Calcutta Notebook


Nothing makes RSS bosses feel like tearing their hair out in frustration more than news of yet another group of Dalits converting to Buddhism.

On the eve of Buddha Purnima, more than 300 Dalits decided to "change" their religion in a mass ceremony in, of all places, infamous Una.

That is what made it even more irritating, aggravating and humiliating. Una is in Gujarat, Gujarat is Narendra Modi's beloved home State. This should not be happening.

But there is no way to stop it. Several Dalit families of Mota Samdhiya village in Una taluka have made up their minds. They have filled out the application forms. The holy rituals will be conducted by Buddhist monks from Porbander in the presence of local politicians, activists and journalists.

What is galling for the Sangh Parivar is the reason being given for the mass conversion—to register protest against the Modi government's discrimination against the Dalit community. It is even worse than that. Among the religious converts will be some of the young men who were flogged and paraded half-naked through Una town in July 2016 by the nefarious street thugs who call themselves Gau Rakshak Dal but who actually belong to the BJP, VHP, Bajrang DaI and a score of front organisations of the RSS.

The young men, and many others like them in other talukas and other pranths across the whole country, were being punished for transporting dead cattle for the purposes of skinning. It's what they do for a living.

Unlike what hundreds of RSS pracharaks think, Dalits do not do what they do because it makes them feel spiritual and ennobled. They are compelled by the iniquitous circumstances of their birth as untouchables to dispose of animal carcasses and human excreta to earn a few rupees to feed their own families.

But even the most famous pracharak of all, the former chief minister of Gujarat and the present Prime Minister of India, is unshakable in his belief that Dalits have been doing those filthy things for fun, for the sheer divinity of it. In his biblical treatise Karmayog, which greatly enhanced his stature within the Hindutva fraternity, he has even backed up his views with historical evidence and irrefutable logic—why else would Dalits continue to do it generation after generation since the time the sacred Manusmriti laws of the caste system were laid down.

The way the Ambedkarites are stirring up trouble everywhere and needlessly reopening debates which were done and dusted and settled more than two thousand years ago seems uncomfortable for the saffronites. As a BJP spokesman said in an accusatory tone during a panel discussion this week : "The Congress is playing politics. What does Rahul Gandhi know about Dalits?"

The overused diversionary tactic fails to cut any ice. Dalit youth all over the country—significantly in BJP ruled States in particular—are up in arms because of the alarming rise in incidents of brutal oppression and murderous atrocities against Dalits by outfits owing allegiance to the RSS. The Congress has very little to do with it and the party's vice-president did nothing more than read out a passage from Modi's Karmayog book.

That apart, what the Sangh Parivar should be more concerned about is the possibility of Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati carrying out a threat she made a year ago that she was seriously thinking of converting to Buddhism herself, along with her followers.

Warning of cataclysmic consequences unless the RSS and BJP stopped what she called was a deliberate strategy to commit atrocities on backward castes, Mayawati invoked the teachings of Bhimrao Ambedkar and his growing appeal among Dalit youth.

Dr Ambedkar, she said, had made an announcement in 1935 that he was born a Hindu but he would not die a Hindu. He gave Hindu religious and political leaders 21 years to reform. But when he saw there was no change in their attitude, he converted to Buddhism in 1956 in Nagpur.

The BSP leader said: "We had hoped the contractors and custodians of the Hindu religion would change after Babasaheb's conversion and finally give respect to the Dalit and backward caste communities. But even today they continue to exploit the backward communities and the Dalits.

"I want to warn the BJP and the RSS that if they don't change their disrespectful, casteist and communal behaviour towards the Dalits and backward caste people and their leaders, I too will convert to Buddhism with crores of my followers".

In what must have sounded ominous to the ears of the RSS-BJP bosses, she referred to the Lok Sabha elections in 2019 and said: "I will take a decision on conversion to Buddhism at an appropriate time, just like Dr Ambedkar."

Whether that threat is genuine or purely political rhetoric, time alone will tell. What is real is the event in Una where 300 Dalits, maybe more, clad in white saris and kurtas, chant in unison the words that will change their religion instantly and forevermore : "I shall have no faith in Rama and Krishna who are believed to be incarnations of God. Nor shall I worship them. I do not and shall not believe that Lord Buddha was the incarnation of Vishnu. I shall hereafter lead my life according to the principles and teachings of the Buddha".

Vol. 50, No.48, June 3 - 9, 2018