50 Years after Ambedkar’s Conversion


Courtsy: 2006 @ http://www.sepiamutiny.com/sepia/archives/003868.html


ambedkarpics.jpgFifty years ago, on October 14, 1956 — and a mere two months before his death — Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, the scholar and political leader who was principally responsible for the drafting of India’s Constitution, converted to Buddhism in a public ceremony in Nagpur. Somewhere between 100,000 and 500,000 of his Dalit followers — the accounts vary — embraced Buddhism in the immediate wake of his conversion. For Dr. Ambedkar, nothing in his long, distinguished career could convince him that the socio-cultural dynamics of Hinduism would ever offer Dalits a way out of “untouchability,” disenfranchisement, poverty and social stigma.

Each year on October 14, conversion ceremonies take place at which Dalits embrace Buddhism or Christianity. This year they have extra poignance, not only because it is the 50th anniversary of Ambedkar’s act, but also because several states ruled by the BJP have recently adopted or strengthened laws limiting conversion. On top of all this, a principal follower of Ambedkar, Kanshi Ram, who founded the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) which is the main political vehicle for the Dalit movement now, passed away earlier this month.

From accounts in the press so far, there were major conversion ceremonies today in Nagpur and also in Gulbarga in Karnataka:

Hundreds of Dalits on Saturday embraced Buddhism and Christianity at a mass conversion programme in Nagpur, in which copies of Gujarat government’s anti-conversion bill were also put to fire.

The mass conversion, organised by the All India Conference of SC/ST Organisations and the All India Christian Council on the occasion of World Religious Freedom Day, was attended by Dalits from Orissa, Karnataka and Gujarat states, organisers said.

The conversion of Dalits to Buddhism was performed by priests, while a group of Christian pastors from the Council led by President Dr Joseph D’Souza baptised the Dalits. [Link]

GULBARGA (Karnataka): More than 3,000 Dalits on Saturday embraced Buddhism at an impressive ceremony here on Saturday, synchronising with the golden jubilee of Dr B R Ambedkar’s conversion to Buddhism.

Marking the change of faith, the Dalits were administered the oath by Bante Bodhi Dhama, a Buddhist monk from Japan.

Preceding the ceremony, “Buddha Dharma Deeksha Pratigne”, a huge procession led by more than 500 monks, was taken out through the city streets. [Link]

There are some very interesting present-day political angles here, not least the controversy over the anti-conversion laws, and the fact that the leader of the BSP, Mayawati, the former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, has said she will not convert to Buddhism yet. She said this at today’s Nagpur rally, while announcing that Kanshi Ram’s funeral rites were performed in the Buddhist tradition, even though he had not converted; and while expressing her hope that Buddhism would spread further among Dalits. The mixed message clearly reflects the political complexity of the Dalit leadership’s position.

In the larger historical frame, perusing the day’s news and doing a little background research reminds me how shamefully little I know about Dr. Ambedkar’s story, let alone more obscure yet significant figures like Kanshi Ram. I hope that comments and debate on this post will help me, and surely others, remedy this lacuna.

ambedkar.jpgOne question I realized I had about Ambedkar was, how was he able to get his education in the first place? The answer, per the rather extensive Wikipedia entry, blends several classic ingredients that are common to stories of escape from deep-seated social injustice the world over. Ambedkar benefited from the advocacy of a determined parent, himself empowered by his military career; from a family move to the big city; from the kindness of a benevolent aristocratic patron; and of course, from his own hard work and academic excellence:

Ramji Sakpal encouraged his children to read the Hindu classics, especially the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. He used his position in the army to lobby for his children to study at the government school, as they faced resistance owing to their caste. Although able to attend school, Ambedkar and other Untouchable children were segregated and given no attention or assistance from the teachers. Ramji Sakpal retired in 1894 and the family moved to Satara two years later. Shortly after their move, Ambedkar’s mother died. The children were cared for by their paternal aunt, and lived in difficult circumstances. Only three sons — Balaram, Anandrao and Bhimrao — and two daughters — Manjula and Tulasa — of the Ambedkars would go on to survive them. Of his brothers and sisters, only Ambedkar succeeded in passing his examinations and graduate to a bigger school. His native village name was “Ambavade” in Ratnagiri District so he changed his name from “Sakpal” to “Ambedkar” with the recommendation and faith of a Brahmin teacher that believed in Bhimrao.

Ramji Sakpal remarried in 1898, and the family moved to Mumbai (then Bombay), where Ambedkar became the first untouchable student at the Government High School near Elphinstone Road. Although excelling in his studies, Ambedkar was increasingly disturbed by his segregation and discrimination. In 1907, he passed his matriculation examination and entered the University of Mumbai, becoming one of the first persons of untouchable origin to enter college in India. This success provoked celebrations amongst his community, and after a public ceremony, he was given a biography of the Buddha by his teacher Krishnaji Arjun Keluskar also known as Dada Keluskar a Maratha caste scholar. Ambedkar’s marriage had been arranged the previous year as per Hindu custom, to Ramabai, a nine-year old girl from Dapoli. In 1908, he entered the Elphinstone College and obtained a scholarship of Rs. 25 a month from the Gaekwad ruler of Baroda, Sahyaji Rao III for higher studies in USA.

Which brings us to another fascinating item. Unlike many academically successful Indians of his generation, Ambedkar didn’t go to England to study. He came to America, specifically to Columbia University in New York, where he obtained a doctorate in political science. It may well be that here in the U.S., he was more able to escape the social prejudices that might have followed him to England. The fact that he took up rooms with a Parsi could be used to argue the point either way:

Arriving in New York City, Ambedkar was admitted for graduate studies at the political science department. After a brief stay at the dormitory, he moved to a housing club run by Indian students and took up rooms with a Parsi friend, Naval Bhathena. In 1916, he was awarded a Ph.D. for a thesis which he eventually published in book form as The Evolution of Provincial Finance in British India. His first published work, however, was a paper on Castes in India: Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development. Winning his degree and doctorate, he travelled to London and enrolled at Gray’s Inn and the London School of Economics, studying law and preparing a doctoral thesis in economics. The expiration of his scholarship the following year forced him to temporarily abandon his studies and return to India amidst World War I.

Columbia’s page on Ambedkar suggests that his time here was transformative indeed:

At Columbia, Ambedkar studied under John Dewey, who inspired many of his ideas about equality and social justice. Ambedkar later recounted that at Columbia he experienced social equality for the first time. “The best friends I have had in my life,” he told the New York Times in 1930, “were some of my classmates at Columbia and my great professors, John Dewey, James Shotwell, Edwin Seligman, and James Harvey Robinson.”

In Ambedkar’s American sojourn I feel a foreshadowing of the experience of African nationalist leaders like Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, or Nnamdi Azikiwe of Nigeria, who also came to the U.S. rather than Britain, and absorbed a very different political — and racial — environment.

The later part of Ambedkar’s career is better known. Although a nationalist, he was also fiercely opposed to the Gandhian faction in the Indian National Congress; Ambedkar wanted a separate electorate for “untouchables,” which Gandhi felt was a bad idea. When the British supported Ambedkar’s idea, it could well have been classic colonial divide-and-conquer rather than any great sympathy for the Dalits. Ambedkar also opposed Gandhi’s naming of untouchables “Harijans,” or children of God. Perhaps he felt it was a hypocritical term; that the Dalit condition simply could not be reconciled with the social structures of Hinduism. However, despite these differences, Ambedkar was invited to become the first law minister of independent India, and chairman of the committee that drafted the constitution. If India’s constitution was remarkably liberal and democratic for its context and time, we have at least in part Dr. Ambedkar to thank. I don’t think it’s a stretch either to say that some of the similarities in spirit and substance between the Indian and American constitutions may have been his contribution as well.

In a sense, Ambedkar was a separatist figure: he had long given up on achieving Dalit equality within the Hindu framework, and his conversion to Buddhism at the end of his life only confirmed this. He also wanted to use the tools of the secular state to limit the power of Hindu institutions: when he resigned from the government in 1951, it was over a Hindu Code bill that would have established gender equality in many areas; he and Nehru supported the bill, but it did not make it past opposition in parliament. He also contested the treatment of women in Islam. It is not surprising that he remains a controversial figure fifty years after his death.

Kanshi Ram, who founded the BSP in 1984, embraced a somewhat different approach, perhaps indicative of changed times as much as anything else. From a valedictory article by S. Anand in Outlook:

Kanshi Ram, unarguably the biggest leader to emerge from among Dalits in the post-Ambedkar period, and someone who succeeded in the realm of parliamentary democracy in which Ambedkar repeatedly failed, drew heavily from Ambedkar’s political resources. However, he decided to deploy a different strategy at the ground level. …

Kanshi Ram realized that if the Dalits had to wrest their share in political power on their own terms, they needed allies. In this sense, he was more a follower of Jotiba Phule (1827–1890). At the heart of Kanshi Ram’s politics was the concept of the ‘bahujan’—the oppressed majority, a quintessential Phule formulation that believed in the organic unity of the Sudras (BCs and BCS) and Atisudras (Dalits and Adivasis); (something with which Ambedkar differed since he saw the Sudras as essentially erstwhile khsatriyas and the untouchables as fallen Buddhists). Following Phule, Kanshi Ram believed that the Sudras and Atisudras needed to join hands with Muslims and other minorities to combat the Brahmin-Baniya-Rajput combine. The logic that drove this postulation was that if democracy was the rule of the majoritarian voice, then why was it that in Indian democracy only the voice of the dwija castes was heard? In the early phase of his political career, Kanshi Ram believed that the Dalits and their immediate tormentors in the rural landscape—OBCs—could join hands.

Later, as the BSP gained clout and for a time political control in Uttar Pradesh under Mayawati — a Dalit female Chief Minister — its leadership found itself making political deals that one would think would have been anathema to Ambedkar. Or, as Anand argues, maybe not:

How and why did Kanshi Ram ally alternately with BJP and SP and even the Congress—in other words, with BCs and OBCs, as well the Brahmin-Baniya-Thakurs? Here, we need to invoke Ambedkar on the place of minorities in the midst of communal and political majorities. He argues in his neglected, late work Thoughts on Linguistic States:

People who rely upon majority rule forget the fact that majorities are of two sorts: (1) Communal majority and (2) Political majority. A political majority is changeable in its class composition. A political majority grows. A communal majority is born. The admission to a political majority is open. The door to a communal majority is closed. The politics of a political majority are free to all to make and unmake. The politics of a communal majority are made by its own members born in it. How can a communal majority run away with the title deeds given to a political majority to rule? … This tyranny of the communal majority is not an idle dream. It is an experience of many minorities.

Kanshi Ram understood that what was being played out in Indian democracy was the rule of communal majority in the name of the rule of the political majority. For a communal minority like Dalits , the only way to democracy was by kneading its way into the forces that constituted political majority in electoral politics. Dalits could not join the communal majority constituted by Baniyas, Thakurs and Brahmins, for, as Ambedkar says, the door to communal majority is closed. But they sure could join the political majority, since the class and caste composition of the political majority could change. This was manageable through alliances. Under Kanshi Ram’s stewardship, the BSP practically demonstrated what Ambedkar had theoretically formulated. In this sense, Kanshi Ram redefined and expanded the scope of parliamentary democracy in India.

