'Today's Dalit leaders have been co-opted by upper-caste governance' www.tehelka.com/channels/currentaffairs/2001/nov/5/ca10501ram.htm
Dalit-turned-Buddhist social activist Ram Raj speaks to Rinku Pegu about his reasons for having converted to Buddhism at a mass-conversion rally on November 4

New Delhi, November 5

Despite the establishment's attempts at glorifying "Hinduism" through various means, the conversion of Hindus into other religions has continued unabated. On Sunday, November 4, a large number of Dalits voluntarily converted to Buddhism in Delhi. Leading the mass conversion was Ram Raj, Dalit leader, chairperson of the All-India Confederation of SC/ST Organisations and an Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officer. He says that his and his followers' diksha as Buddhists should not be called "conversion" because he considers embracing Buddhism a "renaissance and return to the cultural roots".

What made you formally renounce Hinduism? The primary reason is the oppressive caste system, which divides Hindus into human beings and sub-human beings. Twice-born upper-caste members are a privileged lot, enjoying access to success in life, while the lower-caste members are made to consider themselves inferior and are condemned to a life of poverty. From a rational point of view, the caste system turns common people into cynics and makes them slaves to their fate. It simply negates the truism that people can themselves make a difference to their lives.

Why did you choose Buddhism over other religions? There is no denying the fact that both Christianity and Islam have positive, non-discriminatory aspects. But Buddhism appealed to me because it is essentially an indigenous religion. A secular religion matching with the rationality of our times. Buddhism basically believes that all men are equal and are capable of carving out their own destiny. The emphasis is not so much on God and the otherworld. One must not forget the fact Buddha was among the first to accept women as nuns into his religious order. But in the choice of religion, I must admit that the path shown by Baba Saheb B R Ambedkar influenced me a lot. How do you feel now after the diksha? Liberated and happy. I am no longer a shudra (untouchable) to be derided by the upper castes at will. My whole family, including my wife and two children, have taken their diksha along with me. There is a new meaning in my life now. I would rather be called Ram Raj the Buddhist than Ram Raj the Dalit.

There seems to be some confusion over the number of people who took diksha yesterday. Confusion is a potent instrument in the hands of the present government. Do you know that lakhs of people who were suppose to converge at Delhi form neighbouring states like Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh were forcibly stopped at the borders and prevented from entering Delhi? If the government was working without any malice, why would it withdraw the permission to hold the diksha on the Ram Lila grounds at the eleventh hour, the Delhi High Court verdict notwithstanding? In spite of all that, about 300,000 Dalits took diksha. Don't you feel that even after Ambedkar's conversion to Buddhism, the plight of Dalits remains unchanged? More than Ambedkar, it is at the door of present lot of the Dalit political leadership that the blame lies. If the current crop of leadership really worked for the upliftment of Dalits, what was the need for us to go in for diksha in search of a separate identity distinct from Hinduism? Indeed, it won't be farfetched to say that leaders like Mayawati and R V Paswan have been co-opted by the upper caste-run system of governance.

We are consciously making an effort to see that the progressive elements guaranteed by the Constitution are not diluted in any manner. We will see that the designs of the present government to alter the Constitution are not successful.

What are your future plans? I will soon be taking a decision to quit my job as revenue officer and devote myself fulltime to the cause of improving the life of the Dalits and the downtrodden. I also want to launch a movement for just and equal education for all. Education holds the key to a successful life and everybody should be able to access it. We will strive to ensure compulsory reservation even in the private sector.

Tribals' death: Orissa officials suspended
By Our Staff Reporter

BHUBANESWAR, NOV. 7. The Orissa Chief Minister, Mr. Naveen Patnaik, today ordered suspension of the Superintendent of Police and Additional District Magistrate of Nawrangpur district in connection with the police firing at Rangabhatti village in the Raighar block on October 30.

Three tribals were killed and about 20 others were injured when the police opened fire after they failed to pacify the armed tribals who threatened to cut the crops grown by the Bengali settlers in the area and set the latter's houses on fire.

