Leaders of the late-Saturday ritual by some 6,000 Dalits said they were
protesting discrimination by upper caste people and their government's failure to raise
caste issues at the racism conference in Durban, South Africa that concluded over the
In Kanpur, 240 miles southeast of India's capital,
New Delhi, hundreds of monks in flowing robes arrived from Nepal, Japan and other
countries to witness the ceremony, which was presided by a Japanese Buddhist priest.
Participants were distributed posters condemning
Hinduism, the religion of India's overwhelming majority.
Several Dalit groups had met in the South African
city to press for inclusion of caste-based discrimination in the U.N. World Conference on
Racism. They said caste-based discrimination in India was as bad as racial discrimination
in other parts of the world.
But Indian officials lobbied, and succeeded, in
keeping it off the conference declaration. The New Delhi government said equating the
caste system with racism would make India a racist country - a categorization it denies.
"The Government of India misguided all at the
Durban meet," Dalit leader Ram Prasad Rashik told The Associated Press after the
conversion ceremony in Kanpur.
Dalits occupy the lowest rank in India's
3,000-year-old caste system that discriminates against nearly a fourth of the country's
Though India's Constitution, adopted in 1950, bars
discrimination based on caste, the practice still pervades society.