- "The main issue is of self-pride. The concept of defilement due to physical contact with a Dalit has waned, but mental untouchability still persists. The contempt that an upper-caste Hindu shows towards a Dalit is humiliating. While the situation will not change overnight, embracing Buddhism is an ideological revolution which will bear fruit in future. Maharashtra is witnessing a change six decades after Ambedkar and others led by him embraced Buddhism," says Ravji Vaghela, Dahya's brother who retired as a head postmaster.
"Our descendants can now simply say they are Buddhists when someone asks them about their caste. They would thus be saved of the humiliation attached with the term Dalit," he adds.
In Saurashtra, it is quite common to ask a stranger his caste.
Dalits living in the northern and eastern parts of Junagadh complain that they often face discrimination. Most of them work as agricultural or construction labourers, They say they have to carry their own utensils for eating food or drinking water.
"Why are Dalits made to eat separately at their workplace? If a Dalit opens a hotel, will people from other community eat there? Will they drink tea at a stall run by a Dalit? Why does a barber refuse to shave a Dalit?" asks Jaydev Bapa, an elderly resident of Vijapur village near Junagadh.
"With Independence, Dalits got equality before law but we have not been accorded social equality. Our community members are labourers, so will they go to work or complain to authorities about the injustice? While dogs and crows are worshiped, members of a particular community are not even being treated as human beings. This is the reason why they community has been forced to embrace Buddhism," he says.
'Became Buddhist for haircut, shave... mental untouchability persists'
And the authorities are not happy; one mass conversion is being investigated:
- Following the event, however, the Dalits were faced with an unexpected obstacle: an official investigation into the legality of the conversions.
The Indian Express explained that under Gujarat’s Freedom of Religion Rules implemented in 2008, “a proper and prior permission of the district magistrate was mandatory before any religious conversion. Any violation amounted to an offence and invited action.”
The organizers insist that these guidelines were followed, suggesting that the investigations were politically motivated, and yesterday’s Times of India reports that “nothing objectionable has been found till now.”
Mass Buddhist conversion of Indian Dalits sparks official investigation
More about dalit conversions to Buddhism: Dalit Buddhist movement