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Politics of Dalit Conversion

Politics of Dalit Conversion

Publication: SandeepWeb.com
Date: October 25, 2006
URL: http://www.sandeepweb.com/2006/10/25/politics-of-dalit-conversion/

This BBC report barely manages to conceal its glee over a recent farce ceremony where "hundreds of Hindu Dalits" converted to Buddhism or Christianity.

Dissecting the BBC's sleazy reportage is not the focus of this post.

Scoring Political Goals

Buddhism, until very recently, had virtually no followers in India. And neither is its sudden, rapid ascendancy a surprise: it was waiting to happen.

Dalit champions of various hues use conversion to Buddhism as a point to score against Hinduism, which they regard as an oppressive religion. And they stop at just that: scoring a political point. They're least interested to understand Sanatana Dharma and/or Buddhism as a philosophy; it doesn't help that they've been weaned on the Communist/JNU milk of Indian history which reverses the roles of victim and oppressor.

History of Hindu-Buddhist Encounters

The history of Hindu-Buddhist encounters shows that Buddhism failed to counter Sanatana Dharma intellectually, which is one of the reasons it lost its amazing popularity a few centuries after Buddha's death. The most common reason for Buddhism's decline in India is attributed to Shankaracharya. That is only partly true. The real reason is that Islamic barbarians exterminated them by the thousands. Don't go by my words: in a Telugu book (forgot which), Rahul Sankrityayana the arch-Communist, cites this as the main reason for Buddhism's decline in India.

This phenomenon can be vaguely comparable to Hindu conversions to Christianity in the early days of British rule. Several upper caste Hindus converted to Christianity because missionary propaganda convinced them that Hinduism and Christianity were the same. But that stopped soon after Dayananda Saraswati and others showed the true nature of imperialistic cults masquerading as religion.

The bottomline: Sanatana Dharma has proved that it cannot be defeated intellectually/philosophically.

The Naked Face of Conversion

That brings us to conversions to Buddhism. Buddhism isn't imperalisitic by any stretch of imagination; as I wrote earlier, it is an offshoot of Vedanta. However, the following partly explain the reason behind the sudden spurt of Dalit conversions to Buddhism:

* Increased visibility (and power) of Dalits in politics
* Ambedkar's conversion to Buddhism
* To weaken Hinduism
* Encouragement by forces hostile to Hinduism with the ultimate aim of completely dismantling the Hindu society: it is already fragmented almost beyond repair.

Now we see the naked face of conversion: politics and money, not philosophy. No Dalit politician can speak intelligibly about Buddhism for more than 30 seconds; which is why they rely on political clout and brute strength of numbers to slam Buddhism down the Dalits' throats. In other words, the thousands of Dalits who've converted to Buddhism have done so blindly. Majority of the Dalits who have converted to Christianity still live in the same, wretched conditions; and it is with disgust that I hear the term Dalit Christian. I don't see any reason why their converting to Buddhism should alter their living conditions. Yet, who gets blamed for this? Hinduism, obviously.

If these conversions were based on a fundamental understanding of Buddhist precepts, I'd see nothing amiss. Example: the widespread-and growing-adoption of Buddhism by the Western world. A majority of these converts have embraced Buddhism after they were convinced of its worth, not because some leader/politician asked them to convert. I could argue also that, had Ambedkar converted to Christianity or Islam, his modern day vocalists would follow suit.

The Dalit political discourse in India is based mainly on anti-Brahminism, which has reached alarming levels. An extreme example is a Dalit luminary named Kancha Ilaiah who called for Brahmins to carry feces to avenge a historical wrong. I scan Dalit publications pretty regularly, and the common theme there is Brahmin-bashing: sites like Dalitstan.org routinely carry "scholarly articles" on Dalits as the Blacks of India, how the Zionist and Brahmin conspiracy are the same, etc. However, recent history shows that Dalit atrocities have been perpetrated more by the Other Backward Castes than by the Brahmins. Yet, this hardly finds mention in Dalit literature. It is also ironical that Mayawati, the leader of a Dalit party is cozying with Brahmins, the "Oppressor" caste.


Dalit conversions to Buddhism is certainly a threat in the short term if the only premise is political power. Now short is "short term" is something that we'll know over time. I repeat, it is just a newer step to further fragment the Hindu society.

In the long run however, it is positive because of the shared heritage of Buddhism and Sanatana Dharma. Do the neo-Buddhists realize that Sanatana Dharma accepts Buddha as the ninth avatar?

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