The Chief Minister also ordered suspension of the Officer-in- Charge of the Raighar Police Station on the basis of the recommendations of the three-member Ministerial Committee headed by the Revenue Minister, Mr. Biswabhushan Harichandan.

Mr. Patnaik also ordered disciplinary action against the former Superintendent of Police, Nawrangpur, Mr. Ghanshyam Parida.

He also directed the State Chief Secretary to take necessary steps for protection of tribal land in the area and transfer the present Tehsildar.

Buddhist body will hold conversion camp in Gaya


GAYA: After Delhi, it is the turn of Bodh Gaya to organise a camp for the conversion of non Buddhists, particularly the Dalits, to the Buddhist faith.

According to president of the Bihar unit of the Akhil Bharatiya Baudh Mahasangh Badri Singh Baudh, the non Budhhists would be baptised into the new faith on November 17 at Bodh Gaya, the seat of Buddha's enlightenment.

The Buddhist body president also said that the deeksha (baptisation) rituals would be performed by Bhadant Prajyasheel, superior priest of the most sacred Buddhist shrine where Prince Siddhartha Gautam attained divinity to become Buddha, the enlightened one.

Baudh denied that the conversions or deeksha , as he put it, had any political overtones.

However, according to a senior leader of the Vishva Hindu Parishad, the conversions were being prompted by the Dalit Sena, said to be an outfit enjoying the patronage of the Union coal minister Ram Bilas Paswan.

According to Baudh, this was not the first time that the Mahasangh was organising the baptisation function. He said that similar programmes were held on December 5, 1999, and on the same date in the year 2000, on the eve of Ambedkar Jayanti.

He himself embraced Buddhism along with 162 others at the baptisation function held on December 5, 1999, said Badri Baudh. However, unlike the baptisation programme scheduled for the November 17, the previous two conversions were a low-key affair.

The baptisation rituals, as per the schedule released by Badri Baudh, Sushila Tai Patekar, the Mumbai based President of the ABBM and its General Secretary V J Gaekwad would also be present at the conversion programme in Bodh Gaya on November 17.

The state president of the Buddhist body organising the conversions told the Times News Network that on November 18, about 350 monks, along with the leaders of the ABBM, would march to the Raj Bhawan and 1, Anne Marg (the official residence of the Bihar chief minister) to press for its longstanding demand for the amendment of the Mahabodhi Temple Act to facilitate Buddhist takeover of the shrine management.

The monks and ABBM leaders are also likely to register protest against the removal of Bhadant Prajyasheel, the first Buddhist secretary of the shrine management committee and his replacement with Kalicharan Yadav, said to be a Laloo loyalist.

Earlier the neo Buddhists also used the temple web site to register protest against the installation of Kalicharan Yadav as the secretary of the BTMC where Buddha followers from all over the globe make offerings in foreign exchange, particularly US dollars.

Asked about the proposed conversions, vice-president of the state unit of the VHP Udai Kumar Verma said that though the deeksha only symbolised a change in the mode of worship and Buddhists, like the Sikhs and Jains, continued to remain the members of the larger Hindu fold, the use of conversions to launch a tirade against Hinduism and show Hinduism in a non favourable light was reprehensible and the VHP strongly denounced it.

According to VHP sources, senior Hindutva leader Acharya Giriraj Kishore was in close touch with the local VHP leaders to monitor the developments taking place on the conversion front. (qadirtoi@indiatimes.com)

DSS activists protest against demotion of engineers
DH News Service

Activists of the Dalit Sangarsh Samithi undertook a semi-nude parade in the city today in protest against the move by the state government to introduce the demotion of engineers belonging to the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.

The parade, which started from the Ambedkar Circle, traversed through the main streets of the city and concluded at the deputy commissioner's office, where, a memorandum was handed over to the DC. District Organising Convener A D Eshwarappa, Naraganahally Ramachandrappa, district Convener Alur Ningaraj and others spoke in the public meeting, which was held in front of the DC's office.

