Una: Gujarat has seen a three-folds steep rise in the conversion of Dalits to Buddhism within a year after four Dalits were lashed publicly in Una for allegedly killing a cow. The estimates come from the Buddhist Society of India which was founded by Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar.
P G Jyotikar, Chairman of the Society and one of the first Dalits to convert to Buddhism in Gujarat, says around 1,500-1,600 Dalits have converted to Buddhism in the state since the Una incident, and that nearly 500 of them went to Nagpur for the conversion. 400-500 people would embrace Buddhism before the Una Incident, reports Indian Express.
56-year-old Suresh Maheriya, in Manjipura area of Nadiad in Kheda district, with his family of five and a few other families of Kheda was the first in the district to be converted to Buddhism since Una.
Maheriya, who is now called ‘Samyak Bauddh’, is an Assistant Social Welfare Officer with the Anand district administration. Sitting under posters of Dr Ambedkar and the Buddha, he told despite being a govt servant, he could not escape “the mindset of discrimination”.
“I had mentally turned a Buddhist years ago. But the formal conversion happened last October, when my entire family converted at a shibir (camp) in Nagpur,” Maheriya says.
“We find peace in Buddhism, where everyone is alike. It gives you the inner satisfaction that you are no longer looked down upon.”
Maheriya says this Dussehra, as many as 400 families from central Gujarat will travel to Nagpur to renounce Hinduism, at a function presided over by Buddhist monks from Haryana.
Dalits have embraced Budhhism in various parts of Gujarat, including Junagadh, Surendranagar, Palanpur, Bhiloda of Sabarkantha, Ahmedabad, Kalol of Gandhinagar, and Kodinar in Saurashtra.
Kirit Solanki who is a BJP Dalit leader and MP from Ahmedabad (West), says, “I think the Gujarat government had taken prompt action in the Una case. But after it, a lot of politics is being done.”
Also, chairman of the Parliamentary Committee for the Welfare of SC/ST communities, he adds, “Dalits do convert to Buddhism. Even Dr Ambedkar had embraced Buddhism. But I doubt if Dalit conversions have increased a lot. Many times people produce inflated figures to exaggerate facts.”
Narendrakumar Nakum, a former manager of a nationalised bank and Maheriya’s friend, said he had decided to convert long ago and even had spent time learning Buddhism.
“While people have shown immense respect towards me during my career as a bank manager, I still have friends who are awkward sharing a cup of tea with me. There have been educated colleagues who have asked me to write ‘Harijan’ next to my surname. These things caused much hurt,” adds Nakum.
“I wanted to be sure I knew the faith before I converted”, he admits. Finally, this Dussehra, he will renounce Hinduism. “I am 67 years old,” says Nakum. “If at this age, I want to convert to Buddhism, there must be something really wrong with this Hindu caste system.”