He rode a horse, wore a turban, carried a sword, and as a local band blared out of a truck, his baraatis danced. In a state with the highest rate of crimes against SCs, with three recent attacks on Dalit weddings, it took a funeral for this wedding to happen.
It’s a happy day for the Bairwa household in Mehndipur village, around 100 km from Jaipur. The walls of Ranjeet Bairwa’s modest house sparkle with fresh white paint, and a heart drawn in red paint, enclosing the names of the bride and groom, Pooran and Khushi, adorns the entrance.
Pooran is a graduate who went on to do certificate courses in teaching and library management. At 27, he is older than most Dalit grooms in this area. Pooran says he got a little late waiting for a job, and is now preparing for the Rajasthan government’s recruitment exam for sub-inspectors.
Pooran sits patiently as a group of women perform wedding rituals, placing dhania (coriander) seeds in his hand, while singing traditional folk songs.
There have been several instances recently of Dalit weddings being disrupted by upper and dominant castes in Rajasthan and in other states, but the Bairwas are not worried about that today.
It is a funeral, instead, that everyone talks about; a funeral two years ago that led to a Dalit protest, which eventually made the Rajputs of the village relent, and made wedding celebrations like Pooran’s possible.
“How can we forget?” says Santram, Pooran’s 47-year-old cousin. “It happened on March 14, 2015. Jaise hi unhone hamein arthi le jaate dekha, hum par hamla kar diya aur arthi ko dhakka diya. Murda zameen pe gira diya. Hum sabko bada gussa aaya (The moment they saw us carrying the body on a bier, they attacked and pushed it. The body fell. We were furious),” he says.
In the violence that followed, Santram and 15 other Dalits were assaulted by Rajput members of the village. There had been clashes before but this time, Santram decided not to let go and filed an FIR. Eighteen persons were booked and five arrested.
It was then, he says, that the Rajputs relented. “They called me and said you do whatever you want, we will not bother you anymore,” says Santram, the relief still showing through the triumph in his voice.
The same year, Santram contested the 2015 panchayat elections but could not win, though the Bairwas constitute the majority by far, with 150 households compared to 20 Rajput and three Jogi homes. “They didn’t even let Kanshi Ram (the late BSP founder) win. Who am I?” he says with a wry smile.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau’s Crime In India report 2015, Rajasthan has the highest rate of crimes against Scheduled Castes in the country (57.2, calculated per lakh population). However, says Karauli DSP Prakash Chand, under whom Mehndipur falls, the incidents have come down significantly in the past few years. “It is chiefly due to education and awareness about legal provisions. We usually try to solve such situations by talking to both parties, and it works most of the time. Two months ago, we received a complaint from Mehndipur so we sent some forces in plainclothes.”
Rajkumar Bairwa, sarpanch of Sankarwada, under which Mehndipur falls, says, “There have been practically no incidents since the 2015 funeral. The Rajputs also know that the legal provisions in such cases don’t even allow bail. That has proved to be a major deterrent, besides education.”
Since 2015, the village has seen 8-10 weddings without any disruption, including Deendayal’s. Last year, the 33-year-old’s baraat was taken out under heavy police protection. “Baraatiyon se zyaada khaki vardi wale they. Aisa lag raha tha jaise kisi VIP ki shaadi hai (There were more policemen than baraatis, like it was a VIP wedding),” he laughs. Police say they deployed the force more as a precaution.
That was the last wedding in the village that required such protection.
Today, as Pooran’s baraat wades through the Rajput area, children come out on the rooftops to watch. Pooran is riding a horse, wearing a turban and carrying a sword, all traditionally upper caste symbols, and unthinkable at a Dalit wedding until recently.
The sword Pooran is carrying had been used by his elder brother Ram Singh. If swords can’t be had, the Dalits use a stick to hit the toran (auspicious decoration) while entering the bride’s residence, as part of a wedding ritual.
The wedding will cost Pooran’s father Ranjeet Singh Bairwa, a construction contractor based in Delhi, around Rs 2 lakh. The horse and the DJ/band cost Rs 15,000. A wedding band is also a newly acquired indulgence for the Dalits. The Bairwas have paid Rs 10,000 for a local band, which includes a small pick-up truck with a music player and large speakers loaded in the back.
