1,500 Dalits embrace Buddhism for ‘equality’: Gujarat

On Dussehra, around 500 Dalits from different parts of Gujarat had converted to Buddhism

Image: Outlook India

It seems like the government’s assurance to protect, preserve and restore the dignity of Dalits after the Una incident is still something the Dalit community sees as a lie.

After the Una incident when four Dalits were publicly flogged on the allegation of killing a cow, Gujarat has witnessed nearly a three-fold rise in the number of Dalit conversions to Buddhism.

In another mass conversion ceremony, around 1,500 Dalits from different parts of Gujarat resolved to follow the teachings of Buddhism at a function organized at the SardarVallabhbhai Patel National Memorial in Shahibaug area of Ahmedabad on Sunday, October 27, The Indian Express reported.

In the function organized by the Gujarat chapter of Buddha’s Light International Association (BLIA) and presided over by HsinBau, the religious head of BLIA and Buddhist monk from Taiwan, many monks from India and abroad pledged to follow Buddhism after getting themselves registered with the BLIA.

Speaking to the paper, Current President of the Gujarat Chapter of the BLIA said that that there were many people among the 1,400-odd people who took the pledge to follow Buddhism for the first time.

Citing discrimination in Hinduism, ManjulaMakwana who embraced Buddhism with her husband, spoke to the paper on the eve of the occasion and said, “Equality is the only reason for us to embrace Buddhism. As Hindus we did not find equality… We are witnessing lot of discrimination and atrocities against people of Scheduled Caste (Dalits). Surendranagar is notorious for it.”

NisargParmar, an engineer, who pledged to follow the same path also converted with around 25 members from his extended family. He said, “We used to follow Hinduism. But we do not like the discrimination and caste hierarchy in it. Buddhism is preaching equality. So, today we have taken the pledge to follow Buddhism… I want India to be the best in the world. But I think one of the biggest hurdles in its progress is this caste system that discriminates people and treats them unequally.”

This is not the first time that Hindu groups have chosen to convert to Buddhism. Recently, on Dussehra, around 500 Dalits from different parts of Gujarat embraced Buddhism at three separate functions in Ahmedabad city, Mehsana and Idar of Sabarkantha district.

Expression of anger
P G Jyotikar, Chairman of the Buddhist Society of India and one of the first Dalits to convert to Buddhism said that the decision of Dalits all over Gujarat to convert to Buddhism, was an expression of anger to protest against the caste-based violence meted out to them.

Before the Una incident, Gujarat would witness 400-500 conversions every year, but the number has now risen to around 1,500-1,600.

Dalits, though being a part of Hinduism, were never allowed to enter temples.The ruling BJP had come under severe criticism of opposition parties who claimed that this was the real ‘Gujarat model’ under which minority communities were persecuted and tortured.

Ramesh Sarvaiya, one of the men assaulted in the Una incident said that Hindu cow vigilantes addressed the Dalit community as Muslims. He added, “The kind of discrimination we faced by Hindus pains us and therefore we have decided to convert. Even the state government has discriminated against us by not fulfilling the promises made to us in the wake of the flogging incident.” He said abandoning Hinduism may not change anything, “but we will no longer pray before the same gods whose followers thrash us and treat us like animals.”

Dalit thinker Chandra Bhan had said that these mass conversions would send a strong message to the government for not giving Dalits their deserved status in society. He said that there would be more such conversions if ‘radicalised Hindus’ continue to discriminate against Dalits.

“This is the beginning of a Quit Hinduism movement, and if upper caste Hindus continue to chase Dalits away, the count of Hindus would come down significantly.” Badri Narayan, professor at JNU’s School of Social Sciences, said all should take note of the mass conversion and try to take corrective measures.
Dalit youth, all over the country, especially in BJP ruled states, have been up in arms because of the alarming rise in incidents of brutal oppression and murderous atrocities against Dalits by outfits owing allegiance to the RSS.

Cow-related violence has been on an upward trend since the Modi government came to power in 2014 and Dalit groups are particularly vulnerable to such attacks, as they are particularly responsible for disposing cattle carcasses and skins.

In 2018, another Dalit man MukeshVaniya was killed in a cow-vigilante murder in Rajkot.

Dalits have been fighting for their rights from time immemorial. The sudden caste-supremacist shift in India, has put their lives and livelihoods at stake. These conversions come as a hard stance against the ruling party’s dream of a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ as Dalits are now denouncing Hinduism.

Dalits, all over the country are today challenging this hierarchy of caste by converting from Hinduism. This is their act of rebellion in the name of liberation.

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