One million Dalits to embrace Buddhism


New Delhi, April 8: After the cycle of conversion and re-conversion, a rebellion is brewing in India in the shape of the world’s biggest crossover to a religion. One million Dalits are expected to embrace Buddhism on October 14 in an articulation of anger strikingly similar to Black America’s march against the White mainstream.

The day — 45 years ago on October 14, B.R. Ambedkar had renounced Hinduism and found solace in Buddhism — has been chosen with care to hammer home the Dalit rage against the social stratification.

The objective behind the mammoth conversion is not only to rebuff the caste Hindus and the Brahminical order but also to remove the internal contradictions dogging the Dalits, who are divided into various camps representing the Balmikis, Paswans the Chamars and so on.

The decision on mass conversion has been taken by the All-India Confederation of SC/ST organisations, which groups four million Dalits.

“This is for our survival as humans,” said K. Ramankutty, president of the confederation’s Kerala unit. “Buddhism is a casteless religion. That is the primary reason why we want to embrace it. We have no enmity with anyone. It (the conversion) is for human rights.”

However, if the conversion plan comes through, it is certain to raise the hackles of the Sangh parivar.

Sangh hardliners who have opposed conversions have often found it difficult to answer charges that they have done little to dismantle the numerous social barriers in their religion. The one-million conversion will be seen as further proof of their perceived failure to nurture reforms.

The conversion is also expected to equip the Dalits to fight the Constitution review, which is being viewed by some sections as an affront to Ambedkar, one of the founding fathers of the statute.

Ramankutty lambasted the BJP-led government for trying to review the Constitution. “They are trying to bring Manu in place of Ambedkar. They are misinterpreting provisions of the Constitution to defeat the purpose of reservation and resort to largescale privatisation. We will soon have no place in the social hierarchy,” he said.

Ram Raj, the national chairman of the confederation, termed the conversion the “biggest cultural event in the world”. He said “the most crucial decision” to embrace Buddhism has the concurrence of Dalits leaders from almost all Indian states.

The confederation is planning to organise a series of programmes, including rath yatras to prepare the Dalits for a cultural change. The target is to convert the nation’s entire Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe population (25 crore) in the country, Ram Raj said.

The confederation will chalk out an agitation programme for reservation in the judiciary, army and the private sector in view of the Centre’s decision to disinvest from public sector units.

Referred by:Mukandan CM
Published on: April 10, 2001
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