Bhilwara, Rajasthan: A Dalit groom was forced off his horse during his wedding procession last week in a small village in Rajasthan's Bhilwara district. The Dalits retaliated and got 12 people from the upper castes arrested under the SC/ST Act for forcing the bridegroom to dismount.
Uday Lal's family is paying a heavy price for attempting to break the caste barrier last week. Uday Lal, a Regar Dalit, dared to ride a horse to his wedding. But it didn't go down well with the upper castes in his village. They forced him off the horse and attacked the guests who were part of his wedding procession.
However, now the battle lines have now been drawn between the Dalits and the upper castes. The Dalit families in Goverdhanpura are now facing a total social boycott.
Water supply to the Dalit households has been cut off. Their children are not allowed to graze animals in the village pasturelands, says Uday Lal's brother Bhanwar Lal Regar.
"They are telling members of our community that they can't enter the village. They aren't letting water tankers from nearby villages to reach us. Every time we call up a driver for the delivery of a water tanker, the drivers refused to come as they are being threatened," says Ramuji, a member of the Regar community.
"My daughter and niece were grazing goats in the common village pastures when the upper castes came and chased the girls away. The girls were aged between 10 and 12. They ran away leaving their goats behind. The animals are with the upper castes," he added.
The incident is being investigated by additional Superintendent of Police Ram Singh who says, "A case has been registered against the Gujjars because this clash was between the Regar Dalits and the Gujjars, who themselves are OBC. We have arrested 12 people so far in this case and booked them under the SC/ST Act. We are also looking into complaints of social boycott. The administration will make arrangements to bring water tankers to Dalit homes."
Fearing clashes between the Gujjars and the Dalits, the police have deployed personnel outside Uday Lal's house even as his family wraps up the remaining wedding rituals.
But this incident is just the tip of the iceberg. The government has gone on record in the Vidhan Sabha that in the last one year, 38 Dalit grooms were forced to dismount from their horses in Rajasthan. It is the fourth such incident this year.
Signs of caste assertion, such as riding a horse during wedding procession, more often than not meet with a severe backlash. The violence during the Dalit bandh on April 2 against the dilution of the SC/ST Act was met with a counter-attack.
In Gangapur city, the houses of two Dalit Jatav lawmakers, one from the Congress and another from the BJP were burnt by a mob of upper castes, a day after the bandh.
Dalit rallies were openly heckled by upper castes in Jalore and Barmer towns. On Buddha Jayanti, a statue of Dr Ambedkar was vandalised in Shergarh town.
These incidents are indicative of a larger trend of a backlash against the Dalits that has led to a 27 per cent increase in crimes under the SC/ST Act in just three months in Rajasthan.
Rajasthan records the second highest number of cases against Dalits in the country after Madhya Pardesh. But simmering anger, as communities clash, could change the contours of the political landscape in Rajasthan which goes to the polls in six months from now.
Gyaanji Khatik, who is part of a new Dalit organisation in Bhilwara district -- the BhimRao Ambedkar Yuva Sangathan (BAVS), says, "The cow is their mother, but is the mare their sister or aunt? Why do they force us to get off the horse? We pay for the mare, the band baja baraat. Then why do they disrupt our weddings?"
The discrimination has forced the Dalits to look for a new identity. The narrative of social discourse is already changing. The Dalits are greeting each other with Jai Bhim instead of the traditional Ram Ram sa.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the BJP's ideological mentor, is doing its bit to address the caste divide. In the last two months, the RSS has organised 12 mass weddings for Dalit couples across Rajasthan.
"We don't talk about caste and community. The Hindu community is one, but for those who are deprived, who are isolated and pushed to the fringes, our aim is to connect them through mass weddings," says Ram Charan Sharma from the Seva Bharti, a wing of the RSS.
The focus is on bringing the Dalits into the larger Hindu fold, he added.
The BJP's outreach programme, includes party leaders and ministers having meals in Dalit households and spending time in Dalit-dominated villages.
The Congress has been quick to visit their homes, but the Dalits aren't satisfied.
"They come not when the crime against us happens , but five days later. Why? Because they want our vote. We aren't supporting such people. We are only with those who will fight for our rights. We are not with any political party," says Moti Lal Singhania, leader of BAVS.
In the last election, a shift in the Dalit votes had helped the BJP's sweep to power in Rajasthan. As things stand in the state, the tension could lead to the fragmentation of Dalit votes ahead of the Assembly elections.