Shorapur, Karnataka: On Friday, Shorapur taluk of Yadgir district in Karnataka witnessed a mass conversion event in which more than a hundred Dalit men and women adopted Buddhism on the occasion of Buddha Dhamma Diksha , which marks the day social reformer BR Ambedkar embraced religion 66 years ago.
The event comes days after the Dalit community in Yadgir renounced Hinduism and threw photographs of Hindu gods into the Krishna River, a video one of which went viral earlier this week.
Explaining their action as a ” visarjan(immersion), some of the men who participated told ThePrint that they rejected the Hindu religion and embraced Ambedkar’s version of Buddhism.
“Just a few months ago, in a nearby village, upper caste members were not allowing Dalits to enter an Anjaneya (Hanuman) temple. We had to involve the police and local authorities and only then did the doors open,” said Venkatesh Hosmani, one of the men.
“We are in 2022 and we are still seeing all of this. If practicing Hindus do not regard Dalits as equal, if Hinduism does not call us equal, then why should we continue to practice it? he added.
On the eve of the “visarjan”, the family of a Dalit boy was a fine Rs 60,000 in Kolar district for touching a pole attached to an idol of a Hindu deity.
Hosmani is not shocked. “It has been going on for years and will continue to happen. We can’t even sit with all of them and pray together. BJP MP (A.) Narayanaswamy was not allowed to enter a temple in his village simply because he was a Dalit. When such powerful people can do nothing, we are small people. How can we fight?
The men in the ‘visarjan’ video are part of the Golden Cave Buddha Vihar Trust — who started last year — described by members as a “sub-group” of a Dalit welfare organization called “Dalit Sangathan Samithi”.
Police said they have not yet received a complaint about the Shorapur incident.
“Our intention was not to hurt or disrespect anyone or any religion. In fact, we showed respect visarjan. We normally leave idols in bodies of water, so we too took the pictures and left them in the water of our sacred Krishna river,” said Golden Cave Foundation Fellow Rahul Hullimani.
When asked why they didn’t just give the photographs to any observant Hindu, Hullimani replied that no one from other castes would be willing to take them.
“People from the upper caste don’t even sit next to us and take water from us. Do you think they would take these photos? Even within the Dalit community, those who still follow Hinduism might not take it because they believe that our karma could be transferred to them. So, we thought it best to do an immersion. We took the photos that were in our house,” he added.
Shorapur assembly constituency is an ST-only constituency. The government of Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai announced last week that it to improve reservations for the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes community.
Karnataka is likely to go to the polls next year.
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On October 14, 1956, Ambedkar had, with over 3.5 lakh followers, left Hinduism, which he considered a threat to freedom because it propagated the caste system, and embraced Buddhism.
His reinterpretationoften referred to as the Dalit Buddhist movement, Navayana or neo-Buddhism – rejected the “four noble truths” of traditional Buddhism and was instead reshaped with an emphasis on class struggle and social justice.
But overall, Ambedkar preferred Buddhism to other religions because he found the practice more auspicious liberate the marginalized sections of society.
For the Dalits of Yadgir, adopting Buddhism did not happen overnight. They had wanted to do it for almost four years or more, they said. Some of them, who have not yet officially converted to Buddhism, have stopped practicing Hinduism, they added.
“I took the time to understand Buddhism and what Ambedkar’s idea of Buddhism is. I spent years learning about his idea of community-liberating religion. After all, all he preached or wanted was equality and social justice,” Hullimani said.
For Naganna Kaladevanahalli, 51, who adopted Buddhism in the 1990s, choosing Buddhism was like “coming home”.
“Our constitution rightly allows us to practice whatever religion we want. We don’t do anything wrong. We will always be in the Scheduled Castes category. Basically we are continuing the legacy of our Baba Saheb [Ambedkar],” he said.
“We carry the baggage of untouchables”
According to members of the Dalit community in Shorapur whom ThePrint spoke to, there is not much discrimination in the municipal area of the city, but it is widespread in the villages of the taluk.
One of the major landmarks of the urban city of Shorapur, which spans an area of only 14 km, is a statue of Ambedkar. In a bustling area nearby stand three flags lined up – a Buddhist flag, a saffron flag for Hinduism and a blue “Jai Bhim” Dhamma chakra flag.
“We live peacefully in the city, but that doesn’t mean our community is treated equally. We carry this baggage of untouchables and this is practiced in the villages. I have been barred twice in the past few years from entering temples in some villages,” Hosmani said, as quoted earlier.
He further explained that there are still villages in their taluk where if there is a death in a Dalit family, hotels or shops (run by higher caste people) are closed. “Because Dalits from other villages, relatives of the deceased will come to the village and they might come to their house and drink water or whatever.”
When ThePrint visited Shorapur Police Station in the city, Inspector Sunil VM confirmed that the most recent incident took place in a village named Kirdhalli in the taluk.
“They don’t accept that they close for such a reason, but instead say it’s an age-old tradition to close the place when a death occurs. When you ask what is the reason behind the tradition, there is no answer. And this is only limited to deaths in Dalit families,” he added.
(Editing by Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri)
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