Dressed in a white sherwani and holding the handle of a sheathed sword hanging down his right side, 27-year-old Shriram Meghwal flashes a wide grin, as the mare he is perched on trots towards his wedding venue in Chadi village of Rajasthan’s Bundi district.
Meghwal is flanked by a group of policemen in khaki — some of them holding lathis — as the procession goes past brick houses and open drains, circling the village. Other police personnel are stationed all around the venue keeping a keen eye on bystanders.
In between Bollywood chartbusters, the DJ lets out loud, melodious rendition of the slogan ‘Jai Bhim’. Women dance and children clap as the music blares out amidst flashing lights.
“I am the first Dalit groom to ride a mare through these roads. This will change the mentality that Dalit neeche hain, toh neeche hi rehne do (Dalits are downtrodden, let them remain downtrodden). This is one step towards equality,” Meghwal, a contractual employee with a gram panchayat, says.
The wedding of Meghwal and his bride Dropadi on Monday was the first ceremony held under an initiative of the Bundi police and district administration, titled ‘Operation Samanta (Operation Equality)’, to break taboos enforced on Dalits, such as not letting Scheduled Caste grooms ride a horse (mostly a female) to their wedding ceremony.
With casteism entrenched in the state with its long feudal history, Rajasthan frequently sees attacks on Dalit wedding processions over issues such as the groom riding a horse — seen by the upper castes as an act of assertion and defiance.
Recently, the Rajasthan Police revealed that in the past 10 years, they had registered 76 cases over Dalit grooms being stopped from riding a horse.
Bundi SP Jai Yadav told The Indian Express: “We surveyed Bundi district and identified around 30 such villages where Dalits have never got onto a horse as part of wedding rites. In some places, people objected. We started ‘Operation Samanta’ and constituted Samanta committes in these villages with the sarpanch, police, gram rakshak and police mitras being members.”
These committees meet Dalit families to make them aware of their rights. “If we find there are people who can create problems for Dalit families who want to use a horse at a wedding, we take strict action against them,” said Yadav, who was present at Meghwal’s wedding Monday along with the District Collector.
The SP said that in Chadi, they received a positive response from people of all communities.
Thanking the administration for its support, Babulal Meghwal, the father of the bride, said: “Earlier, because of fear, Dalit grooms would not ride a horse. But my son-in-law has changed this.”
Police officials said around 60 personnel from three different police stations were deployed for the wedding.
After completing a full circle of the village as part of the wedding procession, Meghwal headed to the stage, where a large photo of B R Ambedkar formed the backdrop. Doing a high-five with his friends who stood in front of the stage, he said: “Now, there will be more grooms from the Dalit community who will ride a horse to their wedding procession. Our society is changing.”