Anand concludes:

Kanshi Ram painfully realised that Phule’s bahujan concept would not work under Dalit leadership. Kanshi Ram therefore successfully wedded Phule’s advocacy of the bahujan with the Ambedkarite idea of negotiating space for a communal minority in a political majority. With this premise, within a decade he managed to build a national party that became the sole challenge to the supremacy of the Congress and the BJP in the Hindi heartland.

An appraisal of Kanshi Ram’s legacy by Shivam Vij in Tehelka is slightly less detailed but makes similar points. As with much else in Indian politics, where this leaves anyone is ambiguous. It’s hard to see how the Mandal II mess over expanding the OBC reservations can have advanced the Dalit cause, whatever the outcome. And the daily reality of discrimination and denigration carries on for many millions of people. Hence the continued power of conversion, as Ramdeep Ramesh writes in the Guardian:

In the small one-room house on the edge of the rice bowl of India, Narasimha Cherlaguda explains why he is preparing to be reborn again as a Buddhist.

As an untouchable, the 25-year-old is at the bottom of Hinduism’s hereditary hierarchy. “The [local] priest tells me if I was a good dalit in this life, then in my next life I can be born into a better part of society. [I say] why wait?”

Like tens of thousands of other untouchables – or dalits – across India today, Mr Cherlaguda will be ritually converted to Buddhism to escape his low-caste status. The landless labourer points to a picture of Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god, on his wall and says it will soon be gone and replaced by an image of the Buddha.

He will not be alone. More than 70 people from the village of Kumarriguda, 40 miles outside Hyderabad, the capital of southern India’s Andhra Pradesh state, will leave the Hindu religion. There are plans for a Buddhist temple and money set aside to hire a Buddhist priest – probably the first in the area for 1,500 years – to conduct prayers as well as marriage and death rites. …

In Hyderabad the first person to convert will be KRS Murthy, 70, who was the first dalit recruited into the state’s civil service in 1959.

Not being in India, I’ll leave it to others to gauge the grievances and assess the different strategies available to Dalits to address them. But here, still from the Ramesh article, is a fairly concise statement of the problem, and of the counter-arguments currently at work:

Many dalit thinkers say that what is happening in India is a “religious rebellion” against a hierarchy that condemns them to a life of suffering. “Look we make up 150m people of India.

“Yet where are the Dalit news anchors, the entrepreneurs, the professors? We are neither seen nor heard. Changing religion makes us visible,” says Chanrabhan Prasad, a dalit writer.

The Hindu right has become increasingly wary of Buddhist conversions, seeing its call for equality as exerting a powerful pull on the lowest castes. The Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) government in the western state of Gujarat controversially amended an anti-conversion law to classify Buddhism and Jainism as branches of the Hindu religion, denying them status as unique religions.

“Dalits should concentrate on illiteracy and poverty rather than looking for new religions. In fact we think that there are very few differences between Buddhism and Hinduism,” says Lalit Kumar, who works for a Hindu nationalist welfare association in Andhra Pradesh.

One last thing: I appreciate that this post raises some unresolved questions in Indian politics and society that are the subject of very strongly felt disagreements. I am also no expert, nor are my sources in any way final: I am sharing what I learned today. I hope those with facts and opinions to share will do so freely, but graciously and in the spirit of pedagogy

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105 comments

1 · Beige Siege on October 14, 2006 9:52 PM · Direct link

Amazing post Siddhartha. I think I will add a couple of footnotes to this otherwise comprehensive summary.

Ambedkar was a truly great leader and played an indispensible role in the birth of the Indian nation. However he was not a person of the masses like other leaders of the independence movement. This along with the fact that he was percieved to be not very anti-british(he was a member of pre 1947, quasi independent governments, which Congress stayed out of demanding complete independence instead) gives some of his critics ammunition against him.

Regarding the anti-conversion bill, the attempt to classify Buddism and Jainism as sub sets of Hinduism is not born purely out of an attempt to repress the lower castes. Its a widely held opinion among Hindus as evidenced by the extent to which Buddha is worshipped among the pantheon of Gods.

I think these are conversions are very important because it provides an opportunity for debate and speedens the process of eliminating the role of caste that is taking place in India right now.

There is a lot more I want to say, but its time to go out drinking 🙂 Be back tomorrow.

2 · Kritic on October 14, 2006 9:55 PM · Direct link

Thanks for this post. One of the greatest Indians, indeed.

btw, Columbia Uinversity’s School of International and Public Affairs has only one persons bust on it’s premises…Ambedkar’s.

3 · razib_the_atheist on October 14, 2006 9:58 PM · Direct link

ambedkar’s story is inspiring because of his social background (though his family was not, from what i can gather, the poorest of the poor as many dalits are). one thing about the buddhist or christian angle: i think that conversion of communities like the chamars and mahars to a religion with large non-indian following is important in that it does allow them to have allies internationally in their fight for a higher status. japan is after all one of the wealthiest nations in the world, and it has a large buddhist population.

4 · Al beruni on October 14, 2006 10:25 PM · Direct link

Ambedkar, Gandhi and Tagore are the three key figures in understanding the nature, form and challenges of indian modernization. Each one has left an enormous corpus of work, from which one can learn an enormous amount. How each faced the various challenges of their lives is also quite significant.

5 · Janeofalltrades on October 14, 2006 10:29 PM · Direct link

Siddhartha I’m really happy to see this post. Dr Ambedkar’s teachings and philosophy had a huge presence in my maternal home when I was growing up. In fact my grand parents were at one time very close to him and took part in many demonstrations with him. They also converted to Buddhism symbolically though for the most part have always lived as atheists. My grandfather passed away some years ago and I am lucky to have heard a lot of stories about Dr Ambedkar from him. I wish in hindsight I had recorded some of them. My grandmother still has a picture of him in her home with his arm around my grandfather. I recently found out that my parents were married in a Buddhist ceremony presided by a picture of Dr Ambedkar. This post is better than Wikipedia. Thank you for posting it.

6 · chick pea on October 14, 2006 10:44 PM · Direct link

siddhartha–with your name, how could you not post about this 😉

thanks for the most comprehensive summary and great writing..

i learned a lot..

7 · tash on October 14, 2006 11:05 PM · Direct link

Thanks for the post, Siddhartha.

It was really eye-opening, informative, comprehensive…and it reminded me how important it is to remember the continuing discrimination that exists in India through social vehicles such as the caste system.

Changing religion makes us visible

This quote really got to me…

I think as migrants it’s easier to believe that such feelings only exist for South Asians in western countries we’ve moved to…but to feel invisible in your own homeland must be so demoralising I can’t even imagine it, and knowing that it still exists in India to this day is a sobering truth…although I’m studying the similar institutionally discriminatory treatment of indigenous people in New Zealand at the moment and this post gave me my own way into trying to empathise and gauge what that particular invisibility must feel like, although I guess I’ll never understand.

Big ups for connecting Ambedkar’s story with those of African nationalists, that’s a brave thing to do on a site where some commenters see no hypocrisy in denouncing anti-South Asian sentiments while hating on other cultures, particularly people of African descent, in the same paragraph.

8 · ashvin on October 14, 2006 11:06 PM · Direct link

Great post Siddhartha. What an inspiring man !

If any of you need reminding of the reality of caste in India today (and it’s easy to forget… for some of us, at least), here’s a little video from Shivam Vij’s site :
http://www.shivamvij.com/2006/10/i-am-a-dalit-how-are-you.html

Thanks also for your comment JOAT. Very interesting.

9 · Archana on October 14, 2006 11:13 PM · Direct link

I just read about this today on BBC – thanks for the post. I want to know more about the laws that restrict conversion – does it have to do with the religion-specific family codes? Isn’t it unconstitutional to limit this?

10 · SkepMod on October 14, 2006 11:31 PM · Direct link

Ashvin, thanks for the link. That was one of the most moving pieces I have seen in a long long time. Times are a changing, but unfortunately, a little too slowly.

11 · razib_the_atheist on October 14, 2006 11:54 PM · Direct link

that was an incredible link. everyone watch it.

12 · Quizman on October 15, 2006 12:27 AM · Direct link

For a contradictory view of Ambedkar, read ‘Worshipping False Gods’ by Arun Shourie. Check out an excerpt here.

13 · risible on October 15, 2006 12:33 AM · Direct link

Couple of quick points:

In a sense, Ambedkar was a separatist figure: he had long given up on achieving Dalit equality within the Hindu framework, and his conversion to Buddhism at the end of his life only confirmed this.

Yes. But, he was an Indian Nationalist as much as a Dalit leader.

1) He advocated the partition of India, because he did not think Hindus could not live with Muslims.

2) He rejected both Christianity and Islam as a solution to the Dalit problem, becasue he felt that a large scale conversion to the Abrahamic faiths would be existentially disruptive for India.

3) Which makes the appropriation of Ambedkar by Christian groups like the Dalit Freedom Network kind of amusing. But then, times have changed, and new coalitions form all of the time.

4) Ambedkarite Buddhism owes little to Indian Buddhism or the extant Buddhisms in Asia; its more Deweyan rationalism dressed up in Buddhist symbology, confirmed by twenty-two tough oaths which leave no doubt that he wanted Dalits to have nothing to do with Hindu practices.

5) However, sociological studies demonstrate over and over that Dalit Buddhists retain many of their pre-conversion practices. They might be called Buddhists in name only. The Indian Nationalist definition of Hinduism includes Buddhism as one of its branches. This offends many people, but strangely, it reflects the way Buddhism exists in India today. That, however, makes for very bad protest politics, hence, I think, the uproar.

6) Mayavati is wooing Brahmins right now, which is why she has toned down the anti-Hindu rheoric. The elctoral calculus in UP shows the upper caste vote is up for grabs and that it will be crucial if she is to win back power from the Samajwadi Party, so her sloganeering is suddenly pro-Brahmin.
7) I am all for the Dalits wresting themselves free from the oppressive Brahmanic ideology. I agree with Ambedkar’s reasoning, and prefer Buddhism over Christianity or Islam.

8) Ambedkar did not popularize the term Dalit. That was the work of the Dalit panthers, an Indian political party modelled on the Black panthers. Another seminal event in the popularization of the term was a literary supplement on Dalit literature published in the Times of India in the 70s. While Dalit is the preferred term used in western discourse and among intellectuals, the former untouchable castes tend to refer to themselves by their caste names, like Valmiki or Jatav, or in South india, adi-dravidas, or adi-andhras, adi meaning “first,” because they believe that they were the indigineous subjugated peoples of those regions.

14 · Quizman on October 15, 2006 12:40 AM · Direct link

..and incidentally, Mayawati is no heroine. She has been one of the most corrupt politicians in India, along with that other “paragon of ‘social justice'” Laloo Yadav. I loved the parody on her in ‘Bunty and Babli’ (the ‘Taj for sale’ scene).

15 · Asha’s dad on October 15, 2006 12:52 AM · Direct link

Solid post. I don’t think I could put together something like this if given an entire semester. Well done, sir, well done.

16 · siddhartha on October 15, 2006 12:56 AM · Direct link

Risible (or anyone else who can speak to this point),

Lots of interesting additional points there; thank you. A quick reaction to the first one. You said:

1) He advocated the partition of India, because he did not think Hindus could not live with Muslims.

