A conflict is rearing its head in UP’s Kasganj district related to the recent Dalit protest. Sanjay, a law graduate hailing from Hathras, wishes to marry Sheetal in Nizampur village, Kasganj on April 20. The roadblock to their happy union is the local upper castes’ objection to the groom’s decision of riding a horse as part of the marriage procession or ‘barat’. Sanjay and Sheetal both belong to the Dalit community and according to Sanjay, the upper castes have never allowed a Dalit groom to ride a horse.
This comes days after a Dalit youth in Saurashtra, Gujarat was hacked to death, allegedly by upper caste men for riding a horse.
Sanjay’s assertion against an enforced custom is raising the temperature in Kasganj.
Kasganj saw violence in January 2018 when an unauthorised bike rally by members of a right-wing group on January 26 unleashed a chain of events which led to communal tension and murder of Chandan Gupta. What makes the current situation potentially more provocative is the recent Dalit-upper caste conflict related to the Supreme Court’s decision to dilute provisions of the SC/ST Atrocities Act.
The sarpanch of Nizampur Shanti Devi who belongs to the dominant Thakur caste refused to intervene as she “doesn’t want a bloodbath”. Fearing another outbreak of violence, Kasganj administration has mapped a safe route away from upper caste Thakur houses. District Magistrate R.P. Singh told ANI, “we have made a route from bride’s house to some 500 meters where they can take the horse. Further celebrations can take place at a farm.”
Sanjay also approached the Allahabad High Court seeking protection after he received threats from the upper caste community. A bench comprising Justice Ranvajay Singh and Justice Shashikant asked the local administration to submit a report and based on the report they advised Sanjay to seek out help from police in case of trouble. The groom’s family remains sceptical regarding assistance from local officials while the girl’s family has already sent several letters to UP CM Adityanath and police higher-ups requesting protection on the day of marriage.
Unwavering in their decision to break the caste divide, Sanjay and Sheetal fear the wrath of the local dominant caste. They allege harassment after a report by SSP Piyush Srivastava and DM R P Singh raised questions about Sheetal’s age. The report contains a handwritten testimony by the headmaster of the school which Sheetal attended till Class II and says her age will be 17 years 10 months on the proposed day of matrimony. The administration has put the onus on the families to prove she is 18 and only then they will allow her to get married. As reported by The Times of India, Sanjay responded, “we will go for a detailed medical test, if required. But we will marry for sure. It’s an arranged marriage and we will break the tradition of caste divide in this state.”
The Logical Indian take
There is no law that prevents Sanjay from riding a horse on his wedding day. However, the systematically entrenched social discrimination based on caste is extremely oppressive. Even in face of real danger, with possible harassment from dominant caste members in local lower level administrative setup, it is indeed courageous to take a stand on centuries-old caste divide and opting to break away from regressive customs.