When she became the first girl from her family to become a graduate, 25-year-old Neetu Meghwal wished that her groom came riding a mare, something that no Dalit in her village had dared to do.
Now a constable with the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) and posted at Bangalore airport, she shared the dream with a cousin who wrote to the chief minister’s office about Neetu’s wish.
Soon, her wish reached the National Commission for the Schedules Castes (NCSC) that asked district authorities to take necessary steps.
Cousin Laxman Sariyala said he alerted authorities because he knew upper castes villagers would not allow a Dalit to ride a mare during a wedding procession.
Rajasthan has witnessed violent incidents in the past, especially in Bhilwara and some parts of Alwar and Jaipur where Dalit grooms were assaulted for riding a mare during weddings.
“She studied with us in Pali and has been the only girl among five siblings to get educated and a government job. Her four brothers are daily wage labourers in Goa and a younger sister is illiterate. She had the will to break caste stereotypes but it looks very difficult.”
His fears came true. Neetu’s wish has triggered tension in her native village, Khimda, near Somesar railway station, 350km from Jaipur.
Khimda has around 400 households; 30% of them belonging to the scheduled caste. Most Dalits work as farmhands in fields of rich farmers.
A day before her wedding, police took a written undertaking from the family that it doesn’t want Neetu’s groom to ride a mare — considered a traditional prerogative of the village’s upper caste inhabitants whose grooms come on horseback to the wedding venue, mostly the bride’s home. A mare is preferred because it is considered auspicious.
Elder brother Champa Lal said the family didn’t want the groom to ride a mare during bindoli, a ritual where he takes a round of the village. “We want to follow the old tradition where groom comes with the marriage procession, not riding a mare,” he said.
Neetu’s phone was switched off on Thursday. Mahavir Mevada, a resident, said the bride told him she was scared but keen that her groom rode a mare.
Police dismissed allegations of pressure from upper caste villagers. Sanderao police station SHO Amarlal Meena said the family didn’t feel any threat and was assured protection if the groom came riding a horse.