Representational image. | Image Courtesy: Indian Express
“We will no longer succumb to the arrogance of upper caste people in our village,” said Mehul, an attendant in SIMS hospital in Gujarat's Ahmedabad, in a choking but defiant voice. On May 7, when his family tried to take out a wedding procession with the groom riding on a horse in Lhor village in Mehsana district, the upper caste people from Thakor community called for a social boycott including prohibition on sale of goods for daily necessity.
However, Mehul remains unfazed by the incident. "Aap kab tak aise jee sakte hai. Hum log gaon ki dukano me baal nahi katwa sakte, khule aam ghoom nahi sakte. Hamare mohalle alag hai. Ye ab nahi hoga. Humne aisa kiya taaki baaki logon me himmat aaye (How long can you live like this. We cannot get a haircut in barber shops, cannot roam freely in the village. Our localities are segregated. This will not continue anymore. We did it so that other people from our caste feel confident)," he told NewsClick.
He goes on to add, "Like them, we too are humans and this is what we want to emphasise." After Mehul's father’s complaint, Gujarat Police arrested five men including the sarpanch and deputy sarpanch of the village under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and Indian Penal Code.
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But this was not the first case where wedding processions were targeted when grooms from specific castes were riding. The latest incident is from Gujarat’s Aravalli district where stones were hurled at a wedding procession of a dalit groom at Khambhisar village in Modasa taluka. Reports suggest that upper caste people also organised Yagna or sacred rituals in the way of procession to halt it. Speculating a backlash, groom Jayesh Rathod's family had taken prior permission from the police to take out the procession. But this did not deter the upper caste men from attacking the procession.
“They (upper castes) did not want us to carry out a marriage procession, and therefore, they held a number of yagna at various points on the main road to make sure that our procession did not go further. When our wedding procession passed through Patel Faliya, it was stopped despite police attempts to keep them (upper castes) under control. Soon, stones were hurled at us and most of us ran for cover and hid in the fields nearby,” Indian Express quoted a friend of Rathod as saying.
The unabated continuing of these incidents also raise questions on the conduct of Gujarat government and local administration. As per the last report of National Crime Records Bureau, Gujarat remained in the top states where dalits were subjected to systemic violence. The glaring fact became more clear when four members of dalit community were flogged for skinning a dead cow in Una.
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Commenting on the incidents, prominent dalit activist and founder of Navsarjan Trust, Martin Mcwan said, "Let me add that this was the fourth incident in last one week and sixth in a fortnight. Except one incident where Patidars had called for social boycott of groom's family, the perpetrators are from Thakor community and the Chief Minister of Gujarat has not uttered a single word in condemning these incidents. It appears he has gone into silence mode. See, it was for the first time in the history of this region that dalits are taking out wedding processions. We must understand that it is the new age where these young people, who are literate and earning, do not respect the caste traditions."
More importantly, he also points out the questioning role played by police in these incidents. He said, "They tend to think that it is a social problem and they do not have any role in providing justice. So, it is correct that the police is more interested in pacifying the situation rather than taking a proactive role in booking the culprits under Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act."