Dalit groom takes out wedding procession in UP’s Kasganj to defy caste prejudice
“Today, I have become a cabinet minister.” Sanjay Jatav, 27, was in raptures as he led his wedding procession through Nizampur village, passing upper caste neighbourhoods, capping six months of struggle to become the first Dalit man to do so.
“This is the 21st century but some don’t think Dalits should have dignity. I am the first to take a ‘baraat’ (wedding procession) out in this village. It is only because of Babasaheb and his Constitution that it has been possible,” said Jatav, dressed in a powder-blue suit, as hundreds of people ring-fenced his horse-drawn buggy.
Flanked by rice fields on either side, the village of about 100 households in Uttar Pradesh’s Kasganj district became the unlikely site of resistance in February after Jatav announced his intention of routing his ‘baraat’ through his bride’s village - a common practice among upper castes. But this route winded through several Thakur pockets, and quickly became controversial for defying decades-old caste discrimination that forced Dalits to keep their weddings short and simple.
The district administration refused permission at first, but Jatav refused to back down, appealing to the district magistrate, the superintendent of police, the Allahabad high court and even the chief minister’s office.
In April, Jatav won a victory of sorts after the local administration charted an alternative route that halved the distance of his desired path but still included several Thakur houses.
“The Jatavs of Basai ( his ancestral village) do what they say. And Sanjay Jatav is one of them,” he said triumphantly.
The administration fortified the area around his bride’s village, deploying 10 police inspectors, 22 sub-inspectors, 35 head constables, 100 constables and a platoon of the state provincial armed constabulary.
“Even if someone wants to create trouble, it wouldn’t be possible for them to do that. We have made sure there are more police than guests in this wedding,” said RP Singh, Kasganj’s district magistrate.
Jatav, a local worker with the Bahujan Samaj Party, drove from his village, about 20km away, in a convoy of 30 cars, a police pilot vehicle and an armed security guard. Right outside Nizampur, he was greeted by a phalanx of press, senior police and administration officers and political leaders cutting across party lines.
Thakur families watched Jatav’s grand procession — featuring police escorts, a DJ cart and breathless villagers dancing around the buggy — perched on their rooftops, exchanging details of the wedding arrangement.
Asked why her family is taking the risk of retribution in a village where Dalits are outnumbered 1:10, the bride, Sheetal Kumari, said: “We want our fair share of rights. India is a free country and the Constitution gives everyone equal rights.”
Despite the successful wedding, the fight for the Dalit families may not have ended as hostilities continue to simmer. “Not one Thakur in the village will attend this wedding,” said Rupender Chauhan, a village resident. “Repercussions will follow, if not in two days then in two years.”
Dalits form around a fifth of Uttar Pradesh’ population and Jatavs are the largest Dalit group, considered a loyal support base of former chief minister Mayawati.
Since independence, Dalits have made great strides in education, employment and social mobility, owing partially to reservations, but the progress has triggered resentment among erstwhile dominant castes in recent years.
This year alone, several incidents of Dalit grooms being beaten up for riding horses and taking out grand processions have been reported from across India, including in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.