While he studied only till Class V, Ranjeet has managed some amount of financial security for his family. Among the achievements he is most proud of is the small Vaishno Devi temple he has got constructed near their house. Pooran stops here to pray before getting on the horse.
Pooran’s mother Rampati and eldest sister Guddi smile, as a village woman comments, “Forget the turban. Earlier, we had to carry our jutis (shoes) on our heads before upper castes. But now there is no problem. Now we have a band, a horse, everything.”
While Guddi did not study, Pooran’s three younger sisters studied up to Class 12.
“Yahin giraya tha murda us din (This is where the body fell that day),” says Ranjeet, as they cross the family temple, shouting to make himself heard over the auto-tuned songs set to electronic beats being played by the DJ.
As the baraat sets out, a mild dust-storm rises. The overcast sky mutes the evening sun and a strong breeze brings some respite to the wedding party.
The wedding band is playing the songs of local favourites Raju Rawal and Shambhu Meena, which encompass everything from the timeless love of Radha and Krishna to demonetisation. The two singers have been creating waves across East Rajasthan, in the faultlines between its rural and urban areas, with their paeans to the Prime Minister.
Tonight, the hundred-odd baraatis burst into a brisk dance to the beats of ‘Waah re Mhara Modiji’. “Achha achha kanjoosa ki neend uda di re/ waah re mhara Modiji ka lehar chala di re; Paanch sau, hazaar upar rok laga di re/ kaala dhan ki tijori ki vaat laga di re; Ek raat mein paaso paltyo koi samajh ni paayo/ arre suntan hi TV mein news ghano paseeno aayo; Surgical strike se Pakistan hilayo/ greeban ki samajh bhavna dukh mein saath nibhayo; Arre kerosene ki kaala bazari band karwa di re/ waah re mhara Modiji kai lehar chala di re (Modiji has made the stingy sweat, sent the black marketeers running, turned the tables in a night, stunned Pakistan, heard the poor, ended the black market in kerosene).”
Bemused at the choice of song, Poorna’s cousin Suresh Bairwa says the “band culture” has only taken off in the last eight-10 years among Dalits. “Before that, it used to be quiet. The groom would leave with women singing auspicious songs, and stop at homes of elders for blessings.”
Despite the song, the demonetisation cash crunch is itself a thing of the past. Pooran flaunts a three-layer garland of the new Rs 500 and Rs 100 notes, placed around his neck by relatives.
Pooran’s brother Ram Singh, who is with the Army Medical Corps, has come for the wedding from his posting in Manipur. The 35-year-old says one major driver of the change in caste equations in the village are government jobs, preferably ones that come with a uniform, providing the Dalits a level playing field and social privilege.
That is perhaps why the three young Dalits with jobs in the Army, BSF and CRPF in the village are role models for the community. “Vardi vale ko haath lagane se pehle dus baar sochega koi (One will think ten times before laying a finger on a person in uniform),” says 21-year-old Sanjay, who wants to join the Army.
While most elder Dalits have had partial or no education, they are keen that their children study. However, though several young men want to join the forces, only a few make it. The preparation for the exams, the books, the coaching etc cost money.
Sanjay is apprehensive about his chances. “Mushkil hoti hai, coaching ke bina nahin ho paata. Maine physical clear kar liya tha, lekin merit list mein nahin aa paaya (It is difficult without coaching. I had cleared physical but couldn’t make it to the merit list),” he says.
After riding around 40 minutes on the horse, Pooran disembarks and gets into a rented Chevrolet Tavera, decorated with artificial flowers and strips of satin. He rides with a young nephew and three relatives, who are coming along to take care of “logistics” that might arise on the way.
The vehicle has been hired for Rs 3,100. The family has also hired 10 Jeeps to ferry guests to the bride’s village. Some relatives use their own cars while most others cover the 12-km distance on their bikes.
There are 8-10 families in Pooran’s village that own a car. “They are well-to-do. Some are contractors. We couldn’t afford to buy one because we had to marry off four daughters,” says Ranjeet.
