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MP: Despite Threats, Dalit Bridegrooms Ride Horses in Their Wedding Processions

Wedding processions of four dalits have been carried out with police protection in Madhya Pradesh in the last three weeks.
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Bhopal: For many like Rajesh Ahirwar from Madhya Pradesh's Rajgarh, Rahul Meghwal of Neemuch, Dayachand Ahirwar of Chhattarpur, Dilip Ahirwar of Sagar, it was the first time when a dalit bridegroom of their villages rode horse's back in their wedding processions. Homes of two dalit bridegrooms were even attacked in - Rajgarh and Sagar district - but their desire to ride the horse grows further.

In the ongoing wedding season, in the last three weeks, the wedding procession of four dalit bridegrooms was carried out under police protection after members of dominant castes of the village threatened them with dire consequences for playing DJ and riding a horse in the wedding procession.

The latest incident of Ramesh Ahirwar, 21, a resident of Kachnaria village of MP's Rajgarh district, is the textbook example of the deep-rooted coexisting caste divide in India.

When Ramesh Ahirwar printed his wedding cards for February 13, 2022 as his wedding day, the members of the Gujjar community, who dominates the village, threatened him to not ‘dare to ride horse or play DJ as no dalit has ever ridden a horse in this village and they never will.’

In 2016, when Ramesh's cousin Kamal Singh dared to ride the horse on his wedding procession, the Gujjars of the village assaulted the family and ruined their crops worth thousands. But, all went unreported as the family chose not to complain, fearing death threat.

Taking a lesson from the past, Ramesh, a graduate in political science and IAS aspirant, took refuge with the police and gave a written complaint at the nearest Machalpur police station who asked him to get Sub Divisional Magistrate's permission for the wedding procession. The following day, Ramesh gave two letters - to SDM and the superintendent of police. But, he did not get any help.

"A day before the wedding procession, around 9:30 pm, over a hundred men armed with sticks, ransacked the wedding venue, pelted stones, destroyed meals and assaulted the family members," said Rajesh recalling the horror of the incident over the phone. "But, the prompt response of Rajgarh police saved our lives."

The superintendent of police Pradeep Sharma reached the spot with his men in no time, arrested 11 people, and booked 38 based on a complaint lodged by Ramesh. "Total 38 people were booked under eight sections of the IPC and three sections of the SC/ST Atrocities Act (1989). Besides, the gun license of three accused will also be cancelled," said Pradeep Sharma, SP, Rajgarh.

In the presence of a heavy police force and members of a dalit outfit, the following day, Ramesh rode the horse for almost three hours in the village with a photo of Ambedkar on his lap, the architect of the Indian constitution. It was nothing but a majestic scene for 48-year-old Madanlal Ahirwar, the bridegroom's father, who always dreamt of living with dignity in the village.

"With this case, I want to set an example that such caste-based discrimination cannot be repeated in the future. As per the constitution, we are all equal before law," emphasised Sharma.

But, for Ramesh, it was not a happy ending. According to him, a day after the procession, the sarpanch of the village Madan Singh has threatened him: “Do not to enter our fields and colony else you will lose your legs.”

According to the SC/ST wing of Madhya Pradesh police, eight such incidents had been reported in the state in the last two years. Of eight, five took place in 2021 and three in 2020. “The state has reported only eight incidents in the last two years. The police figures show a constant decline in such cases,” said Rajesh Gupta, ADG, SC/ST Wing of Madhya Pradesh police.

Close to 550 kms from Rajgarh, on February 11, a 24-year-old dalit police constable Dayachand Ahirwar managed to ride the horse in the presence of over 100 fellow cops. "No dalit from my village ever rode the horse fearing death threat from the upper caste men of the village. To avoid any untoward incident, I sought police help, and all went well."

Vikram Singh, additional superintendent of police (ASP), Chhatarpur who was looking after the case explained, “A Kundalyapur village resident Dayachand Ahirwar, a constable posted in Tikamgarh was stopped from riding a horse in a locality of upper caste people during his wedding procession to the temple. His family agreed to the demand and told Ahirwar to get off the horse. He went to the temple by foot as in the tradition for people from the scheduled castes.”

The police swung into action upon hearing the news of discrimination and not only provided protection to the groom and carried out a procession on a horse where he was stopped but also Chhatarpur SP, Sachin Sharma suspended SHO of Bhagwa police KK Khaneja and ASI Ratiram Ahirwar for “dereliction of duty.”

