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Seeking refuge in the Buddha

Seeking refuge in the Buddha

Author: Lakshmi Iyer
Publication: India Today
Date: November 19, 2001

Like Kanshi Ram, he chose to manipulate the support of Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe government employees to enter politics. He, however, used religion as a short-cut. He tried to re-enact B. R. Ambedkar's final act of leading Dalits into Buddhism. Ram Raj, president of the All India Confederation of SC/ST Organisations and joint -commissioner at the Income-Tax Department, drove his "Chariot of Buddhism" across the country for six months this year, urging Dalits to leave Hinduism at a conversion rally planned for Delhi's Ram Lila grounds.

Seven-and-half months later, the plan went awry. A pro-Christian website claimed the rallyists would convert to Christianity, fuelling protest from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. The police withdrew permission for the meeting. At a new venue, the 40-year-old Raj got tonsured changed his faith and adopted a new name, Udit Raj. So did a few thousand others. As speakers accused the BSP of sabotaging the rally, Raj betrayed his interest in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections. The BSP-bashing ensured that no Dalit from the Hindi heartland was present. Markedly absent were the Jatavs, the sub-caste which supports Kanshi and is antipathetic to Khatiks, Raj's sub-caste.

"I am not joining politics, I changed my faith only to liberate myself from mental slavery," Raj asserts. Counters Dalit writer Chandrabhan Prasad: "Raj has only played a trick with sentiments." The buzz is that the Congress is looking to his support in Uttar Pradesh.

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