It is cars that have truly liberated Dalit weddings. Non-traditional, they have become a standard since riding a horse could invite trouble from upper castes.
In 20 minutes, the baraat reaches Darjapur Patti, the bride’s village. Darjapur Patti lies adjacent to a Meena-dominated village and some guests mistakenly stop at a wedding there. “We just had water,” clarifies a baraati later.
The reception is low-key since Darjapur Patti has banned loud bands or DJs for all communities. “The Meena caste panchayat took that decision. Since we don’t have a direct approach road to our settlement, we have to go through their area. That means we can’t play any band music either,” says a Dalit villager, not wishing to be named.
A carpet is laid on the road outside for the groom party to sit on, while waiting for the bride to get ready. Younger family members burst crackers while the baraatis are served rose-flavoured milk.
Pooran waits in tremulous anticipation. It is an arranged marriage, and it is the first time he will be meeting Khushi, 24, who is in the second year of her B.A. course.
With some moments to spare for the rituals to begin, Nanakram, 70, from nearby Pakhar village, is in a pensive mood. “We don’t want any of this… the mare, the band. Why should the community waste time and money on these things when all they lead to is conflict?” he says.
However, says Sanjay, it’s not as simple as that. “The older generation doesn’t want to change anything. But we have decided to challenge them (the upper castes). Why can’t we do what we want? It’s our country too. Everyone understands the language of the fist… Only then will our condition improve,” he says, taking a walk through the village lanes bathed blue in the moonlight.
Interestingly, unlike the other upper castes, the Dalits find Brahmins more than willing to pitch in for their weddings. Most of them come from the Mehndipur Balaji temple area, and can earn around Rs 1,100 in dakshina at a wedding like this. “We have no issue with them. They don’t discriminate,” says Suresh Bairwa.
If Brahmins are not available, a relative with basic knowledge of Sanskrit fills in. Pooran and Khushi’s wedding will be conducted by his father’s brother Gulab Chand.
The Bairwas say they would have liked their upper caste neighbours to attend. “We do invite them but they don’t come since they don’t want to eat with us. They will accept uncooked stuff but won’t share a cooked meal,” says Suresh. “In the city, my upper-caste friends eat with me, at weddings etc. But when they’re back in the village, they stay away,” he says.
Dalits, in turn, are almost never invited to Rajput weddings.
There is some restlessness among the guests now. It’s a hot, humid night with barely any breeze and they have been waiting outside Khushi’s house for two hours. “There is some problem with the toran. They are trying to fix it,” says Ranjeet.
Paper plates loaded with sweet halwa made of coconut and lauki (bottle gourd) along with deep-fried potato snacks are passed around among the guests by the bride’s side. The “naashta” pacifies the restive baraatis for a while.
Many, including the young and old, light up, puffing on bidis and cigarettes. There is no alcohol though. This is one “upper caste convention” they don’t want to emulate, the Bairwas insist. “We don’t have alcohol or non-vegetarian food at our weddings. But those who want to drink make their arrangements anyway,” says Sanjay, with a twinkle in his eyes suggesting his own little ‘arrangement’.
At about quarter to 11, Pooran and his baraatis enter the arched gateway erected to welcome the guests. The bride’s side looks relieved, with the first hurdle — the safe arrival of the wedding procession at their door — out of the way.
Khushi’s father Ram Khiladi, a Grade III government schoolteacher earning around Rs 5 lakh a year, has got their three-room house painted in light-green pistachio hue — Khushi’s favourite colour — for the wedding. The railing of the roof is adorned with lights, with two ‘electric lotuses’ flanking the palace-style decoration on each side.
“You can’t upset the baraatis,” Ram Khiladi says. “I have already spent Rs 5 lakh. Her dress alone cost Rs 20,000.”
After a couple of minutes, Khushi arrives, dressed in a purple lehnga with a transparent dupatta covering her face. Girls in the village have started going to parlours to get ready, but Khushi has got dressed on her own. Pooran and she exchange garlands.
As the women from the bride’s side sing songs welcoming the groom, everyone moves to the open area where dinner has been laid out. While Khushi goes back inside the house, Pooran heads towards the reception area with his friends.