But in the Wiki article it says this:

Between 1941 and 1945, he published a large number of highly controversial books and pamphlets, including Thoughts on Pakistan, in which he criticized the Muslim League’s demand for a separate Muslims state of Pakistan.

Is that not an accurate characterization? Did his thinking on Partition evolve from one view to the other?

17 · Manju on October 15, 2006 1:39 AM · Direct link

Siddhartha:

I have nothing to add. I just came home, put on some Ali Farka Toure, poured a glass or Jim Beam neat, and thouroghly enjoyed your writing. I see I’m not the only one.

Thanks for the nightcap.

18 · BrooklynBrown on October 15, 2006 2:21 AM · Direct link

I found myself writing about Ambedkar tonight, too, in anniversary of the mass conversions that took place on the 14th. My interest was mainly with the city of Nagpur, where my parents come from, where all of my relatives still live, and the site where Ambedkar and thousands of his followers converted to Buddhism (as you mention). Nagpur is also whereK. B. Hedgewar formed the RSS, 31 years before Ambedkar’s conversion, and where Gandhi’s murderer Nathuram Bodse, an RSS member, traveled to frequently (He sometimes stayed with my grandparents). I found it interesting that the city could both birth and sustain modern Hindu fundamentalism (the BJP came from the RSS) while being the location for the liberation of Dalits from the Hindu hierarchy.

I concur that the Wikipedia entry is quite extensive, and I also concur with others who enjoyed your post, Siddhartha. Thanks.

19 · Shruti on October 15, 2006 2:34 AM · Direct link

Wow, this is the quality of work I aimed at doing when I decided it was a good idea to stay in and study. My idea was a total waste of a Saturday night, but to quote the now infamous Red Snapper line, “Sepia Mutiny does not waste your time.”
Solid thoughtful post, Siddhartha. And thanks to risible for #13.

On this point,

5) However, sociological studies demonstrate over and over that Dalit Buddhists retain many of their pre-conversion practices. They might be called Buddhists in name only. The Indian Nationalist definition of Hinduism includes Buddhism as one of its branches. This offends many people, but strangely, it reflects the way Buddhism exists in India today. That, however, makes for very bad protest politics, hence, I think, the uproar.

I always wonder what exactly conversion does for Dalits. One day they’re destitute Hindus and the next day they’re Buddhists moving on up? Your point indicates that it’s not so much a cultural change for them as it is a political one, but how does it even help them politically? If for all practical purposes, the society around them still recognizes them as the lowest rung, can it really help the common Dalit who has little to no economic agency? Is it more of a demonstration in solidarity?

20 · Dev on October 15, 2006 2:59 AM · Direct link

Here are some interesting links:

India’s Untouchables turn to Buddhism in protest at discrimination by Hindus

21 · Dev on October 15, 2006 3:03 AM · Direct link

“Across India this month, thousands of Hindus from the former Untouchable castes are converting to Buddhism in protest at the continuing discrimination they face. Mass conversion ceremonies are being held throughout the month, from Delhi in the north, to Hyderabad in the south. Organisers are claiming that more than 100,000 people have already converted.”

A hundred thousand Dalits gather in Maharashtra to burn anti-conversion laws

100,000 to Become Buddhists in Hydrabad on 14th October

An Overview of India’s Buddhist Movement

And Finally…. the blog of Ambedkar 2006

http://www.ambedkar2006.blogspot.com

22 · Dev on October 15, 2006 3:07 AM · Direct link

^ Damn, just realized the links don’t work 🙂

Just go to http://www.buddhistchannel.tv – they have a whole focus on the issue at the moment.

23 · shiva on October 15, 2006 3:24 AM · Direct link

Siddharth,

I am surprised that you choose to discuss a wikipedia discussion on Ambedkar and Pakistan rather than read the document herehttp://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00ambedkar/ambedkar_partition/. One of the unfortunate consequences of Ambedkar idolisation (a post 80s practice) is that people have stopped reading him – critically or otherwise – and have simply taken his statements for the value as polemic.

As Ambedkar says in this paper,

The second thing he will find is that there is no partisanship. The aim is to expound the scheme of Pakistan in all its aspects and not to advocate it. The aim is to explain and not to convert. It would, however, be a pretence to say that I have no views on Pakistan. Views I have. Some of them are expressed, others may have to be gathered. Two things, however, may well be said about my views. In the first place, wherever they are expressed, they have been reasoned out. Secondly, whatever the views, they have certainly not the fixity of a popular prejudice. They are really thoughts and not views. In other words, I have an open mind, though not an empty mind. A person with an open mind is always the subject of congratulations. While this may be so, it must, at the same time, be realized that an open mind may also be an empty mind and that such an open mind, if it is a happy condition, is also a very dangerous condition for a man to be in. A disaster may easily overtake a man with an empty mind. Such a person is like a ship without ballast and without a rudder. It can have no direction. It may float but may also suffer a shipwreck against a rock for want of direction. While aiming to help the reader by placing before him all the material, relevant and important, the reader will find that I have not sought to impose my views on him. I have placed before him both sides of the question and have left him to form his own opinion.

The paper was published in 1945 about 9 years before he died. Shortly after this paper came the Constituent Assembly and thanks to the efforts of Gandhi, Ambedkar found a place in it as the chair of its drafting committee. Ambedkar’s views on the Constitution of India have not been studied with care. And given the Indian “scholar’s” fondness for combing texts for quotes and trotting them out as the points of view of the person in question, almost all that is written on this subject is worthless. A lot of anecdotal evidence might be already lost. In between 1945 and 1956 came the Kashmir problem and then the fall of Tibet, both of which worried Ambedkar greatly. Interestingly when Ambedkar invited another famous activist of his time (he was not a dalit) to join him in embracing Buddhism, the latter tartly responded that unlike Ambedkar he wasn’t ready to give up on Hinduism and even if he did not believe in its tenets would rather die a Hindu. Another (again not a dalit) commented that Ambedkar was simply achieving a high jump rather than a long jump.

Considering that Ambedkar thought that caste has no biological basis it is surprising that he thought these to be unchanging categories. Varna and to a lesser extent jati are both constantly changing categories. There are a few powerful communities within the Hindu fold today that were untouchable in Phule and even Ambedkar’s time. Social mobility rather than unchangeable classes is the feature that stands out. Which is why communal configurations have tended to break up.

24 · Res on October 15, 2006 3:34 AM · Direct link

Well if “varna” and “jati” are “constantly changing” does that mean “untouchables” should just wile away their time hoping it would change so that they would (finally) be able lead a life with dignity? I can’t help but notice that some Hindus are annoyed by this conversion out of Hinduism and into Buddhism. But it wouldn’t be happening if Hindu society wasn’t so repressive of the so-called “untouchables.”

25 · shiva on October 15, 2006 4:38 AM · Direct link

Res

…does that mean “untouchables” should just wile away their time hoping it would change so that they would (finally) be able lead a life with dignity?

Well said. And there is something phoney about being accorded ‘dignity’ after demand. These are not mere civil rights but are at the core of a person’s identity. Ambedkar says that Hinduism is beyond reform as it is inherently unequal and unjust. Even then Hindu reformers continued to invite Ambedkar to speak at their conferences through the 30s. Ambedkar of course was far from being clannish or even striedent. He was married to a Brahmin (his 2nd marriage IIANM) and had friends from all communities.

Here’s the link to Thoughts on Pakistan. The one in the earlier post doesn’t work. Please do at least browse through the document, although it is meant for a more serious read. From the preface

I cannot close this preface without thanking Prof. Manohar B. Chitnis of the Khalsa College, Bombay, and Mr. K. V. Chitre for their untiring labours to remove all printer’s and clerical errors that had crept into the first edition, and to see that this edition is free from all such blemishes. I am also very grateful to Prof. Chitnis for the preparation of the Index, which has undoubtedly enhanced the utility of the book.

and the

26 · Al_Mujahid_for_debauchery on October 15, 2006 7:53 AM · Direct link

Great post Siddhartha. The video from ashvin was extremely depressing. It sure sucks to be a Dalit (maybe the understatement of the year)

27 · Red Snapper on October 15, 2006 9:10 AM · Direct link

but to quote the now infamous Red Snapper

I’m infamous now??

Great post Siddhartha

I always wonder what exactly conversion does for Dalits. One day they’re destitute Hindus and the next day they’re Buddhists moving on up?

I think it is empowering. Generations of oppression being rejected in a symbolic act. The arrogant classifying of Buddhism as ‘just another branch’ or Hinduism in Gujarat must be especially obnoxious to them.

28 · chick pea on October 15, 2006 9:36 AM · Direct link

red snapper.. you have always been infamous 🙂

just like the chick pea 😉

29 · Mr Kobayashi on October 15, 2006 9:59 AM · Direct link

Siddhartha, rock-star post.

30 · sidg on October 15, 2006 10:01 AM · Direct link

This is a great post.

This conversion doesn’t do anything to help them. This is just a false hope given to them for getting more votes and more people in their religion(Christianity). Changing religions is not going to help them go up in life. If the OBCs,BCs,SCs,STs make up 70-80% of the population then i still don’t get it why they are called minorities. They have to voice their opinion when someone puts them down or treats them bad(This will not happen just by changing religions, but becoming a strong person). The laws and enforcement of laws should be more strict and swift.

The most annoying thing about this is how 70% of the media and other important positions are held by people from not lower castes. Mainly because nobody cares to EDUCATEthe lower castes. They just do this sort of stupid mass conversions which helps them get votes. Unless the government strictly enforce education of lower castes all over India by either free mid day meals and as such, the lower castes are not going to hold positions in media or wherever they want to. Because no private company is going to look at castes, they are just going to look at your education, if you have no skills you are still going to be holding a janitorial or unskilled labor where you will not be making decisions. So education is the main tool to “EMPOWER” people not religious ceremonies and conversions. It might give a dose of euphoria to those people and make them vote but heck they are still going to be where they are for another 50 years unless educated.

31 · Sriram on October 15, 2006 10:05 AM · Direct link

Thanks for this great post. This is an individual I know very little about and your article gives me a great starting point.

32 · senaX on October 15, 2006 10:09 AM · Direct link

I am all for the Dalits wresting themselves free from the oppressive Brahmanic ideology. I agree with Ambedkar’s reasoning, and prefer Buddhism over Christianity or Islam

yup – let them convert to buddhism all they want

only thing is though, this is not what actually happens, if you read about the conversions that recently happened, although most converted to buddhism, there were a significant amount who converted to christianity

33 · tamasha on October 15, 2006 10:13 AM · Direct link

Yes, I would have to echo this rock-star business, Siddhartha. I have learned so much this morning!

I have nothing to add except that I’m pleased to see a higher level of maturity in the comments of this post than one might expect, given the intense nature of the subject. Thank you everyone for sharing personal information and links, etc. It’s making for a rich (no pun intended) lesson.

34 · sidg on October 15, 2006 10:14 AM · Direct link

Is there any link on what Dr.Ambedkar advocated on education for lower castes.
He was given the post of writing the constitution mainly because of the education he got not because of his caste. I am really surprised he did not do more for education of the oppressed.
Yes there might still be some educated racists but it would be like the US then. US has its fair share of racists but they dont stop anyone on their tracks to become successful.
In this age no education means no success, no matter what caste or religion.

