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Dalit wedding processions row: Rights leaders question Gujarat CM's silence, cop inertia

Martin Macwan, Jignesh Mevani
By Our Representative
Addressing media in the wake of a series of incidents -- in which dominant rural castes stopped Dalit wedding processions to pass through village streets --  rights leaders Jignesh Mevani, an independent MLA of Gujarat state assembly, and Martin Macwan, founder of Gujarat’s biggest Dalit rights organization, Navsarjan Trust, have accused the state administration’s alleged indifference towards what they described as clear examples of untouchability prevailing in a state, whose rulers claim to have overcome discriminatory practices.
If Mevani criticised Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani and other senior officials for failing to condemn the incidents and keeping mum, Macwan said, when the authorities insist these should not be politicised, but their refusal to take action against the officials for failing to take protect the Dalits itself is nothing but political. They said, the police refused protection despite prior pleas, and the cops are now busy instituting false charges against Dalits.
The five incidents*, which shook the state, especially Dalits who form seven per cent of the population, involve village Khambhisar, taluka Modasa, district Aravalli; village Sitvada; taluka Prantij, district Sabarkantha; village Boriya, taluka Prantij, district Sabarkantha; village Lhor, taluka Kadi, district Mehsana; village Boriya, taluka Prantij, district Sabarkantha; and village Gajipur, taluka Vadali, district Sabarkantha.

A note by Dalit rights leaders:

The state had prior information about the possibility of such incidents. Police was intimated in writing about the actual threats Dalits had received for planning a wedding procession in all the five incidents taking place in past week. Hence, the police could have prevented such incidents as they are duty bound by law. A warning by the chief minister’s officer (CMO) of stern action would have acted as a deterrent.
The Chief Minister has maintained silence. He has not visited a single village to even appeal for harmony. He has stayed away from condemning such incidents. Is he in agreement with the people who have openly defied the law or he thinks it is beyond his capabilities?
An appeal not to politicize the issue too is misplaced. This is a political issue. A state with intimation on possible defiance of law cannot remain a mute spectator.
These are not cases of caste-based violence; rather these are clear cases of untouchability practices where Dalits are told in no uncertain terms that they have no right to sit on the horse, play music, seek blessings of the village deity and take out wedding processions like them on the public road.
The Dalits know they have a right, and hence they do not require to be informed about their rights. It is the social groups who commit such crimes need to be told that they have no right to prevent wedding processions of Dalits.
These incidents have happened due to utter state of lawlessness where people have no fear either of the police or the law itself of openly defy the law. The people who prevented wedding processions too knew that Dalits have given prior notice to the police about the apprehended trouble and yet, they had the courage to defy law openly.
In Khambhisar, therefore, the police officer ended up abusing and assaulting Dalits as if they were the law breakers while protecting the people who were abusing the law.
The police appeal in these villages for harmony or the visit of deputy chief minister to only Lhor in his constituency and appeal for peace in misplaced. In none of the incidents Dalits have defied the law. More than an appeal, dealing with heavy hand with law breakers is required.

What next?

  • A meeting of Dalit-Adivasi-civil society leaders will take place on May 18, Buddha Purnima, at Dalit Shakti Kendra, Nani Devti village, Sanand taluka, Ahmedabad district, to decide on next steps. All Dalit MLAs are invited.
  • A petition will be filed with the National Human Rights Commission on the willful negligence of the state. 
***
*Details of the incidents
In village Khambhisar, after apprehending that they would be stopped, Dalits sought police protection. The Patidar women at several places held yagna and Ramdhun to not allow the wedding procession to proceed on May 12. The Dalit procession was stoned with it reached the Patel faliya of locality. Police arrived on the scene but it could not help Dalits to proceed.
The procession was stalled for five hours. It was only on May 13, with a large police force, a simple procession took place, after the father of the groom was forced to cancel the grand ceremony. Dalits have accused the police officer of abusing them instead of helping them.
In village Sitvada, Anil Rathod's family sought police protection after elders of Sitvada village, belonging to the Thakor community, objected to the wedding procession, also on May 12, to pass through the village and his plans to offer prayers at the Bhikhabhai Vaniya temple. The objection was on the bridegroom riding a horse.
Significantly, the Dalit family intimated the police in writing. Due to threats during the procession, Dalits were forced to halt the procession. The DJ group ran away due to fear of assault. It was only with the police protection was provided that the DJ could return and the groom could visit the temple and complete the wedding procession, though the plan to ride the horse had to be abandoned.
On May 11, in village Boriya, a Dalit policeman, Sanjay Rathod, serving for 27 years serving at Jadhar police station, could ride a horse during his wedding procession only after around 150 of his uniformed colleagues made a security ring around him and his family members and invitees. The executive magistrate too remained present. The police force remained in the village till the wedding was over.
On May 7 in village Lhor, Dalits faced boycott by upper castes for two days as a groom from the community rode a horse during his wedding procession. They had in intimated in writing intimated to the police about the threats they had received. Mehul was the first ever Dalit bridegroom in the village who rode on horse with the procession.
Five persons, including the sarpanch, the deputy sarpanch and the husband of the taluka panchayat member were taken in custody. Muslims of the village joined others in the social boycott of Dalits. The call to assemble to declare social boycott was delivered from the temple microphone.
On May 12, in village Gajipur, Mehul Bhambhi too faced similar hurdles following the wedding procession.

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