They demanded that the demotion of SC/ST engineers be given up and alternative posts be evolved to absorb those engineers, who would loose there positions. They also demanded that the policy should not be extended to other departments.

There other demands include the execution of the Sabarwal case recommendation, which holds that the reservation be increased in accordance with the population, extending the reservation policy for cadre posts and issuing a government order to bring into effect, Article 16 (4A) of the Indian constitution.

They noted that the demotion move was an insult to the state, which practiced reservations in promotion and demanded the move be abandoned. They also expressed their support to the protest in Bangalore by the engineers opposing the demotion policy.

They maintained that the state government had misinterpreted the decision given by the Supreme Court in the M G Badappa case and as a result, was trying to implement the demotion policy. They alleged that the Congress government had totally failed to ensure the welfare of the Dalits in the state.

. The Telegraph
Dalit Conversion Row To Reach President

New Delhi, Nov. 7:
The All India Christian Council plans to write to President K.R. Narayanan, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the National Human Rights Commission, demanding the "immediate sacking" of John Joseph, member of the National Council for Minorities, for allegedly being "coopted" by the Sangh parivar.

This adds a new twist to the falling out between the NCM and leaders of the Christian community over the recent mass conversion of Dalits to Buddhism.

Joseph along with NCM vice-chairman Tarlochan Singh had opposed the conversion on grounds that "such attempts hinder establishing harmony among the various religions in the country". Thousands of Dalits converted to Buddhism in a widely publicised ceremony on November 4.

Church leaders said they feared a backlash as the atmosphere had been vitiated by the its spat with the NCM, the much-criticised conversion and the RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan's remarks during his Vijayadashami speech calling for a reinterpretation of Christian scriptures.

Dialogue between the church and the RSS leadership, scheduled in Cochin on November 27, could be in jeopardy, they added.

Christian council secretary general John Dayal last month demanded Sudarshan 's arrest, while VHP president Ashok Singhal last week demanded Dayal's arrest and prosecution.

Joseph joined this chorus by demanding the arrest of K.P. Yohannan of Gospel for Asia for "solely organising the conversion of Dalits to Christianity", the council said in a statement. His views were aired on November 2 and 3 on television, the council added.

Asked to comment, Joseph criticised John Dayal as a "self-styled Christian leader working against the interest of the minorities".

The clergy, however, has distanced itself from this controversy. Although critical of the NCM for interfering in matters of faith, the Church failed to condemn the commission for opposing the conversion of Dalits.

Catholic Bishops Conference of India spokesman Dominic Emmanuel said he did not think conversions came under the jurisdiction of NCM.

"They (NCM) should have actively supported the cause of minorities, particularly Dalits, who are the oppressed class for centuries," he said, adding the commission's fears were "unfounded".

NCM vice chairman Tarlochan Singh said "the commission condemns any type of conversion. The conversion from one religion to another only creates misunderstanding and does not allow harmony to be there among the various faiths.".

The Telegraph
Silver Screen Lining For Bhanwari

Mumbai, Nov. 7:
Bhanwari Devi may be the country's most celebrated rape victim, but she doesn't have the money to buy a plot of land in a neighbouring village. Bawandar, the film made on her life, may change all that, hopes Jagmohan Mundra, the director.

Mundra is organising charity shows across the country to raise money for the village woman from Rajasthan who refused to bow down after being gangraped and became an icon in the process. The movie, starring Nandita Das, which will be released on November 23, will be shown at charity dos in Delhi on November 23 and in Mumbai on November 24. He will be in Calcutta next week.

Similar shows have been held in London and Los Angeles. "Several lakhs have been raised at the shows," claims Mundra, who says he is wary of making promises that may not turn into reality.

But he wouldn't mind bringing her into the spotlight again. The music cassette of the film was released at J-49, a happening disco here.

"She may have turned into a celebrity. But Bhanwari Devi is where she was, possessor of four ghaghras, a poor saathin (women's development worker) with a meagre allowance. She may have won the Neerja Bhanot award for bravery and taken to the women's conference in Beijing. She may have been on the Savvy magazine cover. The Prime Minister may have honoured her. But day-to-day life is a very different thing.