At about midnight, Khushi again emerges. Women from her family surround her under the mandap and help her put on jewellery gifted by the groom’s side — a ‘mor’ for her hair, a ‘rakhdi’ for her forehead, and an intricate necklace.
She then comes to sit on the stage along with Pooran, and a wedding photographer takes their pictures, dictating various poses.
Ram Khiladi says he wasn’t worried about any upper caste interference at the wedding at their village. “Education has changed the attitude of upper castes and more so us. Besides, there are legal provisions safeguarding us. So people want to avoid getting into trouble,” says the 49-year-old.
Khushi’s village is dominated by Meenas, who have about 200 households. There are only 20 Dalit families.
Ram Khiladi’s son Rakesh (22) too got married this February without any trouble. “We went with a ghodi, band etc,” he says.
Left to himself, like other community elders, he too would go for simpler, less expensive weddings, he adds. “We have been trying to bring down unnecessary expenses, like serving alcohol or other extravagant practices. But the girl’s side inevitably has to spend more.”
Vishnu Singh Sisodiya, the up-sarpanch of Gharoli village nearby and a Rajput himself, says they have also been trying to get community members to rise above symbolic and contentious matters. “Earlier these symbols were claimed exclusively by the Rajputs because it was a matter of prestige for the bigger gharanas. It still happens in Rajput-dominated villages. In Mehndipur too, there was an issue related to a funeral. But times have changed. I’m a Rajput myself but personally I feel these things should not happen. What’s the point? Cases are filed, people go to jail.”
Those who aren’t queuing up to get their pictures clicked with Pooran and Khushi have begun digging into the vegetarian spread: pooris, aalu ki sabzi, salad, raita and sweets. Most of the baraatis leave after dinner, with only those closest to the family sticking around till the pheras. “That will be a while. It will probably be morning by then,” sighs Ram Khiladi.
Around 5 am, Khushi and Pooran finally leave for his home, in the rented car. It has been the grandest day of their lives.
Santram says when they look back, that’s what would matter, and not as much what all they could do despite the upper castes. “Everyone realises these things, band, turban, horse, cost a lot,” he says. “Given a choice, we would not even want to follow these rituals. But the point is how can we not be allowed to follow them?”
April 4, 2017
Sanjay Kumar was beaten up reportedly for riding a mare in his wedding procession, in Sanjarwas village of Charkhi Dadri district in Haryana. Kumar required treatment along with other members of the wedding party. The ceremony was later performed under police protection. The Dalits named 21 Rajputs as being behind the attack, and alleged they also took away the mare. SHO of Baund Police Station Vikram Singh said 15 of the accused have been arrested, and they are looking for six more. “We are trying to reach a compromise,” said sarpanch Vikash Singh, an SC.
April 6, 2017
Vijay Kumar’s wedding procession was attacked by Rajputs in Gundusur village of Rajasthan’s Churu district for allegedly playing music on a loudspeaker. 10 Dalits, including women, were injured. “They even hit our women,” said Ram Niwas, Kumar’s uncle. Rameshwar Lal, SHO Sandwa, said four people, all Rajputs, are under arrest.
April 28, 2017
Kailash Meghwal was pushed off his mare and assaulted by upper-caste men in Rajasthan’s Udaipur for “daring” to ride the equine during a wedding procession around the village. Meghwal was allegedly assaulted with beer bottles and dragged along the road. SHO Ghasa confirmed the incident, adding a case had been registered under SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. Four are under arrest.
May 4 , 2017
Prakash Babulal Bansal, his relatives and a videographer were beaten up in Deri village in Chhatarpur district after four upper caste members objected to the Dalit baraat riding in a decorated car. The wedding eventually took place under police protection and the scared baraatis ensured the bidai (girl’s departure) took place at a distance from the village. Two of the accused were arrested, including under the SC/ST Act, but are out on bail. Two others are absconding.
May 6 , 2017
Champalal Meghwal was attacked in Udaipur, allegedly by upper caste men, for taking out his wedding procession with “pomp and celebrations”. Gogunda SHO Bhanwar Lal said three people, including two Rajputs, have been arrested. According to him, the clash resulted from a water dispute. “The Dalit baraat wasn’t attacked.”