35 · voiceinthehead on October 15, 2006 10:31 AM · Direct link

Regarding the anti-conversion bill, the attempt to classify Buddism and Jainism as sub sets of Hinduism is not born purely out of an attempt to repress the lower castes. Its a widely held opinion among Hindus as evidenced by the extent to which Buddha is worshipped among the pantheon of Gods

1. Gautama, the buddha is NOT the ninth avataar of vishnu. See for a consise description of the controversy. 2. Translation of Bhagavatam Google around for views of Vivekananada, Arabindo, and other reformers on this controversy.

36 · Janeofalltrades on October 15, 2006 10:43 AM · Direct link

I always wonder what exactly conversion does for Dalits. One day they’re destitute Hindus and the next day they’re Buddhists moving on up? Your point indicates that it’s not so much a cultural change for them as it is a political one, but how does it even help them politically? If for all practical purposes, the society around them still recognizes them as the lowest rung, can it really help the common Dalit who has little to no economic agency? Is it more of a demonstration in solidarity?

In conversations with my grandpa…the symbolic act was more of a rejection of Hindu laws that separated people and kept the Dalits down. It was more of an empowerment act of not being a dalit any more and less about actually being Buddhist though he did follow Buddhist philosophies and encouraged the converts to follow them as well. However because culture is so strongly bound to religion in India many converts continued to practice Hinduism in some form of the other.

My grandfathers household was a perfect example. They practiced Buddhism in daily life and it permeated into a lot of things my grandfather did and how he lived. But his children all ended up devout Hindus and my grandparents did not prevent them from being so. The temple in his house contained a statue of Buddha, a conch & Ganesha & a picture of Ambedkar. He was a moderate man and practiced the middle way a philosophy that was the core of what Gautam Buddha taught, it meant being non extreme and tolerant of everyone and for the the era when Ambedkar was a renegade it appealed to the Gandhi believers. If you compare Gandhi’s teachings to his they have much in common.

So it was more of a symbolic act of defiance however remember it also meant not identifying yourself by caste in so many aspects and forms in your daily life. It meant not being a dalit when you applied for employment or education etc etc. It was also psychologically allowing the dalits to believe they were better than before and they could aspire to be better. Also Buddhists were persecuted all thru South Asia for centuries by several Zorastrians, Persians and Muslim rulers so the religion had a ‘perseverence’ label attached to it.

37 · risible on October 15, 2006 11:09 AM · Direct link

Sid,

yeah, I was writing quickly, I agree with Shiva that things are more nuanced than bullet points allow, that views change over time (as with gandhi’s views) and like all things debatable. But to quote from the book which you referenced and he found a link to:

“What is the unity the Hindu sees between Pakistan and Hindustan? If it is geographical unity, then that is no unity. Geographical unity is unity intended by nature. In building up a nationality on geographical unity, it must be remembered that it is a case where Nature proposes and Man disposes. If it is unity in external things, such as ways and habits of life, that is no unity. Such unity is the result of exposure to a common environment. If it is administrative unity, that again is no unity. The instance of Burma is in point. Arakan and Tenasserim were annexed in 1826 by the treaty of Yendabu. Pegu and Martaban were annexed in 1852. Upper Burma was annexed in 1886. The administrative unity between India and Burma was forged in 1826. For over 110 years that administrative unity continued to exist. In 1937, the knot that tied the two together was cut asunder and nobody shed a tear over it. The unity between India and Burma was not less fundamental. If unity is to be of an abiding character, it must be founded on a sense of kinship, in the feeling of being kindred. In short, it must be spiritual. Judged in the light of these considerations, the unity between Pakistan and Hindustan is a myth. Indeed, there is more spiritual unity between Hindustan and Burma than there is between Pakistan and Hindustan. And if the Hindus did not object to the severance of Burma from India, it is difficult to understand how the Hindus can object to the severance of an area like Pakistan, which, to repeat, is politically detachable from, socially hostile and spiritually alien to, the rest of India.

***

Keep in mind that the Hindu Mahasanha (the precursors of todays Hindu parties) were largely against partition. They wanted “akhand bharat.” undivided India.

38 · risble on October 15, 2006 11:29 AM · Direct link

I always wonder what exactly conversion does for Dalits. One day they’re destitute Hindus and the next day they’re Buddhists moving on up? Your point indicates that it’s not so much a cultural change for them as it is a political one, but how does it even help them politically?

Shruti,

In Maharastra, “baudh” has become synonomyous with Mahar, so the discriminators still know who the Dalits are. The same goes with Christian dalits and Sikh Dalits and Muslim dalits. The Dalit Buddhists I know tell me its psychological liberation, like having a burden removed. Besides retaining Hindu practices, many have taken up meditation, SN Goenka’s vipassana meditation is very popular among them, though he is a Burma raised Marwari, not a Dalit, and some Dalits are wary of that. Quite a bit of literature has emerged in Marathi especially, but also other languuages.

In Mumbai, a popular dance is the “Jai Bhim” dance, where they lift one hand up and gyrate, probably after a famous picture of Ambedkar. “Jai Bhim” is the greeting Dalits use with one another (Bhim being Ambedkar). Dalit arts are entering popular culture as well, in Tamil, there is usually a track in every film that has the ‘Pariayar’ drum beat, and there was a CD put out called Dalit Drums.

There is an annual book festival for navayana books (a Dalit Buddhist imprint), and thousands of dalits turn up.
Politically, Kanshi ram, Mayavati, the whole BSP ideology, is struck from Ambedkar, though his own political party was unsuccessful.

Keep in mind that a few thousand conversions in India is not an earth shaking event. Many popular Hindu festivals are dominated by Dalits as well…

My perpective, as you can probably guess, is unabashedly Indian nationalist, though I don’t agree with alot of what passes for nationalism today.

39 · Abi on October 15, 2006 1:04 PM · Direct link

Thank you, Siddhartha, for this excellent post. I’m not knowledgeable enough to add to the factual content here. But I do recommend the site www.ambedkar.org, which has a pretty extensive section on the great man himself.

Bhupinder Singh has a nice post on Ambedkar and Sikhism.

Thanks again.

40 · voiceinthehead on October 15, 2006 1:32 PM · Direct link

Is the background song on ashvins’ video Gaddars song

41 · louiecypher on October 15, 2006 1:38 PM · Direct link

I’m very sympathetic to the Dalit cause and have a high regard for Buddhism. However, as I have observed in my ancestral corner of Tamil Nadu, the biggest agent of change will be increased competition for Dalit labor. It wasn’t until the textile mills & machining plants opened up that the local Dalits (i.e. Chakkliars) had an alternative to their hereditary role as agricultural serfs and started asserting themselves. I would also hope that the non-elected segments of the central government (e.g. IPS) would show some balls and aggressively prosecute some of the more atavistic elements of the feudal landowning community, but I won’t hold my breath.

While I don’t care for the BJP/VHP (they are co-opting the intolerance that is central to certain faiths that I will not identify in this post), I agree that the Hindu/Buddhist divide is bogus. All you have to do is travel to “Buddhist” Thailand where people still pray to Ganesh & Shiva. They understand that “Hindu” is a catch-all that does not make sense outside of the Indian context and use the term Brahminism in museum placards/literature to identify that particular belief system that holds the Vedas as central and the Manu smrti as the basis for society. Anyone who knows anything about Hinduism beyond what they teach in Ivy League Comp Religion 101 knows that by equating Hinduism with Brahminism you put 80% of South Indian Hindus outside the fold. My point is that Vedic Hinduism, is just one of many “Hinduisms” along with Jainism/Buddhism/Tamil Muruga worship etc. It just happens to be the sect with the most political power, something that needs to change if we are to be a more equitable society. I’m all for the adoption of Buddhism, it’s a rejection of the Manu smrti not “Hinduism” as a whole.

42 · senaX on October 15, 2006 1:46 PM · Direct link

I always wonder what exactly conversion does for Dalits. One day they’re destitute Hindus and the next day they’re Buddhists moving on up? Your point indicates that it’s not so much a cultural change for them as it is a political one, but how does it even help them politically?

it does nothing – the only true way for progress, as many have already pointed out, is through education

43 · Shivam Vij on October 15, 2006 2:12 PM · Direct link

Siddhartha,

Thank you for this post – particularly the much-needed last sentence. Some comments:

The mixed message clearly reflects the political complexity of the Dalit leadership’s position.

Actually, Kanshi Ram and Mayawati’s ambiguity over Buddhism is for me a cause for cheer: I don’t know about Kanshi Ram but Mayawati in her speeches has left no doubt about her atheism. For a movement against religion-sanctioned caste, atheism is the most progressive way forward, in my view, notwithstanding the appealing reasons Ambedkar gave for choosing Buddhism. He linked Buddhism and Dalits historically; be that as it may, any harking back to the past for me compromises a movement’s forward, progressive direction. Having said that, I fully understand Buddhism’s appeal, as it stands completely in contrast with Hinduism and against caste. (I do become a little unsure about my views as an atheist when I see a Dalit wish another ‘Happy Dhamma Dushera’ on Orkut!) Mayaywati and Kanshi Ram were concerned with solely the pursuit of power, and may have seen Buddhism as an unnecessary distraction. It could also have come in their way for creating a pan-opprssed movement, as they sought to create a movement that united disparate Dalit communities with disparate OBCs and Muslims – the prjoect of unity between the three has met with little success but is still worth the try, despite the anti-OBC venom that the megalomaniac Chandrabhan Prasad spews: http://www.shivamvij.com/2006/09/chandrabhan-prasad-and-the-other-backward-classes.html

In the larger historical frame, perusing the day’s news and doing a little background research reminds me how shamefully little I know about Dr. Ambedkar’s story.

That’s true for most Indians including me, and has to do with the shameful neglect of Ambedkar in school books in India, which makes me wonder… The state recognises Ambedkar as an architect of the Constitution in a mai-baap way, wherein the fact that the Constitution’s architect was a great Dalit becomes nithing but lip-sympathy for Dalits; Ambedkar’s views on Hiduism are to be ignored because Gandhi has to be put on a pedestal.

Ambedkar also opposed Gandhi’s naming of untouchables “Harijans,” or children of God. Perhaps he felt it was a hypocritical term; that the Dalit condition simply could not be reconciled with the social structures of Hinduism.

This point needs to be made more strongly. I once wrote a rant about this: http://www.countercurrents.org/dalit-vij061204.htm

Gandhi’s ‘Harijan’ talk was condescending not just in its content but also for the fact that it was like an upper caste person giving alms: Ambedkarites argue that Dalits have to be led by their own leader, their own ideology. Gandhi was too much in the Hindu mould, as you rightly say.

As with much else in Indian politics, where this leaves anyone is ambiguous. It’s hard to see how the Mandal II mess over expanding the OBC reservations can have advanced the Dalit cause, whatever the outcome.

Mandal II helps bring Dalits and OBCs a little closer; many of those arguing for OBC reservations were Dalit leaders this summer. This is despite the fact that Dalits and OBCs are in violent conflict on the ground all over India because OBCs own small pieces of land where they ill-treat Dalits who work as landless labouers, even as the Indian state continues to live the lie of land reforms. I recently interviewed Dalit intellectual Gopal Guru (the article will be published later) who said that most farmers committing suicide are OBCs, and that their increasing alienation from the state could bring them closer to Dalits, given some hard political mobilisation.

