka Kheda village in Rajasthan’s Bundi district. Photo: Special Arrangement

Dalit bridegroom Manoj Bairwa during his wedding procession at Neem Ka Kheda village in Rajasthan’s Bundi district. Photo: Special Arrangement

Breaking caste barriers, Dalit youths in Rajasthan are asserting their identity by challenging social customs enforced by dominant communities, which don’t allow them to ride a horse in their wedding processions. A campaign set in motion by the administration has helped the Scheduled Castes to counter the taboos imposed on them.

The new social trend of Dalits 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 Operation Samanta (equality), launched by the police and the local administration in Bundi district, has enabled Dalit youths to regain confidence, assert their constitutional rights, and tie the nuptial knots with dignity. The out-of-the-box drive has also succeeded in convincing influential people in villages to treat their fellow citizens with respect and protect their rights.

Shriram Meghwal, 27, was the first Dalit bridegroom to perform all rituals of his wedding, including a ride on a mare, in Bundi district's Chadi village in January. His marriage procession, which went past the houses of dominant castes, was flanked by a group of policemen, as children and women danced and clapped with musical renditions.

Earlier this month, Manoj Bairwa, 24, rode a mare for his wedding procession in the narrow lanes of Neem Ka Kheda village, more than three decades after his uncle was thrashed in the same village when he dared to ride a horse on his wedding day. This time, villagers cutting across caste lines greeted him with garlands and sweets.

Bundi Superintendent of Police Jai Yadav told The Hindu that the administration’s campaign involved identification of villages with a history of discrimination against Dalits, followed by the appointment of ‘Samanta Committees’ for interacting with people belonging to both Dalit and higher castes. The members of these committees include the Sarpanch, Village Development Officer, Station House Officer, and two elders from each community.

“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. The Superintendent of Police accompanied the baraatis in Neem Ka Kheda village during the bindauri (supplication to deity) rites.

The committee members regularly meet Dalit families to make them aware of their rights and also explain the provisions of the law to people belonging to higher castes, while requesting them to stop orthodox practices. The police take instant action if they find that someone could create trouble for Dalit families during their wedding rituals. More than a dozen marriage functions of Dalits have taken place peacefully since Operation Samanta was launched.

A similar scene involving police protection was witnessed during the bindauri procession of the Indian Police Service officer of Manipur cadre, Sunil Dhanwanta, in Jaipur district's Surajpura village.

However, three persons received injuries when unidentified miscreants pelted stones on the wedding procession of a 23-year-old Dalit groom in the presence of police officials in Jhalawar district's Guradia Bharta village.

Director of the Jaipur-based Centre for Dalit Rights, Satish Kumar, said attacks on Dalits would continue until steps were taken to change the feudal mindset among the higher castes. The National Confederation of Human Rights Organisations has filed a petition before the National Commission for Scheduled Castes in connection with the Jhalawar incident.


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Printable version | May 19, 2022 7:16:57 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/riding-into-a-more-equal-future-dalit-bridegrooms-in-rajasthan-arrive-on-horses/article65065446.ece