'Constitution Allows Us': Scholars Slam BJP Over Dalit-Buddhist Conversion Row

BJP criticised AAP Minister Rajendra Gautam for attending an event where hundreds of Dalits converted to Buddhism.

3 min read

The Delhi unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Friday, 7 October, submitted a complaint against Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) minister Rajendra Pal Gautam for participating in the Buddha Dhamma Deeksha Samaroh – an event in which hundreds of Dalits from across Delhi-NCR converted to Buddhism.

"We've filed a complaint against Delhi's Minister of Social Welfare (Rajendra Pal Gautam) at the Parliament Street police station. The AAP government must sack him for his attempt to stoke communal tensions and spread hatred along religious lines within the country," said Delhi BJP chief Adesh Gupta.

Earlier, Manoj Tiwari – two-time BJP MP from Delhi – took to Twitter and termed the Dhamma Deeksha event organised on 5 October 'anti-Hindu'.

"Why is AAP against the Hindus? This AAP minister is taking a vow against Hinduism and is also making others take the same vows," wrote Tiwari.

Two days after the event, Tiwari shared a 39-second video from the event, in which attendees can be heard saying vows, iterating to not believe in Hinduism and Hindu deities. Interestingly, these vows are a part of the 22 vows taken by Dr BR Ambedkar when he converted to Buddhism in 1956 at Deekshabhoomi in Maharashtra's Nagpur.

'BJP's Duplicity Exposed': Anti-Caste Scholars

Meena Kotwal, a Dalit journalist and a human rights defender, said that this entire controversy by the BJP is uncalled for. "I don't understand what this brouhaha is all about. The Indian Constitution grants people the freedom to choose the religion they want to follow," Kotwal told The Quint.

"How will the BJP explain atrocities and crimes against Dalits and other caste minorities happening under its watch? The Dalits cannot ride horses, cannot enter temples or do anything that upper-caste Hindus can do. In fact, Dalits in all religions suffer the same atrocities. Then why should they not convert?"
Meena Kotwal, Journalist and Founder of The Mooknayak

While commenting on the BJP's accusation that the vows taken at the 5 October event are "anti-Hindu,' Kotwal said, "Whenever people convert to Buddhism, they take these vows. Even Ambedkar took these vows when he converted."

Meanwhile, Harish Wankhede, Assistant Professor at the Center for Political Studies at Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), said that the controversy stoked by the BJP "is a proof of the party's duplicity."

Wankhede told The Quint that those attacking Gautam are "probably ill-informed about the BJP and the right-wing's alignment with the Buddhist conversion movement."

He said, "In states such as Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh, the government is always a part of Buddhist conversion ceremonies and festivals in Nagpur. If the BJP in general is opposed to Buddhist conversions, then what will they say about what they do in Maharashtra?"

Another scholar, who spoke to The Quint on condition of anonymity, said that by creating a controversy over the conversion event, a faction of BJP is revisiting the Savarkarite idea of "Virat Hindutva."

"As per the Savarkarite idea of Virat Hindutva all religions born out of the Indian subcontinent are a part of the grand Hindutva family. The question is that by saying that Buddhist conversion is antithetical to Hinduism, the BJP is revisiting that idea. Also, what happens to the right wing's claims of Buddha being the 10th avatar of lord Vishnu?" said the scholar.

What Happened at The Event?

On 5 October, hundreds of Dalits converted to Buddhism as a part of the Buddha Dhamma Deeksha Samaroh organised by the Buddhist Society of India and Mission Jai Bheem.

The ceremony was attended by Rajratna Ambedkar, great grand-nephew of Ambedkar, and President of the Buddhist Society of India. AAP's Gautam, who is the founder of Mission Jai Bheem, was also in attendance.

"For centuries the caste system has limited our opportunities. Now we do not need reservation only in jobs, we need our share in land resources and the right to live with dignity," Gautam had said at the event.

The Quint had attended the 5 October event and spoke to multiple people who had come to participate in the ceremony. Many cited generational trauma, atrocities and crime against women as tipping points for wanting to convert.

Nisha, a 38-year-old homemaker from Ghaziabad, had come for the conversion ceremony with her husband and three children. "I saw that children from my community were made to sit on the floor while other children sat on chairs in our society. I don't want my children to face this," she said.

For 17-year-old Dinesh, on the other hand, embracing Buddhism was a "matter of pride". "To embrace Buddhism in itself is a matter of pride. There is no unity among people in other religions. They discriminate on the basis of caste – something which is against the spirit of our Constitution," he said.

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