yet another historic mass conversion rally Indian Dalits renounce Hinduism and seek
emancipation from the oppressive caste system through Buddhism in New Delhi. Budhism Today
brings this historic event and its sidelights live to you.
Deeksha ceremony being performed at
repeated itself in the land of Buddhisms birthplace when over 50,000 Hindu Dalits
(Untouchables or lower-caste) marched with flags, shouting slogans against the upper caste
Hindus oppression and joined Buddhism in Indian Capital New Delhi on November 4.
half a century ago, in 1956, over 5 million Dalits led by the popular Dalit leader B.R.
Ambedkar who framed the Indian constitution, had renounced Hinduism and joined Buddhism to
escape from the caste system which discriminates them as untouchables and forces slavery.
About 300 million Dalits have been facing social inequality and the stigma of low-caste
for 3,000 years in India.
and Pictures by Manpreet Singh.
Mr. Singh is an international freelance journalist in India and can be
reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Today's Editor, Thich Nhat Tu, (right) with the second preceptor at the rally says it was
a great priviledge to be part of the historical event. For Vietnamese coverage, click here.
November 4 mass conversion rally which aimed at converting one million Dalits to Buddhism
was banned by the authorities under pressure from Hindu radicals who called it a
Christian conspiracy. The National Commission for Minorities said the rally
would lead to law and order problem and sought its ban.
is an extremely sensitive issue in India and Christians are often blamed for indulging in
converting low-castes by fraudulent means and enticement. However, the Hindu radicals have
not been able to prove Christians forced conversions and many a times Christians
have been persecuted.
- When the whole world watched: strong media presence at the
the ban and restrictions the police put in form of barricades, thousands of Dalits from
far flung corners of the country gathered at the Ambedkar Bhawan, named after the Dalit
leader B.R. Ambedkar who had led a mass conversion rally to Buddhism in Nagpur.
rallyists enthusiasm was to be seen to be believed. Many groups flowed in from
thousands of miles away, carrying flags and shouting slogans against upper caste
Hindus oppression and praising Buddhism which they said treats all human
beings equally. Crowds sat cross-legged in the sweltering heat listening to their
leaders for hours and witnessing the historic religious ceremony where thousands took deeksha (conversion). The crowds stood on the roofs to be a witness
to this historic ceremony.
The Dalits were apparently angry at the
restrictions put by the authorities to prevent the rally. A fuming Dalit leader, Net Raj,
criticised the authorities coercive attitude, Is it done anywhere in the world
to put barricades for the citizens of the country to stop them from performing a peaceful
religious ceremony, the right which the constitution of the country guarantees. Its
the upper class Hindus who are doing it as they are angry that we are walking away
from their slavery and they are losing control.
organisers blamed police for detaining a large number the Dalits at Delhis borders
and misleading them by putting fraud banners at the rallys original
venue, Ram Rila Grounds, reading that the rally had been cancelled. While the police said
only 8,000 turned up, the BBC and international media reported the number at 60,000. The
national and international media was present in good strength to witness this hyped day;
the world was all eyes to this historic day.
All-India Confederation of Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe Organisations (AICOSCSTO),
which organised the rally, said that rally was meant only for conversion to Buddhism,
though they had sought the support of Christians. Its a misleading propaganda
by the Hindutva forces, said Ram Raj, chairman of AICOSCSTO, who had been working
hard for the last four years to make the rally a success. No literature of any other
religion would be distributed at the rally and all would be converted to Buddhism.
conversion ceremony was performed by Bhante Buddha Priya Rahul, who gave deeksha to Ram Raj. Ram Rajs name was
changed to Udit Raj after he received deeksha.
Thousands of the Dalits who had gathered also took deeksha
by chanting the prayers after the Buddhist priests clad in impressive saffron robes.
A bronze idol of Buddha was brought on
the dais and the monks publicly performed the deeksha
ceremony in an open ground with new converts chanting religious oaths. The newly-converts
to Buddhism also took the oath of not to pray Hindu gods and goddesses.
I am no more an achoot (untouchable). The Hindu
gods and goddesses have only given Dalits indignity, hunger and slavery. We refuse to
accept this code of domination anymore. Dalits must liberate themselves from the shackles
of their oppressed past and usher in a new renaissance through education and the awareness
of human rights. Buddhism is the path to this liberation, said Udit Raj, after the deeksha ceremony.
the Dalits who came for conversion said they were fed up with being treated like no
more than animals. Hukam Das, 22, who came with a group of 1,200 Dalits to attend
the deeksha ceremony said angrily, I want
to leave casteism and Hinduism. We are disgraced every day, at every place. We have to
bear the stigma of casteism. As to why he wants to embrace Buddhism in particular,
Das says, Joining Buddhism is the only way to escape the chains of slavery. Buddhism
respects and treats all human beings equally, it is the best religion.
