THE Uttar Pradesh government, which sees inter-religious marriages with suspicion, encourages inter-caste marriages. Under the Dr Ambedkar Scheme for Social Integration, people marrying outside their caste are eligible for a cash incentive of Rs.2.5 lakh. The expenditure is shared by the Centre and State government on equal basis. The scheme, which seeks to promote social harmony, came into effect on April 1, 2015. Under the scheme, the couple (one of the spouses belonging to the Scheduled Caste and the other to a non-S.C.) has to submit an affidavit of being legally married and open a joint bank account to avail themselves of the benefit.
However, the difference between official encouragement and the apathy in a real-life situation is stark. Attack on Dalits not only for marrying upper-castes girls but even for entering a temple meant for upper-caste people is common in the State. The objection to any sort of inter-caste bonding runs across the social strata. Dalits allege that it is difficult to file a first information report (FIR) against violence by the upper castes. Often, the perpetrators are not named in the complaints. They also allege that the police resort to strong-arm tactics when a Dalit is responsible for violence and are slow to respond when an upper caste man is guilty of violence. They highlighted the case of a Dalit who was arrested on charge of motorbike theft in Rae Bareli in August and was found dead in police custody. Reacting to the incident,the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader, Mayawati, tweeted:“In these latest incidents in UP, the government should take prompt action against the culprits under strict legal sections and ensure the safety of people, especially the weaker section. This is the demand of the BSP. Such painful incidents taking place regularly in UP prove that ‘jungle raj’ prevails here.”
In 2019, the media was agog with reports of the marriage of Sakshi Mishra, daughter of the Bareilly BJP MLA Rajesh Mishra, with a Dalit, Ajitesh Kumar, despite opposition from her family. The girl alleged in a video that there was a threat to her life by her father. The couple filed a public interest litigation petition in the Allahabad High Court seeking protection to “live peaceful life” as husband and wife. Ajitesh was allegedly roughed up in the court premises, a charge denied by the State police and Rajesh Mishra, who told the media that “Sakshi is a mature girl. She can take her own decisions as an adult.”
Humiliation and harassment
Bhupesh Yadav and Aastha Jain faced similar challenges to their inter-caste marriage. Bhupesh, a property dealer based in Jhansi district, and Aastha Jain married with the blessings of both families in 2015. But the groom community did not accept the alliance. Bhupesh was subjected to a social boycott, and the villagers boycotted his sister’s wedding. In February 2020, the khap panchayat issued a diktat: it asked the couple to consume cow dung and urine as a compromise to resume social intercourse or pay a fine of Rs.5 lakh. Bhupesh filed a complaint with the District Magistrate about the humiliation and harassment, following which an FIR was filed against Mallu Yadav and a number of unnamed people.
In another bizarre case in June 2018, a Dalit was made to spit and then lick the same when his son married a Muslim girl from the same village. Marrying a girl from the same village is disallowed as she is considered a sister.
In December 2018, a group of Thakurs spoiled the marriage celebrations of a Dalit at Asauli village in Etah district. They thrashed the wedding party during the wedding procession for carrying posters of B.R. Ambedkar. They allegedly threw stones and snatched the posters of Ambedkar. The groom was asked to dismount from the horse. An upper-caste wedding held around the same time on the same day saw a mounted Thakur groom go to the bride’s place unhindered. The S.C./S.T. Commission asked the district authorities to probe the caste violence.
Inter-caste marriage alone is not the reason for upper-caste attacks. Caste arrogance came to the fore in other instances of aggression towards the lower castes. In May 2018, some upper-caste men in Badaun district forced a Dalit to drink his own urine. He was beaten with shoes for refusing to harvest upper caste men’s crops. One heard similar complaints from Dalit families in Hathras in the wake of the alleged gang rape and murder of a Dalit girl earlier this year.
In December 2019, a 43-year-old Dalit was assaulted for selling biryani in Greater Noida’s Rabupura area. An FIR was filed under the S.C. and S.T. (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The victim, Lokesh, belonging to the Jatav community, refused to change his vocation or place of business.
In the face of such challenges, the perseverance of a Dalit man to earn some dignity for the community is noteworthy. Sanjay Jatav fought hard to win for the Dalit community the right to take out a wedding procession through a Thakur locality in Kasganj and for the groom to mount a horse. In April 2018, Sanjay Jatav, a Block Development Council member, was granted permission to take his wedding procession through the lanes of Nizampur village and also mount a horse. The District Magistrate and the local police arrived at a compromise after talks with members of the Thakur and Dalit communities. Previously, Dalit wedding parties were forced to take a detour to avoid entering the Thakur locality. Also, a Dalit groom was not permitted to ride a horse. In some cases, wedding bands were not allowed for Dalit weddings.
Ziya Us Salam