Culture & Society

Vows Of Equality And Constitutional Values: How A Dalit Couple In Rajasthan Said No To The Traditional Wedding

The couple refrained from calling it a wedding ceremony and instead termed it Sah-Jevan-Ka-Jashn and solemnised their marriage according to the Buddhist religion

Advertisement

Tabeenah%20Anjum
Mamta Meghwanshi and Krishna Kumar's wedding Photo: Tabeenah Anjum
info_icon

On Monday (March 18), an unlikely sight awaited the villagers of Sidiyas, a small hamlet in Rajasthan's hilly Bhilwara district -- who had assembled braving the scorching sun to witness a one-of-a-kind wedding. Contrary to usual wedding ceremonies, no mare, priests, garlands, or band parties were visible in the near vicinity. The backdrop of the stage had a large smiling sketch of the bride and groom. Surrounding the portrait were the pictures of social reformers including B R Ambedkar, Bhagat Singh, Mahatma Gandhi, Jyotiba Phule, and Savitribai Phule, whereas the foreground had a small idol of Gautam Buddha and a hard copy of the Indian Constitution.

The couple refrained from calling it a wedding ceremony and instead termed it Sah-Jevan-Ka-Jashn (Celebration of lifelong companionship). The ardent followers of Ambedkar's philosophy, the couple solemnised the marriage according to the Buddhist religion. A bride wearing a radiant white saree, and a white flower garland around her curly and the groom in a white sherwani, sat on two sides of the pot holding one end of a white cotton thread that ran through a water pot as the Buddhist monk (Bante) recited mangal sutta in the background.

Advertisement

the%20couple%20exchanging%20vows
the couple exchanging vows Photo: Tabeenah Anjum
info_icon

"The idea was to send out a message of equality and the Buddhist Marriage ceremony is simple and preaches equality. In contrast, the Hindu style of wedding, which has saat pheras, sindoor (red vermillion), and mangal sutra, sends out a clear message of inequality where a woman is treated unequally in a patriarchal set-up. I and Krishna both wanted to solemnise our marriage in this way and we were lucky to get the support of our family members", the bride Mamta Meghwanshi told Outlook.

Stressing on how weddings have become a status symbol in the society, Krishna Kumar hailing from Ranoli village of Sikar district shared with Outlook, "Keeping in mind how weddings have become a financial transaction in the society. In the courtship period, we decided to keep our wedding simple without any ceremonies, refusing the concept of dowry and ensuring the vows taken by us are equal and decided by us."

Advertisement

The%20couple%20with%20their%20friends%20after%20they%20exchange%20vows
The couple with their friends after they exchange vows Photo: Tabeenah Anjum
info_icon

The Seven Pledges 

Instead of the wedding vows, the couple Mamta Meghwanshi (27) and Krishna Kumar (25), preferred to take seven pledges (Sahajeevan Ke Sankalp), drafted by them in consultation with friends and family. The couple was flanked by several noted activists and progressive thinkers who read out the seven pledges to uphold the Constitution of India and vowed to be mutually supportive to each other's lives.

The guests gathered at the venue got a lesson about the essence of the Indian constitution and the ideals of equality, secularism and freedom rights.

"The marriages are not mere ceremonies but a companionship of two individuals which should thrive on love, respect and equality. The seven pledges are based on mutual trust, partnership dedicated to the betterment of the country, the universal values of the Indian Constitution, to protect and respect all living beings, struggle in life with patience and respect in adverse situations, are much needed in the trying times we are living in," said activist Kavita Srivastava who conducted the ritual of seven pledges.

Opting for the Special Marriage Act

The couple also registered the marriage under the Special Marriage Act, 1954 in the Bhilwara court earlier this month. "When we went to register under the special marriage act the officials raised eyebrows stating that there is no need to get registered under the act as we both are 'Hindus' but instead get married under The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. However, we told them that we didn't want to follow religious rituals. The application is still pending in the court," Mamta and Krishna told Outlook.

The Hindu Marriage Act, of 1955, is specific to Hindu marriages and provides detailed provisions for such marriages, while the Special Marriage Act, of 1954, allows for marriages between individuals of different religions or those who do not wish to follow religious rituals.

