Indian dalit society is moving from untouchables to compassionate buddhists.

   Canadian philosopher Brendan Myers once said ‘Our world is utterly saturated with fear. We fear being attacked by religious extremists, both foreign and domestic. We fear loss of political rights, a loss of privacy or a loss of freedom. We fear being injured, robbed or attacked, being judged by others or neglected or left unloved’.

   The people in India are experiencing the same. They are living with fear inside them. It is quite unpleasant to hear that the citizens of one of world’s largest democratic countries are leading an insecure life. Religion and religious attacks are making them insecure.

   The most dominant religion in India is Hinduism, with over 79.8% of the population identifying themselves as Hindu, that accounts for roughly, 966 million Hindus in India as of 2011 Census report.

   But the problem now facing is the conversion of a massive amount of Hindus into Buddhism. The majority of people who converted to Buddhism belong to the OBC (Other Backward Classes) category.

   In the state of Gujarat alone, the government has received 1,838 applications from people of various religions to convert to another religion. Of them 1,735 applications (94.4%) were filed by Hindus who wanted to renounce the religion of their birth to embrace some other creed. The point to be noted here is that the Prime Minister of India, NarendraModi belongs to Gujarat. The people from his state are heading for a conversion. His party BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) is trying to propagate the ideology of Hinduism all over India, but the people in his state seems not attracted to his political drama.

   The State’s anti-conversion law- Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act mandates that a citizen obtain prior approval from the district authority for conversion. The state government has not approved half of these applicants; only 878 persons got the permission to convert. Apart from 1,735 Hindus, 57 Muslims, 42 Christians and 4 Parsis have applied for permission to convert.

No one from Sikh or Buddhist religions has sought such permission.

   This indeed is a major setback for the RSS (RashtriyaSwayamSevakSangh, the parent organization of BJP) and its affiliated organizations that, through their Ghar Wapasi drive have started reconverting people to Hinduism who embraced other religions.

   According to the SatyaShodakOBC Parishad (a Mumbai based Social Organization for the welfare of OBC community), the other backward classes have no respectable space in Hinduism. “We were treated as Shudras (Lower Caste), in spite of being in Hinduism for a long time. So we felt that it is better to go back to our original religion- Buddhism. OBCs are Nagvanshi (Snake descent) and so Buddhism is our original religion. We want to do our Ghar Wapasi by embracing Buddhism,” said HanumantUpre, the Parishad’s President.

   In 2007, in Mumbai, in a massive conversion ceremony, approximately 5000 people were converted to Buddhism in a single day. Tribal Hindus and Dalits who converted to Buddhism said they want to escape from the rigid caste system and thus be treated as ‘human Beings’. At least one sixth of India’s population is classed as low caste.

   Despite the job reservation for members of the Dalit and Tribal communities, their social status and economic conditions have not greatly improved.

   Religious attacks are the major reason for this massive conversion. The coming to power of the Modi-BJP government in May 2014 has emboldened the associates of BJP, which are a part of the RSS progeny. Through their policies like Ghar Wapasi and Beef ban, they have not only hurt other religion but also the minority groups in Hindu religion too. Let’s have a look at what has happened in India.

   In June 2016, two Dalits were forced to eat cow dung and urine as a punishment for delivering beef to Mumbai. They were forced to eat about five kg of cow dung each,

 

and physically tortured. Millions of minority people are living under these kinds of threats.

   On July 2016, in the town of Una in Gujarat, four Dalit men were stripped, paraded, tied to an SUV and publicly flogged by a group of gaurakshaks or self-anointed cow vigilantes on the suspicion that they had killed a cow (when actually the culprit was a lion). The irony was that these incidents were Hindus attacking Hindus for protecting Hindu Dharma.

   Not only had these, the Dalits punished for doing their jobs too. The Dalits are being punished for pursuing their profession of skinning dead cattle to provide hide to the leather industry, which has a turnover of Rs 80,000 crores. Dalits do this job because no other Hindu caste will do it. For them it is their livelihood.

   People who read about the murder of Akhlaq for eating beef thought the Muslim community is the only target of this Beef ban and all those issues. But now, we could understand that both Dalits and Muslims are at the lowest level of priority for the Indian Government.

   A 2016 report on caste based discrimination by the UN special rapporteur on minority issues noted that caste affected groups continue to suffer exclusion and dehumanization.

   In January 2016, the suicide of RohitVemula, a 25 year old Dalit student, drew renewed attention to entrenched caste based discrimination in Indian society. Later in April, Vemula’sparents converted into Buddhism. RohitVemula was never able to escape the trappings of his “low birth”, but his parents could.

   These cases are only the glimpses of what is happening in India.

   The states of Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Odisha, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan tend to have the greatest number of religiously motivated attacks and communal violence, as well as the largest religious minority populations.

   Protests are taking place against the brutality towards Dalits and Muslims both in India and outside the nation.

   In the wake of lynching of 16 year old Junaid Khan in Haryana on June 22, Filmmaker Saba Dewan posted a message on Facebook asking people to join her on protest against such rising rate of brutality in India. At the end of her post, Dewan named ‘Not in My Name’. Soon it became a protest.

   So far at least 11 cities in India are holding the Not in My Name marches. The Not in My Name protest has caught the attention of people abroad as well. According to the filmmaker the idea behind the protest was to “reclaim the Constitution” and “resist the Onslaught” on rights.

   Recently, protests took place in three US cities too. The Alliance for Justice (AJA), a coalition of progressive organization in the US has conducted the protests.Inspired by the ‘Not in My Name’ protest that is already taking place in the Indian cities. Protests 

were held in Washington DC, San  Diego and San Jose. Another event has been planned in New York on July 23.

    “India is a land of law. If this mob violence continues unchecked, it will become anarchy instead of a world power”Said KaleemKhawaja, Executive Director of Association of Indian Muslims in America, who led the protest in DuPont circle in the American Capital.

   The protests continue in one side and the brutality on the other, this is the present scenario in India.

   Back into Conversion, Conversion is a highly charged political issue. Several states in India have passed laws which making it harder to convert. But for many Dalits, as Untouchables are now known, conversion is the only way to escape the oppression they still face in Hindu society.

   Today around 87% of Buddhists in India are neo converts, the rest belong to traditional Buddhist communities.

   The BJP feels threatened by the Buddhist movement because it could in the long run have an impact on voter demographics.
BalkrishnaAnand, a Buddhist missionary, said thousands of Dalits have been educated in the last several decades, which has created greater awareness among them of the lingering effects of the former caste system.

   He added that the conversions “will result in the Dalit population coming down and the Buddhist population going up”.

   The orthodox thinking of Hindus like, we should treat cow like our god and so on are forcing their own men to convert into other faiths. 

   The foremost Dalit leader and India’s ‘Founding father’ Dr. B R Ambedkar on his speech delivered in 1935 expressed his rejection of Hinduism. ‘We have the misfortune of calling ourselves Hindus, we are treated thus. If we were members of another faith none would treat us so. Choose any religion which gives you equality of status and treatment. We shall repair our mistake now. I had the misfortune of being born with the stigma of an Untouchable. However, it is not my fault; but I will not die a Hindu, for this is in my power’.

   The Dalits are following his words. They are converting into a religion which calls for peace and compassion, rather than violence and extremism. 

 

 

 

 

 

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