Why do Dalit grooms keep getting attacked in marriage processions?

By Siddhant Thakur

Marriages and its processions (baraat) are supposed to be a time of happiness that perhaps lead to good memories. But, for a groom from the Dalit community, the marriage processions usually gets gripped by fear and anxiety of getting beaten up and insulted by upper-caste hindus for riding a horse, or even for passing through a Savarna locality.

Being a Dalit Groom: A look back at the past few years:

In the wee hours of May 10, 2015, Pawan Malviya, a Dalit groom from Nergun district of Madhya Pradesh was forced to replace his ‘Pagdi’ (wedding turban) with a helmet as the Upper caste community pelted stones on the baarat as they took offence with Pawan riding a horse.

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Twelve people from Pawan’s family got injured in the incident. The family had anticipated the attack and had asked for police protection.

According to a report by NDTV, the district officials said that a compromise was made between the Dalits and the upper caste community. The latter had agreed to keep their doors shut so that they would not have to see a Dalit groom on a horse. Despite which, the baarat was attacked when it reached the village square.

When the baraat was blocked, Pawan told the reporters that “They are not letting us go. They keep threatening us and trying to drive us away. We hope to carry on with help from the police.”

As the baarat resumed after getting help from the police, the police were seen wearing riot gear and Pawan was forced to wear a helmet in order to protect himself.

More recently, on January 24, 2022, Dilip Ahirwar’s (a Dalit bridegroom in Madhya Pradesh’s Sagar district) house was attacked by Upper caste Lodhi Thakur community. The incident happened after Dilip rode a horse in his marriage procession and the procession passed through the Ganiyari village which is dominated by the Lodhi Thakur community.

Dilip had sought police protection and help from the Bhim Army (A Dalit rights organization) so that the baarat could pass through the village peacefully without being attacked. Five hours after the procession left, family members of Dilip alleged that stones were pelted on their house and the family were assaulted by upper-caste Hindus.

According to a report by Indian Express, Permod Ahirwar’s (the groom’s family member) hand got injured in the attack. He said “Minutes after a power outage around 8.30 pm, a group of more than 100 men, carrying sticks, barged inside our house and attacked everyone, including women. They did not spare even a 60-year-old woman.”

The fear and trauma continue to build up even after the attack on the Dalits, as the Upper Caste community vows to take revenge on the Dalits. Devendra Ahirwar, the groom’s father, alleged that they were threatened again by the members of the upper caste community. He said they were told that “No other man from Ahirwar community will ride a horse again,”

It is shocking that even as Dalits continue to work against systemic oppression, there still exists discrimination. In a recent case on February 18, 2022, Sunil Kumar Dhanwanta, a 2020-batch IPS officer of Manipur cadre had to seek heavy police protection in rural Jaipur, Rajasthan so that the marriage procession could go on peacefully.

In a report by Hindustan Times, the IPS officer said that he had informed the administration about his wedding and measures were taken as a precaution because of past cases of upper caste’s opposition to the baraat. He said “The family was apprehensive. I may be an IPS officer but for them, I am their son first. Even today, people from the scheduled castes do fear taking out wedding processions. Things have improved but there is a long way to go,”

What is the Significance of a groom riding a horse?

There are many popular theories behind the significance of the groom riding a horse. One argues the tradition comes from a Maharaja riding the horse to take his bride home to employ a symbol of power and royalty.

Another theory says, during the era of dacoits, women often used to get kidnapped from their marriages by dacoits or members of rival clans who would ride horses. So, in order to chase these kidnappers, many horses were kept ready.

According to Deepak Tiwari, a senior journalist, “In Vedic depictions, the horse is the sawaari or the animal on which the dev or god is carried. The upper castes associate the dev with themselves and feel affronted when they see the mounted lower castes at baraat.”

What steps are being taken to Stop attacks on Dalit grooms?

In Bundi, Rajasthan, the Bundi District administration has launched a programme called “Operation Samanta” (Operation Equality). The operation aims at instilling confidence among the Dalit community and aims to get rid of the notorious practice of preventing Dalit grooms from reaching upper caste-dominated villages on a horse along with their ‘baraats’.

As part of the operation, influential villagers are made stakeholders along with local government officials and public representatives in ‘Samanta committee (equality committee)’ in identified villages. The committee carries out awareness camps, wherein the villagers are explained the constitutional rights of every citizen and the need to uproot orthodox practices.

Thanks to Operation Samnata, on February 9, 2022, Manoj Bairwa of the Neem Ka Kheda village, Bundi District took out his marriage procession through the lanes of his village.

After 30 years, Manoj became the first Dalit man to ride a horse and go through the houses of upper caste community. The last man who tried to do this was his uncle who was violently beaten up.

Thanks to the success of Operation Samanta in the Bundi district, the same is being implemented all across the state of Rajasthan. But, still, there’s a long way to go for the people of the Dalit community to be treated equally.

What does the data say about atrocities?

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data for 2020, 50,291 cases were registered for crimes committed against Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs). The number of cases against SC’s STs grew by 9.4 per cent over 2019 (45,961).

The data shows that another 3,372 cases were lodged for rape, 3,373 for assault on women with intent to outrage modesty, 855 for murder and 1,119 for attempted murder.

Uttar Pradesh tops the rate of atrocities against SCs and STs in 2020 at 12,714 cases (25.2 per cent), followed by 7,368 (14.6 per cent) in Bihar, 7,017 (13.9 per cent) in Rajasthan, 6,899 (13.7 per cent) in Madhya Pradesh.

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