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Saturday, October 14, 2006

Untouchables Protest by Converting from Hindus to Buddhism

Thousands of Untouchable Hindus converted to the Buddhism this month across India to protest the discrimination of their caste. More than 100,000 people have been converted this time as the organizers claim.

Untouchability has been illegal in India since independence, but it is still commonly practised. In many villages Dalits are not allowed to drink clean water from a well. In some areas, tea shops keep a different glass for Dalits to use, so higher-caste Hindus are not "polluted" by drinking from the same vessel, even after it has been washed. After the 2004 tsunami, Dalit survivors in Tamil Nadu were prevented from sharing water in relief camps.

Many Dalits are forced to work as scavengers and latrine cleaners.

Even at university, Mr Durai says he was badly beaten by higher-caste students enraged that a Dalit had got better marks than them.

Conversion is a highly charged political issue. Several states have passed laws this year making it harder to convert, and the mass ceremonies will infuriate Hindu nationalist parties that have been campaigning to stop lower caste Hindus changing their religion.

This year several states, including Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, have introduced laws that anyone wishing to convert will have to obtain official permission first. Gujarat, home to some of the most hardline Hindu groups, has introduced a more controversial law under which Buddhism is considered part of Hinduism.

B R Ambedkar, one of the tallest leaders of India and an untouchable, embraced and revived the lost Buddhism religion of India along with 15 lakh of his followers. Ambedkar took to Buddhism, after announcing in 1935 that "I was born a Hindu, but I will not die as a Hindu".

To mark the golden jubilee of the mass religious conversion of Ambedkarites, there was a grand congregation this year at Deeksha Bhoomi, Nagpur. This event is an annual feature, observed on Asoka Vijaya Dashami Day (Dussehra for Hindus), which fell on October 2.

On that day, Nagpur bowed to an estimated 20 lakh Dalit Buddhists who came to Deeksha Bhoomi and the stupa to have a glimpse of the casket where Ambedkar's ashes are placed.

They were joined by western and South East Asian scholars, monks and Dalit diaspora. The Western Buddhist Order, Birmingham, UK, celebrated the event in September in London as 50 years of Dhamma Revolution.

Sadly enough, Indian television, which scours for stories to pack each minute of air time, lost the golden opportunity to bring this unique event into the public domain. It did not report a minute of it. Is it a case of marked indifference?

Buddhism in India has a predominantly Dalit following, as a result of the revival by Ambedkar. For this reason, it appears that our society prefers to treat Buddha as an untouchable.(Source)

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