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Ahead of Budh Purnima, 300 Dalits in Gujarat's Una to Convert to Buddhism Today

Buddhist monks from Porbander have been invited to preside over the function and invitations have been given to local political leaders as well.

Meghdoot Sharon | CNN-News18

Updated:April 29, 2018, 8:37 AM IST
Ahead of Budh Purnima, 300 Dalits in Gujarat's Una to Convert to Buddhism Today
Dalit protesters raise slogans at a protest against caste violence (Representational photo: PTI)
Ahmedabad: Dalit families of Mota Samdhiya village in Una taluka of Gujarat will convert to Buddhism on Sunday to protest against discrimination against the Dalit community.

They are likely to be joined by around 300 Dalits from across the region, who will also embrace Buddhism. Those who will convert include people who were flogged and paraded half-naked through Una town in July 2016 by cow vigilantes, allegedly for skinning dead cattle.

About 300 forms, having the details of persons and their consent to convert to Buddhism, have already been collected and handed over to the district administration, but Dalits say that the numbers will go much higher as others will give their consent at a function that has been organised at Mota Samdhiya village on Sunday to mark Budh Purnima.

Buddhist monks from Porbander have been invited to preside over the function and invitations have been given to local political leaders as well.

Ramesh Sarvaiya, one of the victims of the Una Dalit flogging incident, told News 18, “We got beaten and insulted in full public view almost two years ago. Several promises were made by the government, including Anandiben Patel, who was then the chief minister of Gujarat. None of those promises have been fulfilled by this government. What is the point of being a part of the religion that does not accept us as its own. After a lot of consideration, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar had chosen Buddhism as the religion where there is no discrimination. I along with others will convert to Buddhism on Sunday.”

The flogging incident had sparked off nationwide outrage in 2016 even as Dalits took to the streets to demand justice. The Dalits were accused of killing cows, but investigations later revealed that they were skinning a dead bovine that was possibly killed by some wild animal on the outskirts of the Gir sanctuary.

A couple of days ago, Ramesh and his cousin were returning to their village on a motorcycle, when one of the accused in the flogging case stopped him and allegedly attacked him with a spade.

“Our motorcycle was stopped and accused Kiranbha Darbar attempted to strike me with a spade. I caught hold of it and saved myself,” Ramesh claimed. He told News18 that Kiranbha and others threatened them to withdraw the case that has been filed against them.

“They also abused me because we had announced plans to convert from Hinduism to Buddhism,” Ramesh said.

Vasram Sarvaiya, another youth who was flogged and paraded through Una, said that the incident sparked off anger and protests across Gujarat, but it also highlighted the plight of Dalits and the atrocities that they face almost every day.

Our leader Dr Ambedkar has shown us the path to be freed from discrimination and we are embracing Buddhism to send out a message that this discrimination against Dalits should end,” Vasram said.

dalit pamphlet
A pamphlet about the event that has been distributed in the region. (Image: News18)

Jitu Sarvaiya, a Dalit leader and youth from Una, said that despite the outrage and tall claims made by the government, nothing has changed on the ground for the Dalit families. They continued to be discriminated against and many of the accused in the flogging incident are out on bail and continue to threaten the victims.

“All the culprits in the case are out on bail and continue to threaten us even today. It has been close to two years since the incident and there has not been any justice for us. And then, the permanent issues of untouchability and discrimination are rampant against Dalits. We have informed the administration that we will convert to Buddhism on Sunday,” Jitu told News18.

Over the past decade or so, there have been at least a dozen instances where Dalits have threatened to abandon Hinduism and convert to either Buddhism or Islam. In some of these instances, applications have also been given to the respective district administrations, but no follow up action has been taken by the applicants.

It is necessary to get an approval from the district administration if a person wishes to convert from one religion to another. The process often takes months, with the administration required to verify and ascertain.
When contacted, Gir Gadhada mamlatdar C M Dangi said that applications have been received from a few people, but the District Magistrate, in association with the police, do a verification, before taking a decision to grant permission or not to persons who want to convert to another religion.
| Edited by: Sumedha Kirti
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