Two weeks before police constable Dayachand Ahirwar wedding procession was disrupted, about 650 kms away, in Sarsi village of Madhya Pradesh's Neemuch district, Rahul Meghwal, 25, was threatened not to ride a horse in the wedding procession.

Rahul sought help from the police and the dalit outfits by inviting them in the marriage. On January 29, with a heavy police force and members of dalit outfit, he rode the horse. He was first dalit of the Sirsa village who rode the horseback in the wedding procession.

"Soon after the news of my wedding spread, my family was told that they would be exiled from the village within a year if we take out a marriage procession and ride a horse at the wedding, forcing us to complain," said Rahul.

Seeing his son on horseback in wedding attire, Fakirchand Meghwal (50) could not control his emotions, and tears began rolling from his cheeks. "I spent my entire life as a labourer and never gathered the courage to oppose the ongoing oppression. With this marriage, I feel elated."

Just like Rajesh Ahirwar of Rajgarh, Rahul, too, rode the horse carrying the Constitution of India, which guarantees equal rights to all citizens of India.

The most brutal attack on dalit bridegroom took place on January 23 in Ganiyari village of the Sagar district.

Sensing backlash from the members of the lodhi community, who dominate the village, the dalit bridegroom Dilip Ahirwar, 27, sought police protection and invited members of dalit outfit to prevent any untoward incident.

With Dilip on horseback, the wedding procession carried out for hours in Ganiyari village in the presence of thousands of villagers, cops and members of dalit outfits. The people of the nearby villages have also gathered in large numbers to witness the historical procession of a dalit bridegroom, which is unusual.

Dilip's audacity to ride a horse did not go well with the members of the lodhi community, who are themselves OBCs. Hours after his procession departed, a power outage took place, and dozens of men armed with sticks allegedly attacked the bridegroom’s home and assaulted family members.

“Minutes after a power outage around 8.30 pm, a group of more than 100 men, carrying sticks, barged inside our house and attacked everyone, including women,” said Permod Ahirwar, 25, who said he received an injury on hand in the attack. “They did not spare even a 60-year-old woman.”

Permod alleged that the assailants damaged a car parked outside the house and also vandalised the canopy (mandap). Sagar police have registered an FIR at Bunda police station under six sections of the IPC, including rioting. The FIR names eight people and lists 15 others unnamed. “Six people have been arrested in connection with the incident,” said Manas Dwivedi, town inspector of Bunda police station.

Seeing his son on horseback was an unforgettable moment for groom’s father, Devendra Ahirwar (55). But, now he fears backlash as members of the upper caste community threaten them again. “No other man from the Ahirwar community will ride a horse again,” alleged Devendra referring to the threat made by the lodhi community after the wedding.

Caste-based discrimination cases are common in Madhya Pradesh's districts neighbouring Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. Rajgarh and Neemuch districts border Rajasthan, while Chhatarpur and Sagar fall under the Bundelkhand region, infamous for caste-based atrocities.

Speaking over the phone, rights activist and leader of Azad Samaj Party, Sunil Astay emphasised that every year such incidents come to light from MP's Bundelkhand, Chambal and Vidhya region, which is dominated by the upper castes and OBCs. "But, the trend has been shifted from upper caste to OBC. In the majority of the cases, OBCs are targeting dalits over their caste."

He further said, "I too have attended a wedding in Neemuch district where the dominating caste of the village was threatening a dalit bridegroom for showing audacity to ride a horse. But, such incidents would not be tolerated, and the dalits will give befitting reply by taking refuge in the Indian constitution."

The opposition Congress, too, has attacked the state government over the issue. Congress spokesperson Narendra Saluja said, "The state has witnessed numerous cases of dalit and tribal atrocities recently. After Sagar, Neemuch and Chhattapur, dalits are not being allowed to ride horse in Rajgarh."

"The state government should take strict action against the offenders and ensure safety and security of the tribals and dalits," Saluja added.

However, Madhya Pradesh DGP Vivek Johri said that the police had taken strict actions against those who threatened or tried to stop dalits from riding horses in their weddings.

"The incidents of caste-based discrimination will be dealt with an iron hand. In all four cases, police took prompt action and upheld the constitution. In two cases where homes of dalit bridegrooms were attacked, police booked 44 people under stringent sections of the IPC and SC/ST atrocities, cancelled the gun license of three and ensured safety to the victim families."

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