"If a marriage is registered under the Special Marriage Act, its provisions would govern, even if the couple was initially married under the Hindu Marriage Act. Both Acts confer jurisdiction based on the couple's place of residence or where the marriage was solemnised," said Akhil Chaudhary, Rajasthan-based advocate who specialises in human rights cases, also an invitee at the ceremony.

Advertisement

"Mostly, couples of different religious faiths or those who do not subscribe to the idea of religion and don't want to go through dogmatic or orthodox rituals and ceremonies go for the Special Marriage Act marriage," he added.

Guests%20at%20the%20wedding
Guests at the wedding Photo: Tabeenah Anjum
info_icon

A fight against discrimination

Both lawyers by profession -- Mamta and Krishna belonging to the Dalit Meghwal community -- are activists fighting discrimination in Rajasthan's feudal society. They decided that the ceremony should send out a message of equality to the public of the state which ranks among the worst in terms of atrocities against Dalits.

For Narayan Meghwanshi (82) and Dhanni Devi (75), the grandparents of Mamta, the joy of the occasion had doubled. Dressed in the traditional Rajasthani attire, Narayan and Sharda said, "We have seen the struggle to live and exercise our rights. We are not only proud of our grandchild for having chosen this unique idea but also hopeful that time will change soon."

Advertisement

Mamta%27s%20grandfather
Mamta's grandfather Photo: Tabeenah Anjum
info_icon

In Seediyas, which has around 25 households of the ST community, Dalits here fought against feudalism, 60 years ago. In 2012,  Dalit students protested against discrimination in school education and women from the community fought against discrimination at the NREGA workplace in 2006.

Dalits, who are around 16.6 per cent of India’s population, also known as scheduled castes, continue to have substantially lower wealth. The community faces violence, intimidation and discrimination nationwide.

Mamta%27s%20grandmother%20(middle)
Mamta's grandmother (middle) Photo: Tabeenah Anjum
info_icon

Attacks on Dalits have grown in Rajasthan since 2018. Rajasthan ranks third in atrocities against Dalits according to latest available, 2020 National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data. The latest available Rajasthan police data reveal a 7.23 per cent increase in atrocities against Dalits in 2021 as compared to 2020.

Advertisement

According to the Rajasthan police in the last decade, 76 cases have been registered against upper castes who stopped Dalit men from riding a horse during wedding processions.

Dalit Assertion & caste-based prejudices

"The increase in attacks on Dalits is not only alarming but reflects deep-rooted caste-based prejudices that persist in Indian society, despite legal protections and affirmative action measures in place. The recent incidents in Rajasthan -- forcing a Dalit man to shave off his moustache, assaulting Dalits for riding mares during weddings, and prohibiting Dalit women from wearing slippers connected with lifestyle issues seen by upper castes as a challenge to the caste hierarchy," Bhanwar Meghwanshi, author and a noted Dalit rights activist told Outlook.

Advertisement

Meghwanshi, who also happens to be the father of the bride Mamta Meghwanshi, believes that the community needs to stick to the values of Ambedkar and collectively fight against oppression. 

"In our village, the groom could have rode the mare and no one would have stopped him. But it's not about one village or one wedding. How can we ignore that in Rajasthan only police are giving protection to a groom for riding a mare? Why is even that protection needed?  Which is why I think weddings in which hundreds of guests are present can be a platform for the community to understand and assert their rights", he added.

Advertisement

On March 15, 2022, a Dalit youth in Pali was allegedly killed for sporting a moustache. In the same month, a Dalit man was forced to rub his nose on a temple platform over a Facebook post he had made on The Kashmir Files, a movie.

In November 2021, the Rajasthan police arrested 10 people for allegedly throwing stones at a Dalit wedding procession in the Jaipur district. In June 2021, a 21-year-old Dalit man in Hanumangarh district died after being attacked by people who had earlier torn posters of B R Ambedkar, chief architect of the Indian Constitution, a man revered by Dalits but despised by upper castes because he was himself a Dalit.

Advertisement

"These acts not only violate the fundamental rights of Dalits but also reflect the broader social hierarchy where upper castes seek to assert their dominance and control over marginalised communities", said Satish Kumar of the Centre for Dalit Rights, Jaipur, who was also one of the guests at the wedding. 

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement