Friday, October 18, 2002

Road to conversion: the Chakwada detour

UDIT RAJ

Hindutva organisations are outraged over conversions, and their outrage prevents them from entering into negotiations with Muslim and Christian leaders. But have they ever bothered to understand the plight of Dalits?

Dalits and backwards consider themselves Hindus, but Hinduism does not respond to them; otherwise, there would be normal social behavior, such as marrying and dining, amongst followers of the same religion.

Whenever a Hindu inquires about other Hindus, what he actually wants to know is their caste. This isn't the case with other religions.

The Gujarat earthquake proved beyond doubt that even in that hour of crisis, the so-called upper castes didn't want to share their food and shelter, let alone joy and sorrow, with the Dalits.

This dispels the doubt that crores of Dalits converted to Islam and Christianity because of coercion and allurement. The process of conversion is on and whenever it happens, the Sangh Parivar resists by hurling brickbats at Christian and Muslim leaders but they don't ever attempt to know the circumstances which compel Dalits and others to convert.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has also said that there must be a debate on conversion, but he never talked of having a debate on Hinduism.

One good place to understand the compulsions of conversion is at Chakwada village, 60 kms from the Rajasthan capital Jaipur.

Here, as was reported by the media, the upper castes have not allowed the Dalits to use the temple and pond. Dalits cannot buy goods from 'upper caste' shops.

Some human right organisations tried to defy the whip on September 21, but they were terrorised by the strong-arm tactics of the upper castes. The event adequately exposed the helplessness of the police as well as the machinery of the Congress government.

Are Dalits worse than even street dogs and cattle who are free to use the water of 'upper caste' tanks? According to the standard definition, all religions essentially have the same attributes and elements, but such incidents mark Hinduism as different from all other religions.

When the All India Confederation of SC/ST Organizations and Lord Buddha Club were organising a Buddhist Diksha ceremony on November 4, 2001, at the Ramlila Ground in New Delhi, Giriraj Kishore of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad tried to get the function cancelled, but had to bow to the masses who wanted to embrace Buddhism. The question the Hindutva outfits didn't ask is: why were all those people embracing Buddhism?

When it's the Dalits who're embracing other religions, how can Christians and Muslims be blamed?

Isn't it time Hindutva outfits did something that will prove that Dalits are also Hindus? Recently 40 Balmikis of Gurgaon in Haryana embraced Islam, which was condemned by VHP leaders. In fact, the Balmikis were not being allowed to draw water from the well by the upper castes, and the Muslims taunted them about this. Pained and humiliated, the Dalits embraced Islam.

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi used Dalits and backwards against minorities while exhorting them that the Hindu religion was in danger. After the riots, weren't they treated as untouchables and outcastes all the same? If the Dalits of Chakwada had been treated as Hindus, the protest would never have broken out.

So is there any justification in saying that it's because of Islam and Christianity that Dalits are facing barbaric times?

(The writer is National Chairman of the All India Confederation of SC/ST Organizations)

Source: Indian Express, October 18, 2002

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