Dalits' conversion: Will Maya go the distance?

by Subodh Ghildiyal, The Times of India, Oct 21, 2005

NEW DELHI, India -- Dalits have steadily been converting to Buddhism in large numbers. As a result, the community has swelled from 0.2% in 1956 to 0.7% today. With Dalits from UP making up a good chunk of the October 14 throng at Nagpur this year, it would be interesting to watch the stance of country's largest Dalit outfit, BSP.

BSP founder Kanshi Ram has on different occasions promised to realise
Ambedkar's dream to turn the country "Baudhmay" - or predominantly Buddhist - while vowing to lead Dalits to convert to Buddhism on the 50th anniversary.

A caveat may be entered on BSP's ardour in its project, which politically may not be as attractive for the party as it once was.

After Kanshi Ram's protege Mayawati has made a determined bid to expand the BSP base beyond the core of Dalits, many feel BSP may hesitate to go the full distance on conversion for fear of hurting sensitivities of non-Dalits whom it is trying to woo.

Dalit activists, however, feel notwithstanding this and despite resistance from Congress and BJP, the appeal of conversion as a mark of socio-political protest against the upper caste-dominated order will remain undiminished.

"There are strong undercurrents," said a Buddhist preacher not wishing to be identified, "It has increased in five years."

Recently, many in the Capital were were taken aback when United Dalit
Students' Forum in JNU, known to be a stronghold of faith-averse Marxists, celebrated the anniversary of Ambedkar's conversion to Buddhism like a religious festival.