That hard political mobilisation may well happen because of new Dalit parties coming up in UP and elsewhere:
[1] http://www.ibnlive.com/news/kanshi-rams-brother-to-launch-new-party/23991-4.html
[2] http://tehelka.com/story_main20.asp?filename=Ne1021200The_King.asp

What the BSP needs is some free market competition; this could help Dalits and OBCs with the trickle down process in the development game.

44 · Quizman on October 15, 2006 2:30 PM · Direct link

risible wrote: “7) I am all for the Dalits wresting themselves free from the oppressive Brahmanic ideology. I agree with Ambedkar’s reasoning, and prefer Buddhism over Christianity or Islam.”

The reality on the ground is that there is no powerful brahmanic ideology anymore. In fact, brahmins were never ever in positions of economic or military power; those were in the hands of kshatriyas and vaishyas. [Yes, there was/is a strong brahmanic presence and discrimination in places of religious worship.].

Even now, the largest number of atrocities are committed by the so-called lower castes against other lower castes. Open any newspaper and note the atrocities committed by Yadavs/Rajputs against Dalits in Bihar, or the Gounder atrocities in TN, the Kamma/Reddy discrimination in Andhra. Do note that all these economically powerful (with muscle power) are classified as backward classes.

The less said about the conditions about the adivasis, the better. They are not even in the same league as the other oppressed classes, but they are not a vote bank, and hence, very few care about them.

45 · Quizman on October 15, 2006 2:40 PM · Direct link

Incidentally, the most militant Hindu organizations are headed by non-brahmins (specifically by those classified as Vaishyas and OBCs). There was an article in The Week or Outlook India about this curious phenomenon some years back. VHP and Bajranj Dal were two prominent orgs. I can’t seem to find the article through google since I may not have the correct keywords. Anybody else have luck with that?

46 · razib_the_atheist on October 15, 2006 2:43 PM · Direct link

Keep in mind that the Hindu Mahasanha (the precursors of todays Hindu parties) were largely against partition.

there were fundamentalist muslims who opposed partition as well, they viewed separation of muslims and hindus as an impediment to their conversionary mission.

47 · razib_the_atheist on October 15, 2006 2:46 PM · Direct link

In fact, brahmins were never ever in positions of economic or military power; those were in the hands of kshatriyas and vaishyas.

isn’t this simplistic? the peshwas and senas are not exceptional brahminical ruling dynasties from what i gather. i think it is correct to state that elite status is not a brahmin monopoly, but certainly brahmin preeminence has extended beyond their clerical vocation quite a bit.

48 · risible on October 15, 2006 2:52 PM · Direct link

Even now, the largest number of atrocities are committed by the so-called lower castes against other lower castes.

That is true, but there are mutts in India that will not admit a Shudra, let alone a Dalit initiate to study the Vedas. Plus, the attitude that the panchamas are dirty, drink too much, are licentious, etc., is very common still, I’m sorry to say. Upper caste leaders have not been innocent in all of this. I would prefer reformed Hinduism over Buddhism, but understand the motivation to convert.

BTW the Congress is barely winning the adivasi vote anymore. The Sangh, for all its silliness, has done a lot of good humanitarian work among them.

Here is an account of the event from a “right of center” blog:

The day’s events in Nagpur turned out rather unexpectedly for the organizers. To begin with the event was essentially localized a motley group of individuals and its observance essentially localized to Nagpur despite its organizers attempt to give it an international spin calling it world freedom of religion day. While tall claims were made of converting 100s of thousands, in the end it was just a few hundred that showed up. It is anybody’s guess how many of these few couple of 100 were genuinely motivated and were legitimate conversions. The biggest dampener to the event was the Dalit’s loudest mascot and Bahujan Samaj Party President Mayawati who stormed out of the event and held her own parallel press conference. In a slap in the face to the other dalit messiahs Mayawati dodged questions on why she herself had not converted out of hinduism. Seeking to strike a political balance with an eye on the upcoming Uttar Pradesh polls, Mayawati took refuge in a rather flimsy vow that she will not convert till she became the Prime Minister of India.

49 · Quizman on October 15, 2006 5:01 PM · Direct link

razib: the peshwas and senas are not exceptional brahminical ruling dynasties from what i gather. i think it is correct to state that elite status is not a brahmin monopoly, but certainly brahmin preeminence has extended beyond their clerical vocation quite a bit.

Fair enough. But the reformation came about by Brahmins themselves. In fact, Ram Shastri launched a strong protest against the then Peshwa & his wife. My point was that using terms like “brahminic ideology” is not helpful. Ambedkar himself, as Siddharta has recognized, was helped by a Brahmin. Using vehicles like reservations are discriminatory since they do not oppose specific discriminators but label entire communities as evil. My ancestors, though Brahmins, were never prvileged. They were, in fact, singularly lower middle class. My father had to struggle to do his engineering, by working hard and getting scholarships. Even during those days, there were wealthy classmates of his, who were beneficiers of “positive discrimination”. It is similar to dismiss all white as slave owners whilst there was a strong anti-slavery movement launched by some whites, who literally died for the cause.

risible: The Sangh, for all its silliness, has done a lot of good humanitarian work among them.

Very true. Most people fail to realise that even during the pre-independence days, the RSS made it a point to involve Hindus of all castes within their fold. They also had specific lunches where members of all communities would sit together and eat. Now during the 1940s this was a big deal.

My point is that, as with all political discourse, there are nuances which need to be discussed. Unfortunately, the politicians have reduced it to a simple black and white vote bank issue. Increasingly, it is a class or a sub-caste issue rather than a upper caste vs lower caste issue. Tamil Nadu is a prime example of this phenomenon, where the people who wield economic and political power are the so-called lower castes, but haven’t done much to the lower classes. More importantly, the atrocities that take place over there are almost always done by lower castes with financial/political clout on other lower castes who do not possess it. Bihar/UP are other examples.

50 · Ponniyin Selvan on October 15, 2006 5:27 PM · Direct link

Shiva,

Thanks for the link ‘thoughts on pakistan’.. I was planning to read it for a long time but could not get it in the bookshops I looked at.

More power for the Dalits to convert to Buddhism. I’d have liked the Dalits to convert to ‘atheism/religion of rational thinking’.. But Buddhism is the closest.. In the process, if they get money from the wealthy Christian missionaries that’s a bonus too.. Christian missionary NGOs get billions of dollars in foreign aid.. 🙂

51 · RC on October 15, 2006 5:39 PM · Direct link

Thanks to Shivam Vij for that article and that disturbing video link. My god!!!!

Even now, the largest number of atrocities are committed by the so-called lower castes against other lower castes.

I think the above statement is what ends up being used to discriminate against the Dalits. The above statement says .. “look at those savages …” well, thats the first step !!!

52 · Ponniyin Selvan on October 15, 2006 6:08 PM · Direct link

Thanks to Shivam Vij for that article and that disturbing video link. My god!!!!

Yeah disturbing.. But how much of it is just propaganda and good editing.. who knows.. Especially the segment that I can understand relating to the Tamil devar landlord talking about rapes looks like cleverly edited to me.. (after the 3.00 minute mark.. the 30-40 second segment) He speaks in the third person and what he says doesn’t gel with translation which says ‘we used to rape a lot’ ..

I’m not saying that Dalit discrimination does not take place.. Ofcourse it is but be watchful of propaganda videos..

53 · RC on October 15, 2006 6:14 PM · Direct link

Ponniyin,
Since I dont speak the language spoken by the landlord, I cant say one way or the other. You might be correct. It could be done for increasing the shock value. But what was more shocking to me was the little girl’s account about discrimination at the school. That was extremely shocking to me. I have no way of telling whether what she was making up the allegations or not, but if its true than … my god !!!

54 · risible on October 15, 2006 6:17 PM · Direct link

My point is that, as with all political discourse, there are nuances which need to be discussed. Unfortunately, the politicians have reduced it to a simple black and white vote bank issue.

I agree. In contrast to the Sangh, which is thought to be upper caste when thats simply not true any more, the Communist Party, allegedly the people’s party, started out and continues in many ways to be an upper caste bastion. On one occasion, the Communist leader of Kerala, EMS Namboodiridad dismissed depressed caste uplift as a “burgeoise concern” subordinate to the revolution! Ambedkar referred to the Communists as a “Brahmin Boy’s Club” 🙂 On the other hand, he had very cordial relations with the Sangh.

I alluded to the fact that Ambedkar considered and rejected both Islam and Christianity, both on Indian nationalist grounds. He also considered Sikhism. Veer Savarkar of the Hindu mahasabha was very much behind a Dalit conversion to Sikhism, but 1) Ambedkar spoke with lower caste Sikhs who told them their situation was not pretty, 2) the Jat dominated Sikh institutions did not want a massive Dalit influx. So he dropped the idea.

With reference to Christianity, it is well known that the Syrian Christian Church was also also against a Dalit influx.

He also, according to Eleanor Zelliot, thought of Christianity as a “foreign religion.”

Now for some books:

1) The best short biography of Ambedkar is “Dr. Ambedkar and Untouchability” written by Christophe Jaffrelot, published by Columbia University Press. Jaffrelot is a French scholar.

2) The best collection of essays on the Dalit movement (which includes an extensive analysis of the origin of the term ‘Dalit’, a history of the Dalit panthers, etc.,) is Elanor Zelliot’s “From Untouchable to Dalit.” Zelliot is an American scholar.

3) For an account of the retention of Hindu practices among Buddhist Dalit converts, check Caste: Its Twentieth Century Avatar, by M.N. Srinivas, who is universally acknoweledeged as the preeminent authority on Sanskritization. Check Neera Burras survey of mahar villages in particular.

4) For the claim that Ambedkarite Buddhism is really a Deweyan rationalism, check the chapter on Ambedkar in “Prophets Facing Backwards” by Meera Nanda.

5) For a polemical reconstruction of Buddhist history in India, with an account of the Tamil adi-dravida Buddhist movement of Iyothee Thass that preceded Ambedkarite Buddhism, check Gail Omvedt “Buddhism in India.” Omvedt is an American scholar married to an Indian who lives in India.
The nationalists are ambivalent about Ambedkar at the moment. Politically those that make good with Buddhism strike me as being on the right path–and there are several. Shourie’s approach, imo, is a huge mistake.

55 · Quizman on October 15, 2006 6:31 PM · Direct link

RC:

Nonsense. What I was pointing out was that there are many nuances to this discourse and it is not a simple case of higher caste vs lower caste (although that discrimination exists). By making simplistic statements like you have done above, the discourse leads nowhere. In addition to talking about higher caste vs lower caste discrimination, it is imperative that we not lose sight of the fact that there are many layers underneath. [Akin to talking about black-on-black violence in the US.]It is a vital topic that needs to be aired out. There are other issues (economic, cultural, political, regional) even within the same subset of castes that are at play here. Policy makers should not concentrate on caste as the sole variable.

And converting is a simplistic solution, and possibly the least viable solution. Pick up any desi newspaper and check out the matrimonial ads; one can notice subtle discrimination within Christian, Muslim and Sikh communities as well. And if one is convinced about Buddhism’s lack of discrimination, all they ought to do is read about the Rape of Nanking (Buddhist vs Buddhist, wasn’t it?). Maybe the IPU is a better choice?

56 · Roy on October 15, 2006 7:25 PM · Direct link

Good to see Buddhism make a come back in the land of its birth!

