It was not easy for 26-year-old Roshni Bhaduria, a Rajput, and Vijay Parmar, a Dalit, from Ahme-dabad to get married two years ago. Facing opposition from families, they had a court marriage with a few friends as witnesses. Both engineering graduates, the couple met at Wankaner in Morbi district where Vijay was in a private job and Roshni was attending coaching class for IELTS.
What came as a blessing for them was the Rs 50,000 they got under the Gujarat government’s ‘Dr Savitaben Ambedkar Inter-Caste Marriage Encouragement Scheme’ that supports couples where one spouse is from the Scheduled Caste (SC). The couple live in a one-bedroom rented house in Chandkheda area of Ahmedabad, and bought a two-wheeler with that money.
The amount has equal contributions from the Centre and the state. The Gujarat government raised the amount to Rs 1 lakh in 2018, which saw the number of couples availing of it going up from 502 in 2017-18 to 711 in 2018-19. Thus the amount spent by the Gujarat government also went up from Rs 31.7 crore to Rs 46.48 crore.
Part of an initiative to “eradicate untouchability and encourage inter-caste marriage between savarna Hindus and Scheduled Castes” as per the Gujarat Government Resolution (GR), the money is handed as cheque in part and the rest Rs 50,000 as postal savings bonds.
From April this year, in six months, as many as 314 beneficiaries have registered and availed benefits worth Rs 2.71 crore disbursed by the state government’s Social Justice and Empowerment Department.
In February 2019, the Gujarat government expanded the scope of the scheme earlier limited to marriages between “savarna Hindu” and SC, where one of the spouse has to be a Hindu “except SC caste”.
Gujarat reported over 38,000 cases under the Prevention of Atrocity Act since it was effected in 1989, as per records from the DGP’s office. Over 1,500 were reported each in 2017 and 2018.
As per Gujarat police records, around 600 offences were registered under the Act against Scheduled Castes in Ahmedabad district (city and rural) in the past three years, where incidents reported from Ahmedabad city were the highest in Gujarat in the same time period, with the numbers rising each year from 2016 (146), 2017 (174), to 2018 (197).
There were 79 incidents reported till May this year. In July, a 25-year-old Dalit man, Haresh Kumar Solanki, was allegedly murdered by his upper caste in-laws, in Varmor village of Ahmedabad district.
Parmar faced a few awkward moments when he had to go back to his father-in-law to get supporting documents — ration card for both the families, school leaving certificate and residence proof — to show they had been living in Gujarat for over five years.
Says Parmar, “Though my wife is originally from outside Gujarat (Rajasthan) and our marriage was against our families’ wish, I decided not to give up, not as much for the money as for motivation for my wife who was standing by me against the rest of the world. There was opposition from my family as well since my older brother was still unmarried. Also our marriage was completely unplanned. So we did not have all these documents. Luckily I got transferred from Wankaner to Ahmedabad so I could pursue the application.”
Encouraged by the rise in the popularity of the scheme, the Gujarat government also raised its target from 500 couples a year set in 2015-16 to 1,000 in 2016-17, and 1,250 in 2017-18.
Ahmedabad district reported the highest number of couples having availed of this scheme, at 960 of the total 2,854 from Gujarat. “The scheme started gaining more popularity since 2018 (after the assistance amount was increased to Rs 1 lakh). The takers also have gone up and thus the target has been raised to 1,250,” said NL Bagda, deputy director, Scheduled Castes welfare department at Gandhinagar, which is under the state Social Justice and Empowerment Department.
Ahmedabad’s former collector Vikrant Pandey attributed the “exceptional” response to the scheme to the “smooth processes”. “The district tops in the number of beneficiaries. It is a smooth process where claims are cleared on a fast track without pendency. Awareness levels are certainly high but the positive attitude of couples who married outside their caste also act as a motivation for others. The financial assistance works as golden money for them and as a settling amount which is followed by the social acceptance,” Pandey had told this paper earlier.
Bagda adds that not all beneficiaries avail of the financial assistance are from poor families, but those from well-off families also do it.
Like the case of Helly Gajjar (29) and Parth Jaskar (26) who got married in November 2017 in an elaborate ceremony. Parth’s father, Balwant Jaskar, who works as a senior clerk in a private school was their guide for the processes.
“Many couples come every month to get their school leaving certificates to apply for the scheme. So I am familiar with this scheme,” he told this paper.
The couple applied for the scheme within six months of their marriage and the social justice department was supportive. “I paid off the installments for the washing machine I bought after my marriage from my household expenses assistance. We have kept the savings bond untouched for any emergency,” she said.
The couple met at a gym where Parth was working as a trainer, and are staying with their parents. Parth now works as a clerk at a nationalised bank in Surendranagar. Helly has quit her accountant job and preparing for state civil services examination.
Helly whose father is an autorickshaw driver and mother, a home-maker, has a younger sister at home while Parth’s mother died in 2007 and he also has a younger sister.
(Some of the names were changed on request)
About the scheme
* Was run by the Education and Labour department since October 28, 1974, to support marriages between savarna Hindus and Harijans, with a purpose “to eradicate untouchability and encouage inter-caste marriage”
* In 1981, it became compulsory for one of the spouses to be from Gujarat. Migrants had to prove that they had been living in Gujarat for at least five years. Even widows and widowers till the age of 35 years who did not have children were covered.
* In 1987, it was amended to exclude those who were non-SC but married to an SC from other schemes for SC but their children remained eligible.
* Till November 1995, the financial assistance was Rs 10,000 (Rs 7,000 as small savings and Rs 3,000 as household expenses). This was raised to Rs 15,000 (Rs 10,000 as small savings bond). In December 1998 it was raised to Rs 30,000 (Rs 20,000 as small savings bond).
* In April 2000, it was renamed as Dr Savitaben Ambedkar Intercaste Marriage Encouragement Scheme and the assistance was raised to Rs 50,000 (Rs 25,000 each for small savings bond and household expenses). The state government’s GR also added more conditions that the marriage should be registered, claim made within two years of wedding, one of the couple must be a resident of Gujarat.
* In February 2017, marriage to Jains/Jain Baniya and Buddhists was covered. This was after Jain community was declared minority in 2014 by the Centre.
* In April 2018, the amount was increased to Rs 1 lakh (Rs 50,000 each in small saving bond and cheque for household expenses).
* February 2019, “Savarna Hindu” replaced by “except SC caste under Hindu religion”.
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