Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Attack on Dalit triggers mass conversion

BHITASI/ANAND: A month after a 28-year-old Dalit, Raman Vankar, was allegedly beaten to death by upper caste persons in the Vankar Vaas village, 25 Dalits embraced Buddhism on Tuesday.

The Dalits who included Vankar's family members, adopted Buddhism on Tuesday. The conversion was organised by the Vishwa Boudh Sangh.

Residents of the Vankar Vaas say they are still slaves of the upper-caste Darbars who dominate the village.

''If we continue to follow the same religion, we will be beaten to death even if we make the mistake of sitting on the verandah of a temple,'' says Nirmala Solanki.

Raman Vankar was allegedly beaten to death on July 25. Though the medical officer had issued a certificate saying his injuries were not serious, Raman succumbed to his injuries on August 8. Dalits have sought police protection as they still fear for their lives. Four state reserve police constables have been posted at the Vaas.

''Why should I continue to follow a religion which does not allow us to freely worship in a temple?'' asks Raman's sister Vimla.

''Converting to Buddhism is a bliss. At least, we will earn some respectability in the society,'' adds Vimla.

She alleges the police are not taking any action against the accused even though she has received letters threatening to kill her. ''They are moving around freely and threatening us.''

Raman's father Valjibhai Vankar says, ''We can't assert our right for freedom. The atrocities have been going on for ages now and it's high time we got out of this rut. Now the upper castes will not have any say in our lives.''

The same sentiment is echoed by Jetwa Vankar, another resident of Vankar Vaas.

''I have been trying to start a business of my own to earn a living. But I refrained from it fearing the backlash from the members of upper castes. Now, I have sought for a loan to buy an autorickshaw,'' he says.

Even 65-year-old Dayabhai Harkhabhai Vankar has adopted Buddhism.

Source: The Times of India, September 10, 2003


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