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Graphic Novel | Deeksha: The Story Behind BR Ambedkar's Conversion to Buddhism

"I was born a Hindu… I will not die a Hindu," BR Ambedkar had said, addressing his followers in Mumbai in 1936.

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Graphic Novel | Deeksha: The Story Behind BR Ambedkar's Conversion to Buddhism
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On 14 October 1956, Dalit icon and architect of India's constitution, Dr BR Ambedkar, converted to Buddhism along with lakhs of Dalit followers in Nagpur. He had openly declared his intent to quit Hinduism in 1935.

"I was born a Hindu… I will not die a Hindu," Ambedkar had said while addressing his followers in Mumbai in May 1936. Babasaheb, who faced caste discrimination through childhood, in school, and as a young adult, converted to Buddhism, weeks before his death.

When Ambedkar decided to leave Hinduism, he never coerced his followers into joining him and took their opinion into consideration. Yet, his conversion to Buddhism was met with heavy criticism, including from Mahatma Gandhi.

Here's why he quit Hinduism. And why the 'father' of India’s Constitution might have objected to the 'Anti-Conversion' laws enacted by UP, Karnataka, MP, and Himachal Pradesh since 2021.

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Decoding Babasaheb Ambedkar's Conversion to Buddhism

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The Dalit-Buddhist Movement

Done with the caste-system and atrocities against Dalits and other oppressed castes, Babasaheb finally converted to Buddhism, with lakhs of followers – Dalits as well as upper-caste Hindus. Maharashtra's Mahar community, to which Ambedkar was born, formed the majority among the Dalit converts in Nagpur.

After he publicly declared his decision to quit Hinduism in 1935, in an all-religion conference in Lucknow on 22 May 1936, Muslim, Sikh, Christian and Buddhist speakers tried to woo Dalits. He considered all religions, held meetings with his followers, took their opinion into account, and finally chose Buddhism, for primarily two reasons:

  1. Buddhism met with his core values of rationality, equality, justice.

  2. He saw Buddhism as a modern and rational religion

However, Ambedkar found the core doctrines of Buddhism flawed. So, he modified some basic tenets and re-modelled Buddhism to best suit interests of the oppressed castes. This re-interpretation was popularly called the Dalit Buddhist movement or Navayana (Neo) Buddhism.

Babasaheb, did not live long to practice Buddhism and died just a few weeks after the public conversion in Nagpur. But he helped Dalits escape clutches of caste-based oppression and re-kindled Buddhism in India.

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