50,000 Dalits in Gujarat to Embrace Buddhism on Ambedkar Jayanti in One of the Largest Conversion Ceremonies Ever Seen

50,000 Dalits in Gujarat to Embrace Buddhism on Ambedkar Jayanti in One of the Largest Conversion Ceremonies Ever Seen

On April 14, a momentous mass conversion ceremony is set to take place in Gujarat's capital Gandhinagar, wherein approximately 50,000 Dalits from various cities and towns will formally adopt Buddhism and renounce Hinduism. The event, to be held at the Ramakatha Maidan in Gandhi Ground, promises to be one of the largest gatherings of its kind as more than one lakh people are expected to participate in the event. Tribal families from Dungarpur too would be attending the event, sources said. 

The Swayam Sainik Dal (SSD), a voluntary organization established by 50 like-minded Dalit social workers in Rajkot in 2006, will be facilitating the mass Deeksha ceremony. Baudh bhikshu Pragya Ratna from the Great Ashoka Buddh Vihar in Porbandar will preside over the ceremony and administer the deeksha to the thousands of participants. SSD expects 1 crore persons from the dalit communities to embrace Buddhism by 2028. 

According to the organisers, around 15,000 people have already filed applications at the Collectors' offices in their respective districts. The process of police verification is currently in progress to ensure that the applicants are opting for voluntary conversion without any greed, seduction, or threat. The procedure of religious conversion also involves the publication of details in the state gazette.

The Mission

The SSD's mission is centered around the renunciation of social vices and embracing humanitarian values emphasizing on a dignified life for everyone. The SSD has been actively engaged in creating awareness among communities about their rights and duties, and raising consciousness about the hollowness of rituals and dogmatic beliefs that have contributed to the mass divide among Hindu communities. They seek to empower people by educating them about their constitutional rights and encouraging them to take ownership of their own destinies. By promoting critical thinking and encouraging people to question social norms and practices that perpetuate inequality and injustice, the SSD hopes to create a more equitable and just society. Their work has helped to build a sense of solidarity and shared purpose among members of the Dalit community, as well as promoting greater understanding and cooperation between different social groups.

It views adoption of Buddhism as a means of rejecting the discriminatory practices inherent in the Hindu caste system. According to Ramesh Bhai (pseudo name), a representative of the organization, the decision to convert to Buddhism is a voluntary step of the Dalit community, who have suffered under the caste-based discrimination of Sanatan Dharma. This sentiment is reflected in the actions of Baba Saheb, who himself renounced Hinduism and embraced Buddhism in order to reject the caste system.

One of the unique aspects of the SSD is its rejection of traditional hierarchical structures and positions of authority within the organization. There are no designated leaders or office bearers, and all members are treated with equal respect and status, regardless of when they joined. In addition, the organization has strict rules around privacy and does not publicize individual names. 

The SSD has adopted a simple and egalitarian approach to their public meetings, known as Chintan Shivirs, which are typically held in rural areas. They have done away with the practice of providing special treatment or seating arrangements for their leaders or organizers. Instead, when the Swayam Sainiks visit villages, they sit on the ground with the local people, and anyone who needs to address the gathering stands up and speaks. As a result, there are no dias or chairs reserved for the organizers or leaders of the group. This approach reflects the SSD's commitment to equality and their desire to foster a sense of camaraderie and mutual respect among all members, regardless of their status or position within the organization.

Why embracing Buddhism?

In recent years, there has been a growing trend among members of Dalit communities in India to denounce Hinduism and embrace Buddhism. "The decision to embrace Buddhism for followers of the SSD is primarily rooted in the pursuit of equality. As Hindus, they did not find the kind of equality they were seeking and witnessed discrimination and atrocities against people belonging to Scheduled Caste, or Dalits or Backward Communities. In this context, embracing Buddhism is seen as a way to reject the caste system and attain a sense of dignity, respect, and equality" Ramesh Bhai says. 

For members of the SSD, the decision to embrace Buddhism is not tied to any specific rituals or worship practices. Rather, they are drawn to the teachings of Gautam Buddha and Baba Saheb and seek to embody these teachings in their daily lives. Ramesh Bhai, who is 33 years old, expressed his agreement with these teachings and his intention to denounce Hinduism and embrace the Buddhist way of life, along with his family and friends. While they do not worship Gautam Buddha or Baba Saheb, they do express their respect and admiration for them through salutations.

The Maha Rally Arrangements

The SSD organizers are leaving no stone unturned in their efforts to ensure the smooth and safe management of the Deeksha ceremony. The participants would be compulsorily following the green dress code. The organisers are taking care of every minute detail, including traffic management, transportation arrangements, and medical facilities for the large gathering of participants. About transportation of the thousands of participants  to attend the ceremony, approximately 800 buses are expected to carry people from various parts of Gujarat to the venue in Gandhinagar. Additionally, there will be around 5,000 four-wheelers in the rally, which will commute to the Ambedkar statue at Vidhan Sabha. At this location, Baba Saheb's 22 vows will be reiterated and reaffirmed by the disciplined followers. Jagdish Bhai, another member of the SSD, expressed his confidence in the organization's ability to ensure a successful and well-managed event. Women volunteers known as the Jhalkari Brigade would be responsible to manage the female participants expected to arrive in large numbers. 

The conversion

The struggle for the rights of Dalits in India is a long-standing one, dating back centuries. Despite significant progress in recent years, caste-based discrimination and inequality continue to be major challenges for these communities, and the rise of Hindu nationalism has only made things worse. In this context, the decision by many Dalits to denounce Hinduism and convert to Buddhism can be seen as a powerful act of rebellion against the entrenched caste hierarchy and the ruling party's vision of a "Hindu Rashtra" (Hindu nation). By rejecting the religion that has historically been used to justify their oppression, Dalits are asserting their right to dignity, freedom, and equality, and challenging the dominant narrative of caste supremacy in India.

This act of conversion is not just a religious or personal choice, but a political statement that reflects the ongoing struggle for social justice and the fight against the entrenched systems of oppression that continue to impact the lives and livelihoods of millions of people in India. As per a rough estimate, more than 1 crore of Dalit population is estimated to convert to Buddhism by 2025. Similarly, the SSD has a systematic plan to organize similar mass conversion ceremonies in Delhi, Kolkata, Banglore, Bhopal and Mumbai on Ambedkar Jayanti, one every year, from 2024 onwards respectively in these big cities. 

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