"My film is about the rape that follows the first rape. The upper-caste Gujjar men who raped her have been let off by the court, which said upper-caste men would not touch a lower-caste woman. The rapists belong to the same village as her, Bhateri, which is not a pretty thing," says Mundra.

"Till some time back, the Gujjar men used to expose themselves every time she passed by, calling her a liar and a loose woman. She wants to move away from all that, but doesn't have the money to relocate and she is too proud to ask. Let me see if my movie can change all this," Mundra adds.

Nandita Das may be too young, too pretty for the feisty village woman. "But if it helps Bhanwari Devi in some way, what's wrong with it?" says Mundra, admitting Bawandar, which means a slowly gathering sandstorm, is a much more "picturesque" version of the real story.

Bhanwari Devi's story goes back to 1992. She had protested against a child marriage in the sarpanch's house. The marriage took place anyway, but the sarpanch and his cronies decided to teach the woman a lesson by raping her.

Bhanwari Devi then went all the way to Jaipur with her husband and got herself medically examined. Women activists took up her cause, which catapulted her to the headlines.

The director said there were initial objections from the activists because they felt a film would only make a spectacle out of Bhanwari Devi's misery. But he was undeterred, as Bhanwari Devi herself was supportive from the begi nning. "She liked the idea of the film very much," he said.

The storyline - names have been changed in the film - has a researcher from abroad, played by former VJ Laila Rouass, coming to Bhateri to write a book on Savri Devi, the Bhanwari Devi character. The story unfolds as Savri/Bhanwari starts telling her tale.

"Laila's character is interested in Bhanwari Devi for her own end. People come to meet her with their own agenda. Maybe I am also doing the same. But again, if it does some good, why not?" says Mundra.

Emperor Ashoka's images unearthed in Orissa
Bhubaneswar, Nov 6 (UNI)

The magnificent Lion Capital of Emperor Ashoka as the National Emblem of India has long seeped into the nation's consciousness but the image of the emperor himself had remained shrouded amid the ruins of his land.

Now archaeologists in Orissa claim to have unearthed images of Ashoka, carved in sandstone. The two images, with some inscriptions on the obverse, were found during excavations at an ancient Buddhist site atop the Langudi hill in Orissa's Jajpur district.

The discovery has assumed significance as so far no individual images of Ashoka, dating back to the third century BC, have been traced at any of the sites associated with his kingdom.

The two magnificent images were found at the entrance of the Buddhist stupa earlier uncovered by archaeologists on Langudi hill during an excavation by the Orissa Institute of Maritime and South East Asian Studies (OIMSEAS). According to OIMSEAS President and Orissa Minister of State for Tourism and Culture Bijayashree Routray, the inscriptions on these images, deciphered by two eminent epigraphists of the country, indicated the name of Ashoka. A visiting delegation of Buddhist monks, who were touring important sites in the state, was informed about the discovery.

Langudi hill is already known as the seat of the Puspagiri Vihar which finds mention in Chinese pilgrim Hieun Tsang's account during his visit to Udra (now Orissa) during 639 AD. A systematic excavation by the OIMSEAS since 1996 in the hill had also revealed the existence of Ashokan Pillars, Stupas and terracotta seals from the Buddhist monastery.

Ban sought on 'Asoka'
By Our Staff Reporter

BHUBANESWAR, NOV. 7. Activists of the Kalinga Sena organised a demonstration outside a cinema hall here today demanding a ban on the screening of the Bollywood film `Asoka' in Orissa.

The demonstrators burnt down the effigies of Mr. Shahrukh Khan and Ms. Kareena Kapoor, who have played the lead roles in the film, and also of Ms. Juhi Chawla who is the co- producer.

The Kalinga Sena president, Mr. Hemanta Rath, felt that the film had nothing to do with history and it was like any other film full of sex and romance. He threatened that the activists would stop screening of the film if the authorities failed to impose the ban.

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Published on: November 08, 2001
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