At a time when caste rules the political discourse, a defiant Dalit youngster’s dream to ride a mare to his wedding and the vicious retaliation by upper caste men in Nizampur village in Kasganj district of Uttar Pradesh mirror the deep social fault lines in the country
KASGANJ (UTTAR PRADESH): If caste fault lines could have a colour, it would be green and yellow.
In the dusty fields of Nizampur village in western Uttar Pradesh’s Kasganj, five km off State Highway 33 that connects Pilibhit in UP and Bharatpur in Rajasthan, Rammoorti cuddles her seven month-old child and points towards the dry fields behind her.
Her family is among the few Dalit households to own land in this area. But for the past few weeks they have been going through trying times. The tubewells in the area, owned by the upper caste, have allegedly stopped giving water to the Dalit families to irrigate their fields. The result: the more the mercury rises, the more Rammoorti’s crops wilt and turn yellow.
A stone’s throw away are corn and cauliflower fields belonging to the upper caste. Despite coats of dust, their fields are verdant. The flashpoint of the caste tension here was a Dalit youth’s wish to ride a mare at his wedding. Sanjay Jatav, who is set to tie the knot in a few months, is insisting he will lead his marriage procession on a mare and the baraat would pass an area dominated by the upper castes.But as per the custom of Nizampur village, dominated by Thakurs, no Dalit groom has ever been allowed to ride a mare to his wedding.Claiming that his wedding procession was denied permission, an angry Sanjay said, “I just want to celebrate my wedding the way I want to. Who are they to stop me? Forget horses, my procession will even have elephants.”
His proclamation has not gone down well with the upper castes in Nizampur and surrounding villages like Nagla Summi, Nagla Pipal and Qutubpur. The family of Sheetal Jatav, Sanjay’s fiancée, too is also facing trouble as the upper castes have allegedly stopped water supply to them. “All these years we were peacefully cultivating our land, but now our crop is drying up as the upper castes have stopped water supply,” rued Sheetal’s mother Madhubala.
The seven other Dalit families in Nizampur are suffering too. Power supply to their homes has been cut off in retaliation to Sanjay’s defiance.
“We only had one bulb and now even that is gone. We can’t complain to the police as we know no action would be taken against them. In fact, we will end up being harassed,” said Santosh Kumari.
The lone school in the village has also not been spared. School cook Kedarilal said, “There was no tension before. Now, even before I cook I need to take permission from them (upper castes). Am I doing something wrong? I cook to feed the children.”
The battle lines have spread to include neighbouring villages as well. A walk through Qutubpur tells the story. While five Dalit households crave drinking water, some upper caste men enjoy a shower in the tube well. “This is our tube well. We will use it the way we want. If they (Dalits) think they can issue a challenge and we will back down, it is their mistake,” Anup, a youth said in the middle of his shower.
Kasganj houses 64 villages in which the upper castes are in majority. An official in the District Magistrate’s office told The Sunday Standard that Sanjay’s wedding procession could lead to a flare-up, hence the authorities were being wary.
However, Shivam who has been asked to quit working in the upper caste fields, said his family now lives in fear. “Whatever has happened is not our problem. Because of the fiasco I am being forced to leave my village and family in such a situation,” he said. Similar is the situation in Berampur, where the eight Dalit families have been forced to defecate in their homes. “All the toilets were built for upper caste people. We would use the fields.
Now we are not allowed to do that, nor can we use the toilets. Our houses, which are already in shambles, have now become unhygienic,” Satyapal said and pointed toward a corner in his house which is being used as a toilet.The upper castes, however, deny the allegations. “It is the district authorities’ decision to reduce water supply as Kasganj falls in the dark zone of the water department. We have lived in peace for so long. Why would we do anything to disrupt it,” said Vipin.