When he was younger, 26-year-old Sunil Kumar Dhanwanta was passionate about equal rights and started an organisation called the “Yuva Manch” in his village of Surajpura in Jaipur district of Rajasthan. He had a good reason.
Belonging to a Dalit family, when Dhanwanta’s aunt was getting married 2001, her fiance was attacked by members belonging to the upper caste.
Twenty years later, on Friday, the marriage procession of Dhanwanta was taken out under police protection. The 2020-batch IPS officer of Manipur cadre and a native of Jaisinghpura village, rode a mare as part of the procession in a village in Haryana.
“When my aunt got married in 2001, the groom was beaten by upper caste men even though he didn’t ride a mare when the wedding procession was passing through an area where the dominant caste lives,” Dhanwanta told HT.
Dhanwanta said that he informed the administration in advance about his wedding, and the measures were taken “as a precaution.” “The family was apprehensive. I may be an IPS officer but for them, I am their son first. Even today, people from the scheduled castes do fear taking out wedding processions. Things have improved but there is a long way to go,” he added.
Dhanwanta, the first from his village to become an IPS officer, said efforts have been made over time to bring sensitization, and build harmony and respect.
In April last year, in another Scheduled Caste marriage, an MLA of the constituency himself led the procession with the mare to convey a strong message.
“The presence of the police does not make us happy, but if an issue was to develop, it would bring unrest. My only objective is to bring change in society,” Dhanwanta said.
Rajasthan has struggled with caste-based violence in the past, with attacks on Scheduled Caste marriage processions, particularly whenever the groom wanted to ride a mare during his wedding.
Data from Rajasthan Police shows that in the past decade, 76 cases have been registered where Dalit grooms have been stopped from riding a horse.
In November, stones were pelted at a wedding procession in Pawta, close to Surajpura at a Dalit wedding procession, despite the presence of police, and a request for security. Over a dozen people were arrested later.
Congress MLA Indraj Singh Gujjar said the security provided to the IPS officer was a precautionary measure, with the incident in Pawta in mind.
“With time, things are improving. People now understand that everyone has the right to equality. Even in April 2021, a family from Surajpura approached us and said they wanted to have a wedding procession with a mare. It was the first time in the area that this happened without a problem, with police protection,” he said.
Soni Devi, the Surajpura village sarpanch, said that the situation wasn’t the same as in previous years. “Things happened peacefully here. Even when the IPS officer’s sister was married, the groom’s wedding procession was on a mare,” she said.
Manish Agarwal, superintendent of police, Jaipur rural said the IPS officer had not asked for protection per se, but a survey is usually conducted at the local level in such marriages. He said that the apprehension that something would go wrong existed, which is why the force was deployed.
Satish Kumar, Director of the Centre for Dalit Rights said, “Even today people are recognized by their caste, even if they are IPS officers. Rajasthan has a tradition that the groom sits on a mare during a wedding procession. Why can’t Dalits? At times, even funeral processions are not allowed to cross upper caste colonies? At CDR, we receive 35 such cases every year.”
Recently, the Bundi district administration has started an initiative under which villages have been identified where people from the Dalit community have never been allowed to use horses in processions. In these villages, the administration has created “Samanta Commitees” in each such village, aimed to provide encouragement and support to Dalit families.