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Brutalized Dalits leave Hinduism for Buddhism

Buddhism
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At least 45 members of Sarvaiya family, whose four sons had been flogged by self-styled cow vigilantes, renounced Hinduism and embraced Buddhism at a ceremony in Mota Samadhiyala, 15km from Una, on Sunday. This incident shows the negative aftereffects of the actions of Hindutva extremists to their faith.

The family members included the four flogging victims, their wives, father Balu Sarvaiya and his wife, among others. “It has been more than two years that our sons were flogged. The state government hasn’t given us any help so far. We haven’t got justice yet and all the accused are out on bail,” Balu Sarvaiya, the victims’ father, told TOI over the phone.

“After the incident, there was Dalit uprising. But we continued to face discrimination. Even our own community members told us not to adhere to a religion after tolerating humiliations. Even today, we shudder to see the flogging video,” Sarvaiya added.

The crime against Dalits increased by 66 percent and the rape of Dalit women doubled, according to the National Crime Record Bureau. And now Dalit anger—which manifests in regular protests, strikes, and social media furor—stands to make a major impact on India’s national elections next year.

Sarvaiya said he and his family members had to take up skinning dead cattle due to the deep caste system. “We have been forced to convert on Sunday. We believe it will give further momentum to Dalit uprising. Other Dalits, who are facing tortures, will eventually have to embrace Buddhism,” he said.

No prominent Dalit leaders, such as Vadgam MLA Jignesh Mewani, were present at the event — Dhamma Diksha Mahotsav — organized by the Sarvaiya family. They had announced renouncing Hinduism in January. The Sarvaiyas had invited Mewani and BSP chief Mayawati to the event.

Read more: Hindu organizations booked for anti-Dalit violence

Asking Mewani to embrace Buddhism if he is a “true follower” of BR Ambedkar, he said, “The Vadgam MLA shot to the limelight and became the face of Dalit agitation after he raised our issue. But after that he never cared to visit us.”

Tight security was made in and around the village as well as Una town in wake of threats that some members had received four days ago by one of the 43 accused in the flogging. On April 11, more than 500 low-caste Hindus filled the Veera Maidan, an open field at the edge of a dusty Maharashtra village and converted en-mass to Buddhism.

The converts had been Dalits, those from India’s lowest Hindu castes, formerly known as “untouchables.” They joined Ambedkarite Buddhism, a movement founded a half-century ago by Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, a Columbia University-educated lawyer who drafted India’s constitution. Ambedkar was born a Dalit, and he saw the Buddha as a radical social reformer who created an outlet from the rigid Hindu caste system. Today, as inter-caste tensions rise under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose party is affiliated with right-wing Hindu nationalists, low-caste Indians are continuing to find the appeal in Ambedkar’s message.

Asking Mewani to embrace Buddhism if he is a “true follower” of BR Ambedkar, he said, “The Vadgam MLA shot to the limelight and became the face of Dalit agitation after he raised our issue. But after that he never cared to visit us.”

Similarly in May last year, More than 2,000 Dalits from Aligarh threatened to give up Hinduism and convert to Islam, alleging constant persecution by members of the local Thakur community, identified as an “upper caste”. On Sunday, they immersed pictures of Hindu deities in a rivulet close to their village, Keshopur Jhopri, as a symbolic farewell to the faith. The threat has of late found resonance among Dalits in other parts of Uttar Pradesh as well, with alleged harassment by the so-called upper castes driving members of the community in Moradabad and Sambhal to warn of mass conversion too.

Read more: Union Minister calls Dalits to renounce Hinduism

Talking to media, local Dalit leader Bunty Singh said they had decided to convert to Islam on account of the continued “discrimination and harassment” they suffered at the hands of “upper caste” Hindus. “They don’t consider us a part of the Hindu community and use abusive language against us. It is better for Dalits to convert,” Bunty said.

Dalits make up nearly 20 percent of the Indian population—and many of them are angry at Modi’s government. Last week, hundreds of thousands of them flooded the streets nationwide, protesting ongoing discrimination against them. But their mistreatment within society was rampant even before Modi’s BJP took power in 2014. Between 2007 and 2017, the crime against Dalits increased by 66 percent and the rape of Dalit women doubled, according to the National Crime Record Bureau. And now Dalit anger—which manifests in regular protests, strikes, and social media furor—stands to make a major impact on India’s national elections next year.


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