57 · Hari on October 15, 2006 8:24 PM · Direct link

For those interested in this, I couldn’t recommend more Jabbar Patel’s biopic Ambedkar. Not easy to get in the U.S., but not impossible either. The lead actor Mamooty plays a fine Ambedkar, albeit in a Mallu accent throughout.

58 · Beige Siege on October 15, 2006 8:40 PM · Direct link

I agree. In contrast to the Sangh, which is thought to be upper caste when thats simply not true any more, the Communist Party, allegedly the people’s party, started out and continues in many ways to be an upper caste bastion. On one occasion, the Communist leader of Kerala, EMS Namboodiridad dismissed depressed caste uplift as a “burgeoise concern” subordinate to the revolution! Ambedkar referred to the Communists as a “Brahmin Boy’s Club” 🙂 On the other hand, he had very cordial relations with the Sangh.

Same thing with the communist party in Bengal as well. The irony is delicious, if it only it were not so sad.

59 · Jamesbond on October 15, 2006 10:33 PM · Direct link

Buddhists should be the 2nd largest religious minority in INDIA… not Muslims :-p

60 · blue mountain on October 16, 2006 7:47 AM · Direct link

The conversion of Dalits to Buddhism was performed by priests, while a group of Christian pastors from the Council led by President Dr Joseph D’Souza baptised the Dalits.{Link}

Someone please tell me what those “Christian pastors” were doing there. And when did they become an official authority for conversion to Buddhism ? This D’Souza guy seems interesting. A different account of the conversion here.

Anyhow political power will not come to Dalits unless education is widespread – no matter which religion they embrace. Mayabati seized power in UP but tragically tried to copy Congress and BJP with disastrous results.

Well something like Jharkhand is likely to happen. Here tribals say that a tribal is tribal first. His religious identity does not matter.

On a related topic,Yoginder Sikand writes about Muslim dalits here

Most Indian Muslims are descendants of ‘ untouchable and ‘low’ caste converts, with only a small minority tracing their origins to Arab, Iranian and Central Asian settlers and invaders. Although the Qur’an is fiercely egalitarian in its social ethics, Indian Muslim society is characterised by numerous caste-like features, consisting of several caste-like groups (jatis). Muslims who claim foreign descent claim a superior status for themselves as ashraf or ‘noble’. Descendants of indigenous converts are, on the other hand, commonly referred to contemptuously as ajlaf or ‘base’ or ‘lowly’. [Link]

The foremost priority for the AIBMM is to get recognition from the Indian state for the over 100 million ‘Dalit Muslims’ as Scheduled Castes so that they can avail of the same benefits that the Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist Scheduled castes enjoy, including reserved government jobs, reserved seats in state legislatures and in the Indian Parliament, special courts to try cases of atrocities against them as well as social and economic development programmes meant specially for them.

In articulating a separate Dalit Muslim identity it finds itself at odds with the traditional, largely ‘high’ caste Muslim leadership, which, in seeking to speak for all Muslims, sees the question of caste that the AIBMM so stridently stresses as divisive. Leading Muslim spokesmen have, not surprisingly, accused the AIBMM of seeking to create divisions within the Muslim community and of spreading ‘casteism’, and thus playing into the hands of militant Hindus.

Ali is bitterly critical of the traditional, largely ‘high’ caste, Muslim leadership, both `ulama as well as ‘lay’. Over the centuries of Muslim rule, he says, the ruling class among the Muslims displayed little concern for the plight of the Dalit Muslims, who remained tied down to their traditional occupations, mired in poverty and ignorance. The only concern of the ruling class Muslims, he writes, was to perpetuate their own rule, and for this they entered into alliances with ‘upper’ caste Hindus, keeping the Dalits, both Hindus as well as Muslims, cruelly suppressed under their firm control.This disdain for the Dalits, he writes, carried down right through the period of Muslim rule, and continues till this very day.

Ali calls for a ‘power shift’ from the ‘Arab-origin ashraf’ to the ‘oppressed Muslims’. Denying that his struggle is aimed against the `upper’ caste Muslims, he says that it is directed principally at the government, to force it to grant Scheduled Caste status to the Dalit Muslims.[link]

61 · Nanda Kishore on October 16, 2006 7:52 AM · Direct link

Until such times as religion plays a central role in human life, there will always be those who will misappropriate it to oppress others. I won’t toe the Richard Dawkins line and say religion is the root of all evil and I can understand why people want to reject a religion that has brought them nothing but misery, but to think that people can convert their way out of such misery is naive. May be I’m just a mubmling idiot, but those are my thoughts. I especially feel sorry for those that are being seduced by Christianity (again, I can fully understand), which has been used to cause untold misery to mankind.

62 · Risen on October 16, 2006 11:44 AM · Direct link

Dear Nanda, it’s because of Christian genius that this world runs. And it is Indians who are running to Christian countries, disowning their own “Hindustan.” I’m sure you have your own pre-conceived notions of Christianity but it is Christianity that formed the basis of the western legal system that India eagerly adopted. “Untold misery to mankind”?

Please give it a rest.

63 · Al Mujahid for debauchery on October 16, 2006 12:08 PM · Direct link

I dont think Indian Christians have the ability to bring untold misery to anyone.

64 · P.G. Wodehouse on October 16, 2006 12:29 PM · Direct link

but it is Christianity that formed the basis of the western legal system that India eagerly adopted

The western system is based on the following:
(*) Checks and balances.
(*) Separation of church from state—religion stays in your home, not in public affairs
That’s why India eagerly adopted it. Christianity gets no credit for the western legal system.

65 · Puliogre in da USA on October 16, 2006 12:58 PM · Direct link

And it is Indians who are running to Christian countries, disowning their own “Hindustan.”

My parents move to the USA. the USA is not a christian country. It is secular. India is also secular. They moved from 1 secular country to another. Christianity had nothing to do with it. get over the idea that god in government makes anything good happen.

66 · Al beruni on October 16, 2006 1:05 PM · Direct link

Nanda Kishore
whhoops, careful there !!

It is not acceptable to openly talk about the massive violence supported by christianity in the last 1000 years. You should understand that things like the Holocaust, violence against native peoples in the americans, massive expansion and extension of arab slavery model by european christians to americas are “cultural” issues or some sort of “aberration”. They definitely do not have ANYTHING to do with Christianity. In fact, as the Pope recently suggested at Auschwitz, many of these horrific episodes have to do with (gasp!) paganism….

On the other hand, science, medicine and modern goverment etc. are all definitely derived from Christianity. Plus all those who immigrate to the west are actually secretly harboring the desire to become christians, as they would be executed in their benighted former homelands..

Got it?

67 · electric_abacus on October 16, 2006 1:50 PM · Direct link

OH. MY. GOD.

I especially feel sorry for those that are being seduced by Christianity (again, I can fully understand), which has been used to cause untold misery to mankind.

How is that not an intolerant, anti-secular comment?

Yes, there have been many ills perpetrated in the name of Christianity – but that stems from a faulty reading, not from the doctrine itself.

*rolls eyes, gets back on topic*

My impression of these conversions is that they’re mostly a symbolic rejection, like a wake-up call to the government that more needs to be done for the dalits – yes, no, maybe?

I don’t see any practical gain in it for them, since people would still recognize them as dalits, regardless of professed faith. Nevertheless, giving up one’s faith as a means of protest is a gesture of real, palpable desperation – and hopefully people are listening.

68 · Miguel Marcos on October 16, 2006 1:55 PM · Direct link

Regarding the comment about Ambedkar’s bust at Columbia, I found the following page with a snapshot:
http://www.columbia.edu/cu/news/00/12/ambedkar.html

I had never heard of Dr. Ambedkar before this post and am glad I know of him now. A figure to be admired.

69 · Puliogre in da USA on October 16, 2006 1:56 PM · Direct link

but that stems from a faulty reading, not from the doctrine itself.

the bible explicitly says some pretty horrible stuff. I could interpret it in a very uncreative way, and do some heinous stuff. people act like “if you have faith in the RIGHT thing in religion, and not the wrong interpretation you will be a good person”. but…the truth is, having faith in a thousands year old fairy tail full of barbaric laws and ideas and assuming its true without any evidence is fairly crazy.

70 · GujuDude on October 16, 2006 2:02 PM · Direct link

but it is Christianity that formed the basis of the western legal system that India eagerly adopted

The western system is based on the following: (*) Checks and balances. (*) Separation of church from state—religion stays in your home, not in public affairs That’s why India eagerly adopted it. Christianity gets no credit for the western legal system.

I thought the roots of western law and civil code stems from Babylonian law (Hammurabi’s code), which predates Christianity. It also has elements of Greek and Roman (pre/post christian) civic code. Christianity has played a significant role in the west, but Babylonian, Greek, and Roman civic code influences are far greater than Christianity.

However, seperation of church and state is far more subjective. Religion has played an important role in almost every society. How ‘seperate’ church and state has been, from what I know, has direct bearing on diversity, how science (and mathematics) has evolved, explaining many issues away from religion (and how educated people have become, how much the world has become dynamic.) Historically, in a religiously homogenous society, religious influence is a foregone conclusion. It does influence how people or rulers organize and enforce their civic code.

I may be talking out of my ass here, though. Would any lawywer/historians like to expand on this? Am I missing something or misinterpreting here?

71 · senaX on October 16, 2006 2:33 PM · Direct link

all you kannadigas … or if you understand kannada 🙂

here is a link about karnataka and conversions

aptly titled “inversion through conversion”… shows how manupilative conversions are

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=2491552500831566730&q=kannada&hl=en

72 · senaX on October 16, 2006 2:36 PM · Direct link

thats “invasion through conversion”…

73 · Puliogre in da USA on October 16, 2006 2:37 PM · Direct link

“inversion through conversion”

krishna = 1/jesus

74 · shiva on October 16, 2006 2:44 PM · Direct link

Shivam is wrong. Ambedkar is not the architect of the Constitution of India. He chaired the Drafting Committee one of the many committees of that august body, the Constituent Assembly of India – whose 250 odd members are the founding parents of modern India – which included men and women of all communities. Since Ambedkar himself was never one given vanity or envy, it will not be out of place to suggest that he was only one of the many distinguished and learned men and women of the Assembly. Ambedkar almost missed being a part of the Constituent Assembly as by 1947 he had few friends. IIANM Ambedkar (as was Sir CP Ramaswami Aiyar and many other distinguished gentlemen of their time) were members of the Viceroy’s Executive Council during the Quit India movement. This does not mean that they went over to the other side (as Shourie suggests) for quite a few Congressmen too were against the Quit India movement. The commies of course were the collaborators of the Brits in India during WW2 and many leading lights of the commie movement (some alive today) were informants and stool pigeons for the Brits and shameless recepients of what in Malayalam is termed “kai-coolie” Gandhi, among others, helped Ambedkar get a ticket from the Congress and helped him get elected to the Assembly IIANM from Bengal. Even if this post is not about Gandhi, since he has been dragged in here by Shivam we must put things in perspective. Gandhi believed that untouchability and the consequent oppression is not a mere matter of laws. Unless we transform ourselves and believe within that we are all one discrimination and oppression is some form or the other will exist. And how true it is in the case of India. While our laws have achieved a little it is the transformative acts of people like Baba Amte and Bindeshwari Pathak who have helped us make a clean break with the past. Others such as Dr. Venkataswami (Arvind Eye Hospital) and S. Vidyakar (Udavum Karangal) are among those few enlightened folk who uphold ‘maitri’ (friendship and fraternity).

