Monday, October 06, 2003

10,000 Dalits Convert To Buddhism

VADODARA: Thousands of Dalits converted to Buddhism in Gujarat on Sunday, ignoring threats by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal to disrupt the ceremony, organisers said.

Nearly 10,000 Dalits attended the mass ceremony meant to free them from a system of social discrimination, said Bhagvesh Jha, the top local administrator.

Organisers on the other hand claimed attendance was higher. Bhante Sangh Priye, head of the All India Buddhists Association in Gujarat, said at least 30,000 people took part.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal oppose such conversions, accusing non-Hindu religious organisations of luring the Dalits through offers of money or jobs.

However, Sunday's three-hour ceremony went off smoothly as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal didn't carry out their threats to obstruct the conversions.

Gujarat was the first state to introduce an anti-conversion law that bans religious conversion by force or through inducement.

But the anti-conversion law doesn't apply to people wishing to convert to Buddhism, said Priye. In India, Buddhism is not considered a separate religion from Hinduism.

Authorities in Vadodara deployed more than 200 policemen Sunday at the venue of the mass conversion ceremony to maintain security. Vadodara is 100 kilometers north of Ahmadabad, Gujarat's commercial capital.

``By December 2004, we will target conversion of 100,000 Hindus in Gujarat state only,'' Priye said. ``We are planning similar programmes in other parts of the country as Buddhism is the only religion which teaches one to get one's rights without recourse to violence and respect all people, irrespective of their caste and creed.''

Source: The Times of India, October 6, 2003

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