The Katrina-Vicky wedding was a trending topic. Rajasthan, which is now the ultimate wedding destination, once again became an arena of imagined joy where many dreamt of getting married in the ‘royal style’.
Weddings in India mimic the Karan Johar universe where common people visualise themselves as doppelgängers of celebrities.
Weddings of actual celebs give hope to the people, even to those who otherwise claim that marriage is a patriarchal social construct, but perhaps one should be allowed the suspension of disbelief if one sees the image of beautiful celebrities smiling in the oversaturated Instagram-friendly picture.
When the Katrina Kaif-Vicky Kaushal wedding was happening, many different kinds of weddings were also taking place in Rajasthan.
A few weeks ago, near a village in Udaipur, a wedding procession of the Dalit community was moving with usual carnivalesque fashion when out of nowhere, people from the dominant caste started pelting the groom and his family with stones. The incident left the groom, his sister and many relatives badly injured.
Weddings for Dalits in Rajasthan are no less than tragic suspense thrillers where the family of the groom doesn’t know if they will reach the bride’s house without getting beaten up by the angry and jealous people of dominant caste whose whole existence depends on stopping the Dalit groom from sitting on a horse to meet his lover and life partner. Such incidents are common in the wedding season.
I particularly remember an incident from my childhood that happened during our family event in 1998. My maternal uncle was getting married near Mardatu village in Sikar district of Rajasthan. A day before the marriage at the sangeet ceremony, the speakers were playing songs from Bobby Deol’s then newly released film Soldier. The volume had to be turned down because the BSNL landline phone kept ringing for a long time. My grandfather attended the call. The caller on the other side, whose voice seemed to be modulated by wrapping the phone with handkerchief, said these lines: “Kal agar dulha ghodi pe chadha toh goli maar denge (If the groom dares to ride a horse, we will shoot him dead).
This one phone call completely upturned the happiness in the air, filling it with gloom and anxiety. The next day, the procession went through the village in a tense mood. No one knew at what point a sudden gunshot or stone could come from, which would turn the procession of dancing and enjoyment into an utterly violent and melancholic one.
Cut to 2018. I attended a helicopter wedding of a Dalit near my hometown, Sikar. A giant helicopter right in the middle of the farm became a huge attraction in the village. The small dust storm that the aircraft brought in the desert created a sense of dominance. The question hung heavy from the helicopter’s blades — how much had the sandstorm, in the symbolic sense, hurt the eyes of the members of the dominant caste?
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At another helicopter wedding
A few weeks ago, in Rajasthan’s Barmer district, a Dalit groom decided that instead of riding the horse, he would ride the helicopter. The first helicopter that the family had booked was refused at the last moment, allegedly due to pressure from dominant caste members. They had to pay an extra Rs 1 lakh to ride the chopper.
Chaos and absurdity remain the sub-dialects of Rajasthan. These weddings also capture a similar vibe. It is true that weddings in India are sites of power to make bold social statements. These helicopter weddings can also be read as a caste statement and as a friction between the old feudal but medieval dominant castes and the tech-savvy emerging new middle-class generations of the Dalits in Rajasthan.
Additionally, it also raises the question as to whether the now jealous dominant caste should also book the rival helicopter and try to de-board the Dalits. Will we see a futuristic Star Wars like situation in the sunny skies of Rajasthan?
These images of flying helicopters call for some sociological enquiries. One of which is: can accumulation of capital change the social position in the caste society?
It is true to some extent that the same helicopter, when it lands on earth, will also mark the end of the escapist fantasy. But once on the earth, they then have to deal with the same society and sometimes such displays of assertion lead to additional social boycott by the powerful dominant castes. This is why flying to the sky, or in Rahul Gandhi’s words “escape velocity of Jupiter”, might not make a huge difference in the material sense.
Caste is so embedded in the DNA of this Republic that even if Elon Musk makes colonies on Mars, Indians would remain segregated in colonies named Mukherjee Nagar and Ambedkar Nagar.
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Caste and capital
This is also an interesting situation to understand how caste will always be a determinant factor in Indian society, in a way more than the idea of class. Despite having the money, the Barmer Dalit family had to struggle to book the chopper due to their caste location. Accumulation of wealth doesn’t change the social realities of hierarchy in Indian society.
Another question that arises would be, why is there even a need for weddings where Dalits follow these rituals which have roots in the Brahmanical ceremony? Why would it be necessary to ride a horse or even a helicopter?
I hope, eventually in future, marginalised castes shun pomp and show, if not immediately. Society is in the transit phase where Dalits are trying every option that can provide them with a life of dignity. For them, riding the helicopter might give a sense of psychological relief if not material.
In the caste society where such acts are forbidden for Dalits, riding a horse or a chopper to one’s own wedding becomes an act of assertion. When dominant castes have the monopoly on joy, then the image of a happy Dalit is itself a resistance.
In the mainstream wedding culture, marriages are termed as a match made in heaven. But in reality, it’s a careful arrangement of caste, class, religion, gotra, colour complexion, kundali and whatnot. In Rajasthan, these permutations are so complex that even a proud matchmaker like Sima aunty would deal with chronic headaches.
In the middle of these endless parameters of caste, class, complexion, etc., how can one imagine the Dalit happy?
Rajasthan may be the hottest wedding destination for the world, but for Dalits it remains the most dangerous wedding destination. The Rajasthan government should consider changing its tourism punchline from “Jaane kya dikh jaaye” to “Jaane konsi caste-atrocity dikh jaaye.”
Anurag is a multimedia artist and host of Anurag Minus Verma Podcast. He tweets @confusedvichar. Views are personal.
(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)