This was no ordinary baraat. 150 policemen, including senior officers, were part of a Dalit man's wedding procession in Uttar Pradesh on Sunday. Sanjay Jatav, a law student who won a fight with upper caste men and the district administration for his right to take a baraat to his wedding, was finally able to ride a horse-drawn carriage to marry 18-year-old Sheetal in Kasganj.
There were cops on rooftops apart from those in the groom's procession. The large police contingent will stay in the village till Mr Jatav leaves with his bride for his home in western UP today.
"We had to face huge obstacles to see this day", said the bride, Sheetal, as mehendi was being applied on her hands. "The Thakurs of the village never allowed us to celebrate earlier" she said.
Six months ago, Mr Jatav and Sheetal, also a Dalit, had alleged that the Thakurs in Kasganj had refused to allow a wedding procession as Dalits were not entitled to one. A Dalit wedding procession had never passed through the village said the Thakurs, and suggested that the venue be shifted to do away with an elaborate baraat.
Mr Jatav approached the Allahabad High Court but was told that only the local police could help him.
Refusing to give up, Mr Jatav posted an online complaint on Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath's portal and repeatedly visited the police station. Fearing clashes, the Kasganj district administration first refused to allow Mr Jatav his baraat but later changed its mind.
The administration played mediator in a meeting of the two sides, and convinced the Thakurs to let the Dalit groom's procession pass by their homes.
The route that the procession would take was negotiated and sealed. There were conditions to ensure that peace would be maintained.
When finally the big day arrived, it was band, baaja and baraat for Sanjay Jatav and Sheetal with 150 cops guarding perhaps the most elaborate Dalit wedding these parts have seen in decades.