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Empowered Dalits convert to a new home
Gurmukh Singh
Times News Network


INDIA (Bulandshahr): A monk and a gun? Buddhist chants and bullets? Obviously, they don't mix. They do. They did. In the killing fields of UP.

Here, Dalits are taking Buddhist vows and firing parting shots at the upper castes. Literally. And leading the charge is Udit (aka Ram) Raj, an income-tax official who led the November 4 conversion ceremony in Delhi.

"Since we were thwarted in Delhi, I will now carry it on in villages," says the wiry, middle-aged president of the All-India Conferation of SC/ST Organisations, administering vows to Dalits, some carrying pistols in their belts.

Of the 7,000 residents of this dusty village, 3,000 are Dalits. The village was chosen for conversions, he says, because people from here were not allowed to enter Delhi to participate in conversion ceremony.

Udit Raj rants and raves. "For long, they have been thumbing their noses at us. It's time to burn bridges with them. Like the winter snow closes up high ways, they have blocked escape routes for us. Embracing Buddhism is a sort of homecoming for us. Buddhism, after all, was born here."

A forest of hands goes up when he asks, "How many of you will further propagate the Buddhist message? Don't gripe about your lot. You are no more Dalit. Let nobody address you as a Dalit. Tick him off and tell him to address you as a Bodhi."

The crowd responds with shouts of 'Up with the Buddha, up with Udit Raj' when he says, "Till November 4, I was Ram Raj. Ram was with me, and but Raj (rule) was with them (upper castes). Today, Raj is with me. I have jettisoned Ram."

The ceremony over, the villagers open up with their tales of woe. "Hum toh kuchle hoye log hain, aab hame rasta dikha diya gaya hai” (We are an oppressed people who have now found a way out), says an elderly Priyga Rashmi, who became a monk 25 years ago.

Will they have nothing to do with their past customs? "No, nothing. I don't go to your temple, I don't go to your Ganga, I don't go to your Ram Lila," retorts Kishan Lal, a former village sarpanch.

Chips in Hoshiar Singh, former president of the Bharatiya Bodh Mahasabha, "No new convert will have Das and Ram as his surname. We are all now Singhs and Lals." Winding up the ceremony, Udit squeezes in a small message for his flock. "Don't be cowed. We are off the ground now."


November 2001

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