Now even if Shivam won’t tell you – the category Dalit – is an artificial one. Within the putative Dalit class there are tens of communities. Ambedkar himself wasn’t from a very oppressed group. He came from a fairly well established community – the Mahars – and there continues to be a Mahar Regiment in today’s Indian Army. The Congress is where the extremely marginalised dalits found their home. Babu Jagjivan Ram from Bihar, and Kakkan from Tamizh Naadu being among the most popular dalits of their time, and thereon to more recent times we have had Sitaram Kesri (who is known to have never once hosted a relation, even his children at his official residence in Delhi), Buta Singh (A former Valmiki who embraced Sikhism), or Giani Zail Singh who hailed from a non-dalit but marginalised group among the Sikhs. On the other hand the “Dravidian” movement in Tamizh Naadu (supposedly a ‘liberational’ one) sidelined truly popular leaders most notably Erattaimaal Srinivasan (a very good friend i may add of my granduncle). We forget that in the ferment that was India in the first half of the 20th century, Ambedkar was not the only activist. Kerala had just witnessed the movements of Sree Narayana Guru and Sahodaran Ayyappan, there was Shahu Maharaj in Kolhapur, and many others and others such as Mahatma Phule even earlier. And among the ideologues who condemned the untouchability and ritual have we forgotten Prabodhankar Thackeray, Bal Thackeray’s father? Shivam seems like he wants to create a new communal group, not a political group. While Ambedkar saw marginal communities banding together to form political groups, and Mayawati and Kanshi Ram before her have already transformed BSP into a broad coalition (probably because they haven’t achieved much outside UP?). Shivam isn’t trying anything new. Contrary to what some may think “caste” groups aren’t unchanging entities and have evolved many times over and gone far beyond their original boundaries.

And as for biographies, the best on Ambedkar is by Dhananjay Keer. Keer IIANM was himself a Dalit (and lower in the hierarchy than was Ambedkar) and wrote a number of biographies over about 3 decades from the 30s to the 60s. Keer in the way of the scholars of his time wrote not only in English but also in Indian langauges (Marathi and Hindi). Keer wrote biographies of Gandhi (simply the best), Savarkar, Phule, Tilak, and Gokhale. Keer was very close to Savarkar and Ambedkar. And his biographies capture the nuance of the times that these new glossy volumes, little better than coffee table publications, lack. And Gail Omvedt is an historian only in the sense that a turkey and T-Rex can be classified along the same bilogical clade.

Ambedkar was a giant in a time of giants. Even the the ones among them who had chosen to given up their studies to join the struggle for freedom were well read. Some like Jagjivan Ram found Ambedkar haughty and were touched by simplicity of Gandhi who once said (more or less) that Ambedkar’s rage is understandable. And if he chooses “not to break our heads” it is because he does not hate or harbor any malice.

75 · desitude on October 16, 2006 3:08 PM · Direct link

Kanshi Ram, the “Bahujan” architect, was not a Hindu, but a Dalit Sikh. I wonder whether the cremation controversy was over whether to follow Sikh or Buddhist rites. Dalit Sikhs are still routinely marginalized in Punjab villages. As an example, from a controversy in the Doab region:

Talhan offers special insights into the working of the caste system in Punjab as the issues there squarely address issues of political and social power. Jat Sikhs in Talhan have sought to legitimise their position by claiming that the Dalits religious practices place them outside the boundaries of Sikhism. Jat leader Bhupinder Singh says, “The reason we object to the Dalits taking charge of the gurdwara is that they cut their hair, smoke and drink.” He has the support of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC), which has been working to bar Sehajdhari Sikhs, those who cut their hair, from voting in elections to the body.

Many of the Dalit Sikhs congregate under the Ravidas banner. Ravidas, a cobbler-saint, is honored by Hindus and Sikhs. A prominent Dalit activist in the US, KP Singh, is a Ravidasi Sikh.

At a recent meeting in Talhan, the head of the ultra-Right Damdami Taksal, Mokham Singh, even claimed that the Dalit protests in Talhan were a conspiracy to destroy the Sikh faith. The Taksal, once led by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, has been at the core of efforts by the religious Right to strangle alternative practices of the faith, such as those of the Ad-Dharam, Udasi, Ravidasiya and Ramdasiya sects, adhered to by most Dalit Sikhs. Although the Sikh faith expressly bars the practice of caste, most villages in Punjab have separate gurdwaras for different communities. [Link]

76 · Rorschach on October 16, 2006 4:52 PM · Direct link

Awesome Post, Sid.
Thanks a lot to Ashvin and Shivram Vij for uploading that video on YouTube.
I remember the time my Grandfather talked about his younger brother who was exiled from home, because he had married a Dalit woman.It took 20 years till the time relations were renewed,and this happened only after the death of my Great Grandfather,who was a staunch believer in the Caste System. It is going to take a long long time for a paradigm shift in perception when it comes to Caste is concerned,especially in India.I shudder to think as to how many girl-childs dreams of becoming a Doctor will be shattered by then, riven and smashed by these,our “Modern times”.

R.

77 · dipendra on October 16, 2006 5:08 PM · Direct link

Excellent points shiva, Quizman and risible. For those who think that Buddhist majority countries are paragons of egalitarianisms Buddhism comfortably co-existed with caste.

In Sri Lanka, people of the lower castes in Sinhalese society were denied ordination into the Buddhist clergy. The argument given was “how could one expect women of the higher castes to fall at the feet of men of lower caste”. The lower castes had to travel to Burma for ordination.

There is a caste of untouchables in Sinhalese society called the Rodiya. The Durava were the caste of toddy tappers. The Wahumpura were the caste of jaggery makers also considered low since one had to climb the
palm tree to get the ingredients for jaggery. The Karave were the caste of fishermen. The lower castes frequently adopted Roman Catholicism to “escape caste discrimination entrenched in Buddhist society”.

All Sri Lankan leaders, except for one, belonged to the highest Goyigama caste. The Buddhist clergy remains largely Goyigama to date except for the two orders (Amarapura and Ramanya) that received ordination from Burma.

78 · shiva on October 16, 2006 5:59 PM · Direct link

The Buddhist bhikshu has a very different role from that of a Hindu purohit. Since the Buddha rejected ritual and had no use for the idea of a soul, bhikshus have nothing to do with rites of passage. I wonder what the bhikshu was doing when he performed a 7th day ritual for the late Kanshi Ram.

79 · razib_the_atheist on October 16, 2006 6:04 PM · Direct link

The Buddhist bhikshu has a very different role from that of a Hindu purohit. Since the Buddha rejected ritual and had no use for the idea of a soul, bhikshus have nothing to do with rites of passage. I wonder what the bhikshu was doing when he performed a 7th day ritual for the late Kanshi Ram.

did it specify which buddhist tradition? in japan buddhist priests traditionally perform funeral rites.

80 · desitude on October 16, 2006 6:41 PM · Direct link

Sena X:

thats “invasion through conversion”…

Dude, there’s an English version of the conversion video.

81 · senaX on October 16, 2006 7:01 PM · Direct link

ah yes.. a simple search in google gives the english version 🙂

very well… now a lot more people will hopefully benefit from this

82 · shiva on October 16, 2006 8:59 PM · Direct link

It is true that Buddhist priests in Japan conduct funerals. However, some of the practices – that we need not discuss on here – are simply the same as the classical Hindu rituals. In fact the Antarabhava phase that some Buddhisms observe (especially the Tibetan) – a time when the essence (soul for Hindus) is transitioning between death and rebirth – is almost the same in Hindu ritual as well. In the latter the soul is said to be in limbo for about 2 weeks before going on its way.

You have written about how Buddhism in Sri Lanka has a popular form and an intellectual form. I wonder if Buddhism in India too works in the same way.

The Buddhist clergy has always been a powerful group in Sri Lanka. Dr.Mano Singham (an educationist at Case in Cleveland, Ohio) writes about the bizarre things that happened when the Buddhist clergy had their way in Sri Lanka

Perhaps the best example of the extent to which this kind of religious pandering led to absurd policies came in the way the calendar was changed. (You are going to find the following story hard to believe but it is true. I lived though this.) The Buddhist calendar is based on the lunar cycle. The full moon has always had religious significance for Buddhists because it is believed that the Buddha was born, attained enlightenment, and died on a full moon day. So one government, in its desire to pander to religious sentiment, decided that the weekly calendar that had the weekend on Saturday and Sunday was too Christian-centered and that what was needed was a Buddhist-centered calendar that was built around the lunar cycle. So the full moon, quarter moon, new moon and three-quarter moon days were made holidays (called ‘poya’ days) as were the days just preceding them (called the ‘pre-poya’ days). Thus the pre-poya and poya days were the new weekends, replacing Saturday and Sunday.

Since these days need not coincide with Saturday and Sunday, a new system had to be devised to keep track of weekdays. So the weekdays were called P1, P2, P3, P4, and P5, standing for the ‘first day after poya’, ‘second day after poya’, etc. The catch is that since the lunar cycle is around 29 days, every fourth week or so (there was no definite pattern), you would have an extra workday in the week, which was called P6. Keeping track of these things and scheduling future events became a nightmare. Every time the week with the extra day kicked in, authorities would have to decide which of the five weekday schedules would have to be followed on the extra day.

I am amused to see Shivam criticise Chandra Bhan. Maybe because he actually helps people?

83 · Nanda Kishore on October 16, 2006 10:08 PM · Direct link

Just to be clear, I don’t have much respect for ANY religion. Also, I think my statement was quite clear: I said Christianity has been used to cause untold misery. So have other religions. In any case, I view religions as man made constructs, not divine stuff handed down by so called gods.

If someone thinks he/she life will be much better off by converting to religion X, by all means they should do so, especially given that they’ve had nothing but rejection and oppression that is apparently sanctioned by the religion they were born into.

As for accusations of intolerance, I’m not the one preaching from rooftops about how x religion is better than y or inciting hatred. Peace.

84 · risible on October 16, 2006 10:22 PM · Direct link

Ambedkarite Buddhism, as I’ve said over and over, is very different from traditional forms of Buddhism. In fact, Ambedkar called his Buddhism “navayana” (the new vehicle) in contradistinction to mahayana and hinayana. One would have to read Ambedkar’s opus The Buddha and His Dhamma for elaboration. And he did not have the best of relations with many other Buddhists: he thought they got it all wrong.

Some well-meaning people here seem to have some hostility to Buddhism as an option. Well, would you have preferred anything else? There was a grand effort by the international ummah to affect a conversion to Islam, I should remind you. Pleas and offers originated from as far as Al-Azhar University in Cairo. Sikhism was a grand choice as well, but the Akalis, under the leadership of Master Tara Singh, totally blew it. Let me leave you with what Ambedkar said the day before his conversion:


“And that is the greatest benefit I am conferring on the country by embracing Buddhism; for Buddhism is part and parcel of Bharitya culture. I have taken care that my conversion will not harm the tradition and culture of this land.”

Some “progressives” consider Buddhism to have been a “pseudo-remedy,” which leads me to believe that one of the great Indians in modern history did all right after all.

Risible, over and out.