Kumar, who came with a group of over 3,000 Dalits from Uttar Pradesh State, says,
Dalit Hindus have been exploited for centuries. We are not treated equally and not
shown respect. Dalits are powerful and can change the country. This is the message we have
come to give here by changing our religion to Buddhism where we would be treated as
equals, not low-caste.
leader Ram Raj also gave the message of a changed nation from the rallys
dais. Quit casteism, quit Hinduism, he said. We want to destroy
casteism. We are not treated as citizens of this country by the Hindutva forces. We have
been suffering for three thousand years. We are fighting for the progress of the country
which is not progressing due to casteism and Hindutva forces are not allowing us to walk
away from caste system. We are not against any community, but I am sadunless we have
dignity and freedom we cant progress.
the second historic mass rally where India Dalits converted to Buddhism. The Dalits have a
long history of oppression and slavery. The fact that they tried to break away from the
shackles of discrimination, disgrace, slavery and oppression through Buddhism, for the
second time in half a century speaks volumes about the image Buddhism has in India. These
downtrodden people, tried to find refuge once again, in Buddhism which is their escape
route to dignity and a life of freedom.
The Dalits once again sought emancipation through Buddhism, in a
mass conversion rally, proving the liberation and welfare of all beings as enshrined in
Buddhism which as one of the renowned Indian columnist wrote makes it (Buddhism) the
Rally Man: Ram Raj to Udit Raj, a
(called Ram Raj, before who got deeksha)
chairman, All-India Confederation of Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe Organisations is the
man who worked for four years and organised the rally. He speaks on various issues.
A return to roots:
I am not using the word conversion because embracing Buddhism is a
renaissance and a return to our old cultures and values of brotherhood, universal love and
Why Buddhism: Because it preaches equality,
non-violence, morality and dynamism. It diagnoses causes of misery and sorrow and teaches
cure for suffering and how to enjoy eternal bliss. Buddhism motivates a person to believe
in himself by preaching that he and he alone is master of his destiny. No gods and
goddesses can solve ones problems unless one works hard with purified mind and good
intentions. The center of Buddhism is human being and his problems. Most of the religions
have main consideration for super-natural or transcendental reality, which has nothing to
do with day-to-day problems of men like employment, justice, equality, fraternity. They
suggest believing in or worshipping gods and goddesses instead of serving, giving respect
and love to humanity
Buddhism can liberate them.
On Buddhism decline: Buddhism declined in India, its
birthplace, primarily because the Bhikkus and Upaskas did not so much as resist the
attacks on them. I too subscibe to the principle of Ahimsa, but subject to the
condition that we must exercise our right to self-defense. If our opponents contemplate
harming us in any way, we can not, and must not, allow them to do so
does not cripple human beings by preaching fatalism, our movement is in keeping with
May all beings be happy!
Indian Dalits, also known as Untouchables or low-caste are the broken people
are trapped in the caste system (where they occupy the lowest rank).
This caste system which is dominated by
the once-priestly class of Brahmins, is forced upon them. Although, the caste system was
legally abolished about 50 years ago, their plight has not improved.
In rural areas they are still not
allowed to enter Hindu temples, or draw water from the village wells reserved for the
upper castes (they run the risk of being beaten or killed if they do this).
They are also often exploited as slave
labour. Many of them have tried to find escape from the castes stigma through the
change of religion.
Towards Buddhism: a Hindu
Dalit all dresssed up to say, "I am going to Delhi to receive deeksha."
The rally was termed as Christian
conspiracy by the Hindu radical leaders who pressurised the authorities to ban it.
Although, many Christians were present, and some Christian leaders addressed the rally,
the organisers said they just sought support from Christians and all were converted to
No literature of any other religion was allowed to be distributed at the event.
Conversion is a sensitive issue in India where hardline Hindu groups accuse Christian
missionaries of using inducements such as schools to lure poor people into their faith's
|MORE RALLY TO MAKE BUDDHISTS
Bhante Buddha Priya Rahul, the Buddhist
priest who conducted the ceremony, said they planned to launch a full-fledged campaign to
convert many more Dalits to Buddhism. ``We plan to hold a similar conversion every month
till April next year. On April 14, we will have a conversion that is about 10 times this
size near Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh,'' he said.