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Dalits mass convert to Buddhism
By S Ubaidur Rahman

Thousands of Dalit Hindus embraced Buddhism despite all odds at Ambedkar Bhavan in the capital on 4 November. The conversion ceremony took place amidst confusion created by the government and denial of permission to organize the rally at the original Ram Lila ground in which more than a million Dalits from around the country had to participate. The government had cancelled the permission of organizing the ceremony at the mammoth Ramlila ground at the last moment allegedly under pressure from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and other Sangh outfits. Several Sangh outfits including the VHP had earlier made it clear that they don’t want the ceremony to take place at any cost. The Sangh organizations were also joined by ever obedient National Commission of Minorities whose vice-chairman went ahead and said that the conversion could provoke communal tension and changing one’s religion was not a solution to the problems of any section of the society.

But despite alleged detaining of thousands of Dalit activists by the police who had come from around the country and forced return of a large number of people from railway stations, the conversion ceremony was a big success as a large number of people entered Buddhism amid chants of mantras by Bodh Bhikshus. The man who has been spearheading the campaign for upliftment of Dalits and other backward castes for quite sometime unmindful of all criticism, Ram Raj was first to convert together with his wife and two children. Ram Raj and his wife, both of whom are IAS officers, have been fighting an odd war for liberation of the downtrodden in the Hindu community.

There were nearly twenty thousand people in and around the courtyard who had gathered for the function and many of them recited the mantras and took part in the diksha ceremony. The occasion has caused great interest in the country and abroad and a large posse of media persons from within the country and abroad had also gathered to witness the ceremony. Amidst chanting of Pali hymns by Bhante Buddha Priya Rahul, thousands of men, women and children renounced Hinduism and liberated themselves from age old caste system.

While concluding the ceremony after being tonsured by the Bhikshus, Ram Raj, a joint commissioner in income tax department said that, ‘this is a historic moment as thousands of people have renounced the centuries old Brahminical system and we have been liberated from the clutches of caste system.’ The converts took oath that they will not accept Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh,Rama, and Ganesha as Gods and Goddesses and will not believe in incarnation theory. They denounced every Hindu ritual performed during and after death by Brahmins.

Ram Raj and his organizations, All India Confederation of SC/ST Organizations and Lord Budha Club, have been in the forefront for quite some time for their efforts to create awareness among the Dalit community. He has been extensively touring the country for creating awareness among the people of his community most of whom still remain at the margins of society. He told this correspondent just before converting to Buddhism that it had nothing to do with politics as is being alleged by a large section of media and some front-line Sangh organizations. Ram Raj told this correspondent that it was a conscious decision taken with great pains only to improve the lot of his people who have been oppressed by Brahmins for thousands of years. He said that Dalits had no future in Hinduism that has perpetuated and taught oppression against a large section of its own people.

On question of why he is taking this extreme step, the young leader said that, ‘he sees no future for Dalits in this country within the caste system. They must abandon that tradition and go away and renounce the caste system that they cannot do while professing Hinduism. They must go ahead and try to make their own future.’ He added that Brahminism has crippled the community by teaching them for centuries and forced them to accept that their present situation is due to the will of God. They have been taught that it is His desire that they should suffer in this life and that their suffering is helpful to gain Heaven after this life. He added that we want to tell Dalits that it is nothing but vicious propaganda to continue their oppression. I want to tell my people that they can come out of this hell only if they are ready to come out, otherwise they will be condemned to suffering for their whole lifetime and the same will be the fate of their coming generations. He added that the people responsible for their oppression are now in power and so they will try to prolong the suffering of Dalits for a long time to come.

Charging VHP of indulging in misleading propaganda to create an atmosphere of violence, he added that these advocates of Brahminical order have tried their best to perpetuate inequality and injustice in the society. The VHP had been trying its best to stop the ceremony from taking place and had pressed hard the government to stop this to happen.

A VHP website, hinduunity.com has been trying to communalise the issue. On the issue of conversion of Dalits in the Capital, a write-up on the website read as follows, ‘We have no one but ourselves to blame for this. We are already fighting a battle on two fronts (read Muslims and Christians) now the third front has opened. If the Dalai Lama is behind this he should be either kicked out of India or handed over to the Chinese. But there is every possibility and I strongly believe that it is only the Church which has resources and motive to carry out this.’ The website lists following reasons what they (the Church) will achieve: ‘1) Will be successful in defaming Hinduism. 2) Will create a doubt in the minds of millions of Hindus and so called Dalits. 3) And will try to use this to show the world that something is terribly wrong with Hindu faith. 4) It will be a sort of revenge the Pope might be waiting to take for the entire backlash he had to face when he came to India.5) This will be used in future to show that Indians are actually disenchanted with Hinduism.’ It is not the only thing. The website proposes to take preemptive strikes against those who are involved in ‘such acts’. It also demands that VHP and RSS dole out large funds to placate such people who want to convert to other religions. Though Ram Raj was not fearful of any action from Hindutva organizations, but his people thought that the Sangh groups might try to create law and order problem at the ceremony.

Suresh, one of the several activists with whom this correspondent interacted told this correspondent that these people have always exploited us and they will never want us to be free from their clutches and for this reason alone they will try to stop us from organizing any such function. It was only the untouchability and exploitation at the hands of upper caste that was on the minds of Suresh and other activists. They were not interested in ideological nuances of either Hinduism, Christianity or Islam. When this correspondent asked Ram Raj, who changed his name to Udit Raj, as to why he suggested to embrace Buddhism instead of Islam or Christianity, he said that Buddhism guarantees freedom from caste system and ensures equality for every follower. When this correspondent said that every new convert to Buddhism will be treated as neo-Buddhist and will never be accepted as true Buddhist, he tried to say that it was not true. ‘Though Christianity and Islam both preach equality, but we have apparently chosen this religion as we are following the steps of Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar’, he said in response to a question. When asked as to whether it is fear of losing reservations in jobs that has forced him not to convert to other religions except Buddhism, he said that when one takes such extreme steps such small things are never any restrictions for him.
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