Dalits embrace Buddhism en masse in Orissa

ANI, April 15, 2007

Kendrapara, Orissa (India) -- Over a thousand 'Dalits' have embraced Buddhism in Orissa's Kendrapara District.

"Even after sixty years of India's independence we continue to be exploited by the upper caste. We can't enter temples. We are still untouchable. That is why we are converting to Buddhism," said Bidulata Malick, a Dalit woman.

Biswabandhu, the monk who carried out the conversions, said: "If man stays stuck in these superficial rituals and dogmas like the caste system, this nation won't progress".

However, the local administration denied any mass conversions had taken place.

"Nobody has filed any petition in the proper form to embrace Buddhism in the area. One or two persons, they are just creating a sensation in the minds of the people. I don't know in a society like ours they should not create such dissension," said Kashinath Sahoo, District Commissioner, Kendrapara.

The conversions came amidst a raging row in Keredagrah village in the District over the upper-castes preventing the Dalits from entering a community temple.

Dalits were traditionally allowed to worship the deity only through holes drilled in the border walls of the temple.

In November 2006, some of the Dalits threatened to force their way into the temple and sought protection from the court.

Orissa High Court, however, ordered a ban on all entries after the district administration cited tension in the area. The court also got most of the holes closed and barred everyone except the priests from entering the sanctum sanctorum.

Last year a group of Dalit women was fined 1,000 rupees by the priests for entering the temple.