Kasganj: For about a month now, a Dalit couple waiting to be married on April 21 has been in a tense standoff with the bride's village in Uttar Pradesh's Kasganj, which is not far from where two people died in protests by Dalit groups on Monday.
Sheetal and Sanjay Kumar are fighting for a tradition that is basic to most north Indian weddings - a baraat or grand procession for the groom, who often rides a mare to the venue.
The couple alleges that upper caste Thakurs in the Nizampur village, who outnumber the Dalits by a 90:10 ratio, have refused to allow a Dalit wedding procession.
Last week, the police submitted a map of the village to the Allahabad High Court, where Sanjay Kumar, a law student, has filed a petition. The police reportedly also gave three recent instances from the village in which Dalit weddings did not defy tradition.
The map illustrates the big problem with Sanjay Kumar's plans. Along the route he wants to take are the houses of Thakurs.
The Thakurs have suggested the wedding be shifted to an open ground just 80 metres from the bride's home, to eliminate the need for an elaborate baraat.
"The Thakurs came here and told us the baraat will not pass through the village.They are telling us it if we go ahead with this, then it will not be good. They say this is our government and no one will listen to you," alleges Sheetal.
Besides going to court, Sanjay Kumar has posted an online complaint to Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath's portal and has repeatedly visited the police station.
"The District Magistrate now says the bride is two months short of 18. I believe records are being fudged...even if that is the case, I will wait for two months. But I will not compromise on the wedding procession," he says.
The Thakurs accuse him of giving a political twist to the only tradition they care for - that a Dalit groom's procession never passes through the village.
"He just wants to instigate a riot and give bad publicity to the government. Let him get the procession to his house, we are ok with that, but not in the whole village," declares village elder Om Prakash Thakur.
The district administration has this rather curious explanation for seeming to agree with the upper castes in the village. "In Hindus, marriage is a ritual and not a contract, and we can't make it a procession - it's as straight as this," explains RP Singh, Kasganj 's district magistrate and an upper caste.
"The local police officer has reported that a procession of this community has never been taken out. So have local intelligence inputs. A new tradition cannot be started," he said.
Sanjay Kumar's lawyer Satyavir Singh fumes: "This is not right. The road in the village is a public one and everyone is entitled to use it."