85 · Macacaroach on October 16, 2006 10:32 PM · Direct link

It is going to take a long long time for a paradigm shift in perception when it comes to Caste is concerned,especially in India

It will probably take some foreign force to bring about any real change in the deeply entrenched caste culture. Just as it took the Brits to ban Sati, Human Sacrifice, Child Bondage etc. Though free India shamefully refuses to enforce the laws against child bonded labor.

Ambedkar says that Hinduism is beyond reform as it is inherently unequal and unjust.

Cant blame him for thinking that.

I’m all for the adoption of Buddhism, it’s a rejection of the Manu smrti not “Hinduism” as a whole.

Its a rejection of brahminism, which like it or not has become equated with hinduism. Fortunately the dalits are not converting to Islam.

86 · Amitabh on October 17, 2006 12:00 AM · Direct link

However, some of the practices – that we need not discuss on here – are simply the same as the classical Hindu rituals. In fact the Antarabhava phase that some Buddhisms observe (especially the Tibetan) – a time when the essence (soul for Hindus) is transitioning between death and rebirth – is almost the same in Hindu ritual as well.

There was a period in Indian history when the majority of the population had actually become Buddhist..before Hinduism made a strong comeback (I think starting in the 8th-9th century). There is a school of thought which says that this resurgent Hinduism took on (or retained) a lot of Buddhist philosophies and rituals, which could explain some of the above quote. Of course it is possible that some of the Buddhist stuff itself harkened back to earlier Hindu phenomenon…or that Hinduism (which was never fully wiped out even during the peak of Buddhism in India) and Buddhism evolved side by side for a really long time, influencing each other.

87 · shiva on October 17, 2006 10:26 AM · Direct link

Amitabh,

There was a period in Indian history when the majority of the population had actually become Buddhist..before Hinduism made a strong comeback (I think starting in the 8th-9th century).

That’s a meme with nothing to back it. Devotion in India has been strongly non-exclusive.

Macacaroach,

Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and Ram Mohan Roy had to fight the colonial administration among other groups to bring about reform.

88 · Koi on October 17, 2006 1:56 PM · Direct link

Prominent Indian female politician to embrace Buddhism

New Delhi, India — Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati and her followers will embrace Buddhism after the BSP gains an absolute majority at the Centre.

http://buddhistchannel.tv/index.php?id=42,3309,0,0,1,0

89 · ImportantNote on October 18, 2006 5:38 AM · Direct link

Note: Apparently, BJP has the most number of dalit/OBC ministers on its roster.

90 · Ponniyin Selvan on October 21, 2006 9:49 AM · Direct link

At Columbia, Ambedkar studied under John Dewey, who inspired many of his ideas about equality and social justice. Ambedkar later recounted that at Columbia he experienced social equality for the first time. “The best friends I have had in my life,” he told the New York Times in 1930, “were some of my classmates at Columbia and my great professors, John Dewey, James Shotwell, Edwin Seligman, and James Harvey Robinson.”

Was just listening to NPR on my way to morning coffee and they were talking about the ‘denial of colored people’ entry into restaurants/eateries in Wichita / Kansas and probably in a lot of regions in 1958.. Looks like Ambedkar didn’t drive south in his sojourn in America.. 🙂

91 · voiceinthehead on October 21, 2006 10:10 AM · Direct link

#89. Do you have a source for that ? Isn’t BJP perceived as an upper caste party. More Dalit/OBC membership is a routine slogan at chintan baitaks(strategy meetings).

92 · HMF on October 21, 2006 11:42 AM · Direct link

If any of you need reminding of the reality of caste in India today (and it’s easy to forget… for some of us, at least), here’s a little video from Shivam Vij’s site :http://www.shivamvij.com/2006/10/i-am-a-dalit-how-are-you.html

This sort of treatment is deplorable by any humanistic account. But here’s my question, how much of this discrimination is based on economic status? That is, what features/determining factors are used to categorize people? If one of these individuals was given nice clothes, nice car, and lots of money, would anyone be able to identify him as a dalit? Maybe this question isn’t practical, as social mobilit for these folks is near impossible.

Cornell West, a prominent professor of religion who’s held appointments at Harvard and Princeton, written numerous books, and even appeared in the Matrix Reloaded (His line: “Comprehension is not a prerequisite for compliance”, when talking with Commander Locke), still I contend, has as much trouble getting an NYC cab as tyrone biggums in the US.

Perhaps Dr. West has an incrementally easier time, but it’s nowhere linear. I’d say it’s a log scale, that is y = log(x) * u(x-1) where u = unit step function, x = “net worth” , and y = ability to hail a NYC cab.

93 · voiceinthehead on October 21, 2006 2:53 PM · Direct link

Siddharth hits it on the nail when he says, the issue is complex. There are socio-economic,educational,political, & religious dimensions to the issue of dalits. No single point solution will ever emerge.

See IG or IAS officer, Dalit is still an untouchable. Try google cache if the link doesn’t work.

94 · ravindranath on November 23, 2006 4:35 AM · Direct link

The Golden Jubilee of Buddhist Conversion programme held on 2nd October, 2006 at especially at Nagpur, Maharashtra, India and remaining parts of Indian States as well as all other parts of the world is the indicator, how Buddhism as rightly brought out practically in our life-style. The book entitled “Buddha & His Dhamma” written by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar is gaining support throughout the world. The way and manner people are coming forward for embrassing voluntarily the Buddhism without bribe, incite or force in the entire world, is the genesis. what is Buddhism and why for Buddhism. Why people of the globe are discarding their ancient age old religions and peacefully accepting the principles and philosophy of Buddhism.? Is there certainly a need for leaving their orthodoxy religions and changing their life-style by practising Buddhism? I do not think so easily to change our thoughts which we are inheriting from our ancestors especially about supernatural things, they believe to accept them. Either we should think that that era was of barbaric, savage or non-scientific or science was not so established that time, and our ancestors were simply believing on natural forces, which we now-a-days knows details critically about each of them, or we are not living in modern science days, and consequently old customs, traditions, practices should not be believed by us, as science has proved those old thoughts as untrue.

There is a democracy in India and the world awakened people knows that this is the largest Democracy in the world. Democratic principles and philosophy as enshrined in the Indian Constitution written by Dr.B.R. Ambedkar, who is aptly called as the Father of Indian Constitution have mostly taken from the Buddhism. How Dr. B.R. Ambedkar so believed on Buddha who was there existed 2500 years ago? Did the principles and philosophy of Buddhism as propogated are not rusted, not outdated, non-scientific, as they are as old as 2500 years age? But this is true or incorrect or unique as consequently we believe on this modern science age, on the customs, traditions, practices, rituals, superstition, miracles, of our savagary or barbaric human stage. Is all old /ancient percepts are untrue, both yes and no because certain ancient practices have been proved as untrue by science and some ancient philosophy especially as propounded by Gautam Buddha have been proved as totally science based, true as well as universal till existence of human being. We should respect the Modern Buddha i.e. awakened one or enlightened one who have proved democratic principles as true which have been enshrined in the Indian Constitution. The way and manner of which Dr. B.R. Ambedkar shown emincipation to the world through Indian Constitution is required to be accepted as he has shown path for salvation to the entire human being through Democratic Principles. Many castes in India including Brahmins as well as other religious population including Christian, Islam and Hindu people are joining themselves spontaneously to the Science-based religion which will ever last. May the world take cognisance of this change and join science? It is expected answer as yes, because we want welfare of all human beings.

95 · shelley on December 4, 2006 4:37 PM · Direct link

great post. i’m an american girl of east indian ancestry, and i follow buddhism, and i think ambedkar did the right thing by converting. may india again be a buddhsit country. also, siddhartha, by your name, are you the buddha? 🙂 people should read the book Siddhartha by herman hesse, for it’s lovely. 🙂

96 · Jayant on December 5, 2006 2:48 PM · Direct link

Siddharth:- and everyone supporting GAUTAM BUDDHA and B R Ambedkar’s acquired Buddhism(Principles).Thanks to you all.I have been in thoughts for years together,and was looking forward for a momentum on MULNIWASI Buddhism in India.end-of-day,to have great strong PILLARs (getting the best education,vision,mission to my depressed classes people)
I am novice,have’nt read anything (except “Buddha and His Dhamma”).Now at the age of 35(running),I want to take a plunge and do some good for my oppressed people.

97 · sariput on March 30, 2007 8:15 AM · Direct link

i want to have a manuscript of the buddha and his dhamma through online. use my id to forward it if any body has it
my id is sariput_vet@rediffmail.com

98 · santosh on May 26, 2007 9:35 AM · Direct link

After kashiram mayawati is doing lot of work
which the congress & shivsainik wont do that exactly
from previous we can see that every mahapurish life has come from struggle
as per the mayawati
and i am confidently says that after kashiram mayawati is doing better job as a CM

99 · santosh on May 26, 2007 9:43 AM · Direct link

as per i have seen the history of mulnivasi i thaught lot of thing s
but one & alone cannot do anything but if we are close & we are thinkers of babasaheb
according to babasaheb if you are a thinker then from nobody you can loose

100 · laxmi sankhla on September 21, 2007 3:52 AM · Direct link

hello sir,
i have applied in your aid society for the scholarship which u provide for the sc/st students.i want to know about your process for getting the scholarship as till date i didnt got any mails from your side.and i serached for your e-mail id but i didnt got any so please mail me your id on my account so that i can know about the details..
thanks

With regards,
laxmi sankhla.

101 · Amit choudhary on June 4, 2008 2:12 PM · Direct link

Hello sir i want some amount of money becuse i am a student right now but unable to complete my education due to poorness plz help me.

102 · Manik Prabhu on July 29, 2008 5:35 AM · Direct link

Harijans are converting in “parts” but they will never get FULL FREEDOM, respect and Equality, unless they convert to Islam en`masse without caring for lolli-pops (SC/ST Reservation). Please note that Reservations are a price, (a lolli-pop) to keep Harijans within the fold of Hinduism ! High Castes have thrown bread-crumbs at Harijans while enjoying the whole box of laddoos. Only Islam can stand up to idol worship and caste-system. Only Islam guarantees “equality” of man before One God irrespective of all distinctions (real or imaginary). Harijans will have to choose between freedom, respect and equality (Islam) vis-a-vis permanent bondage of slavery albeit with a lolli-pop. Equality or Reservation Lolli-Pop. The choice is for the Harijans to make., and they will make it sooner than later. Only Islam can stand up to Brahmanism. Otherwise they will make another “idol” ov Buddha., and add it to the 6000 idols already existing. Islam guarantees equality of mankind., so if harijans seek and desire equality, it is in the shade of Islam . For this they will have to throw away the bribe of the lolli-pop extended to them by the calculated Brahmin-Baniya.

103 · Siddarth on July 29, 2008 5:40 AM · Direct link

If Harijans convert to Islam enmasse, BJP, Congress and Shiv Sena would merge within 24 hours. It is only then that their real character would be exposed. All masks will fall off the faces.

104 · Das on August 13, 2008 6:58 AM · Direct link

An original thought:

Topic : Reservations in India.

I suggest that a 50 % Reservation for admission to professional courses / jobs (Central + state) / bank loans etc be made for the 3% Brahmin population, in India.

Presently 3% Brahmins hold 85% top jobs. This way, at least 35% could be made available to others, i.e. children of a lesser god.

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