Monday, May 13, 2002

Over 200 Dalits convert to Sikhism in MP

Monday, May 13, 2002 (Guna):

In Madhya Pradesh's Guna and Vidisha district more than two hundred Dalits have converted to Sikhism in order to free themselves of discrimination by the upper castes--a tradition that has been prevalent for years.

Though this has not yet led to a change of mindset, more Dalits look all set to convert to Sikhism.

80 year old Dangal Rai is now Dangal Singh. All his life, he says, he has suffered discrimination from upper caste Hindus and has now decided to convert to Sikhism.

"We were not allowed to enter the temples and were shunned by everybody," said Dangal Singh.

The village of Deomari is a VIP constituency in every sense of the word. It is part of Jyotiraditya Scindia's parliamentary constituency and also part of the Raghogarh assembly constituency represented by Chief Minister Digvijay Singh.

But here too, Dalits have been traditionally discriminated against and four families in this village alone have converted to Sikhism. Many of the villagers say their first introduction to the religion came when migrant labour from the village went to Punjab.

Conversions have since been reported from 11 villages in Guna district and four villages in Vidisha district.

"In January alone 42 people converted. In March at least 200 people converted," said Giani Bhajan Singh, Guru Singh Sabha, Guna.

Dalits here are still learning to tie the turban and the basics of a new religion but the outward changes have still not resulted in a change of the mindset through which others see them.

"Even today after conversions we still have problems. We are still shunned and humiliated," said Nishan Singh.

Earlier conversions to Buddhism had been reported but this is the first time there has been such large-scale conversions to Sikhism. Critics say this could be a case of coercion with factors like free food provided by Gurudwaras being used to win over poor villagers.

The matter has also been raised by the BJP in the Madhya Pradesh Assembly and a memorandum has been submitted to the governor. However, the villagers who have converted maintain this is not a question of opportunism but an issue of basic respect and of their right to be treated as equal.

Source: NDTV, May 13, 2002

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