India: More than 200 Dalits embrace Buddhism in western Gujarat?
Buddhist monks, draped with saffron robes, and Dalits sit during a mass conversion ceremony in Mumbai on May 27, 2007. Photograph: (AFP)
Prevailing inequality and caste-based discrimination in the country has long prompted India's lower castes to embrace other religions. More than 200 Dalits in the western state of Gujarat on Tuesday converted to Buddhism in the wake of the public flogging of Dalit youths in the Una district around three months ago.
"We were thinking of converting to Buddhism for the past six months. The Una incident cleared our doubts," Sangeeta Parmar from New Naroda area of Ahmedabad city, who converted along with her husband, was quoted as saying by an Indian daily.
The Una incident had triggered widespread protests and prompted the Dalits (one of the most marginalised communities in the caste hierarchy of Hindu community) to boycott menial jobs like skinning dead cows.
It's pertinent to mention that Bhim Rao Ambedkar, one of the tallest Dalit leaders of the 20th century, had also embraced Buddism due to the inequality and caste system in the Hindu society.
Meanwhile, the Dalits who participated in three programmes held across parts of the state on Tuesday said that 'harassment by cow vigilantes', 'superstition', 'inequality and caste-based discrimination' are some of the reasons that prompted them to convert.
In the recent past, a large number of Dalits in different parts of the country have embraced other religions to 'escape harassment'. Last year, a group of Dalits from northern Haryana state had converted to Islam after a minor girl from the community was allegedly raped by upper caste Hindus in the Hisar district . The accused were later acquitted by a local court. Earlier this year, a group of 200 Dalits had threatened to convert to Islam after they were kept out of the temple in the villages of Pazhangkallimedu and Kallimedu in Nagapattinam district of southern Tamil Nadu state.
Satish, a Dalit activist from Haryana, who chose to convert to Islam says: "The root cause for all the conversions taking place across the country is the discrimination faced by Dalits across India. Incidents like Hisar rape case and public flogging in Una have further triggered the wrath of the community. I am pretty happy converting to Islam and I also support others' choice to embrace Buddhism."