Friday, October 22, 2004

Post-Godhra, Buddhists seek support from Dalits

'As Muslims are unlikely to convert, focus will be mainly on Dalits'

Milind Ghatwal

Ahmedabad, October 21: After more than two years after the post-Godhra riots, Buddhist organisations have begun a subtle campaign to tap the mutual distrust between Hindus and Muslims in the State.

Though the organisations haven't fixed any target, they plan to convert as many persons as possible leading up to the October 2006 golden jubilee of Dr Babasaheb Ambekdar's conversion to Buddhism in Nagpur in 1956.

Most of the 10 organisations existed before the 2002 riots but were not active.

An action committee of members from the Gujarat Buddhist Academy, Buddha Vihar Nirman Trust, Mahabodhi Society, Dhamma Circle, Lord Buddha Club and National Research Institute of Buddhist Education and Culture has been formed to promote Buddhism and bring in more followers in their fold.

A member of the Buddha Dharma Abhiyan Pracharak Samiti admitted that as Muslims were unlikely to convert, the focus would be mainly on Dalits whose sense of frustration at being discriminated against was heightened when they found themselves unwillingly involved in the riots.

A streetplay Yudh Nahi Buddha will set the tone for the campaign that seeks to avoid direct confrontation with other religions.

"It will not be anti-Hinduism but pro-Buddhism," says Dr Jayvardhan Harsh, a core committee member admitting that a subtle but systematic campaign will follow with an eye on the golden jubilee celebrations.

The campaign will begin with Dhamma Maitri Charika, an awareness rally on December 5 and December 6 from the Ambedkar statue in Sarangpur. It will promote Buddhism's ideals of friendliness and brotherhood.

Two meetings were held in Dalit localities of Ahmedabad on October 10 and 17. More meetings are planned in Amraiwadi, Danilimda, Behrampura and Raikhad to increase the turnout at the December rallies.

Buddhists number less than 50,000 in Gujarat but there are more than three lakh Dalits in Ahmedabad alone and this can help the campaign's cause.

Activists will take stock of the situation at weekly meetings at the Gujarat Buddhist Society.

Between December and April two meetings will be held in Ahmedabad every month. The exercise will be repeated in other towns and cities like Khambhat and Surat. Surat has a sizeable number of Dalits.

Bakul Vakil, a Gujarat High Court lawyer and a committee member says, "When we visit Dalit localities, we get a feeling that they are sandwiched between Hindus and Muslims."

He feels the campaign will succeed because of the polarisation that followed the "communal holocoust".

Vakil, who converted to Buddhism years ago, says though Dalits were also responsible for allowing communal elements to exploit them during the riots, "We tell them that they have to create a new identity for themselves. No one should be your enemy, neither Hindus nor Muslims and you should not side with anyone."

Amrit Parmar, a retired railway officer who edits Mangal Prerna, a fortnightly on Buddhism says, "We don't want to antagonise any community. I don't think Hindu organisations will allow such activities, but our target is 2006."

Harsh says the meetings in Dalit areas will also be used to identify the problems of the community and efforts will be made to solve them. Civic issues will be taken up with municipal councillors of that locality, especially with those belonging to the Dalit community. Employment-related issues will be taken up with the departments concerned.

Organisers say they were aware about the bad publicity a mass conversion programme planned last Dussera by Buddhist monk Sanghpriya Bhante created.

Source: The Indian Express, October 22, 2004

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