Right to Access Public Space

marriage procession dalit

On 18 Feb 2022, Sunil Kumar Dhanwanta, an IPS officer, took help from the Police in Jaipur, Rajasthan, to take his wedding procession. Sunil’s bureaucrat’s position becomes redundant in the eyes of upper castes Hindus because he belongs to the Scheduled Castes (SC) community (commonly known as Dalits). In 2018, a similar case was highlighted in UP’s Kasganj District. Sanjay Jatav, an SC, took help from Allahabad High Court for his marriage procession. Consequently, Sanjay and Sheetal married under massive police force (10 Police inspectors, 22 Sub-inspector, 35 head constables and 100 constables) and a Provincial Armed Constabulary platoon.

These incidences are not limited to Sunil and Sanjay but it is an everyday story in India that higher castes Hindus forcefully stopped SC bridegroom to take marriage procession. These two stories catch the media’s attention but many went unreported and unnoticed. These stories teach us two things. First, in both cases, the bridegrooms fought against the Indian socio-economic order that is dominated by the higher caste Hindus, and took wedding procession in ‘public space’ by exercising their rights. Second, it is a classic example of the failure of the constitutional democracy in India that after 72 years of the independence, the historically marginalised sections are still denied to their basic rights.

Marriage in various forms, customs and rituals has always been celebrated in every community in the world with dignity, pride and happiness. Through marriage procession, people come together to share their emotions, happiness and joy. The custom of procession is an essence of marriage. That procession develops a sense of fraternity in the society that built a bond of human connections. People in society need communication, connection and sharing feelings to develop a sense of fraternity. Conversely, in the Hindu culture, communities are based on the castes without having affections, communication and fraternity among people.

Every community takes pride of its caste and shares sentiments and emotions only within the caste circle. The caste has a strong identity and feeling of association that undermines the existence of a person from different castes. In India, a person’s identity is subject to her caste. Moreover, if that person belongs to the SC community, her identity is nothing but only a lower caste in the eyes of upper-caste Hindus that has no value in Hindu social order.

Ironically, the SCs do not possess the fundamental right to use ‘public space’ and take wedding procession in public space. The Indian Constitution under Articles 15, 17, 23 and 24 categorically prohibited discrimination based on caste, untouchability, begar, forced labour and child exploitation. Furthermore, the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (the PoA Act) also prohibited upper castes Hindus from exercising SCs and STs’ right to use public space and take wedding procession (Section 3 (1) (za) (A) and (B)).

Conversely, there are frequent cases of killing of SCs for having moustaches, wearing nice clothes, riding a horse, eating in front of Hindus, and so on. The State Data (NCRB) indicates that crime against SCs and STs is increased every year. In 2019, it increased 7.3% against SCs and 26.5 % against STs. Further, another data states that under PoA Act, 1989, the crime against SCs increased by 281.75% and 575.33% against STs between 2009 and 2018. NCRB 2019 data states that around 10 rape cases are reported against SCs women daily in India. According to 2020 NCRB data, crime against SCs has increased 9.4% from 2019, and an SC individual faced crime every 10 minutes in India. The life expectancy of SC woman is 14.6 years younger than upper caste woman.

On the basis of current treads of atrocities against SCs, the Indian society seems as ‘a numb society’. The higher caste Hindus are not taking initiative to annihilate caste and stopped caste based crimes. Evidences show that rather counter to the caste question they are protecting their cultural heritage of Varna system and caste privileges. Consequently, there is an ongoing struggle in the lives of SCs from birth to death to get a dignified place in the open sky.

The vexed question is why the Constitution and institutions failed to protect marginalised sections and why not Indian democracy turns into a constitutional democracy. The answer is simple: people who hold constitutional and institutional positions broadly come from upper-caste Hindus and they do not want to decentralise Indian socio-economic resources with the marginalised sections. Dr BR Ambedkar rightly articulated that ‘caste is a state of mind’, an essence of Hinduism. If caste ceases, Hinduism ceases. To preserve caste, higher caste Hindus, every day, do caste and untouchability practices towards the SCs communities in various ways.

What should the upper castes Hindus do? The upper castes Hindus are polluting their younger generations’ minds to disassociate, segregate, and discriminate against their fellow citizens in the name of caste and Verna. This approach (casteism) is responsible for not developing a feeling of fraternity in Indian society. Casteism is an anti-thesis to equality, harmony and nationalism. Therefore, it is high time that the Hindus must teach their children how not to be casteist.

What should the State do? First, the State must advertise the PoA Act widely through various platforms to tell nation that SCs are human beings too, and they also possess all rights, freedom, liberty and power as Hindus possess. Second, the Indian State should take steps to inculcate constitutional culture and apply the principle of constitutional morality as a governance model in society. Furthermore, it is high time that people who hold constitutional positions must uphold its integrity and honour to apply it in letter and spirit. Now the question remains with us that– How much time India has to wait for transforming itself into Raidas’s Begumpura, (a place with no pain, no taxes or cares, none owns property there, no wrongdoing, worry, terror, or torture) from a hierarchal and casteist society.

Deepak Kumar has summited his PhD thesis at the Centre for the Study of Law and Governance, JNU. You may contact him [email protected]


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