In the one year since four Dalits were flogged in Una, Gujarat, there has been a three-fold since increase in the number of Dalits converting to Buddhism, The Indian Express reported today. This estimate comes from the Buddhist Society of India, founded by Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, a Dalit icon, who converted to Buddhism in 1956.
It was on 11 July that four Dalits were accused of killing a cow and beaten in public in Una. The incident sparked nationwide outrage and triggered protests against the targeting of Dalits and Muslims in the name of cow protection.
On 14 April, last year, the mother and brother of scholar Rohith Vemula converted to Buddhism on the birth anniversary of Ambedkar's 125th birth anniversary. Vemula had killed himself inside the campus of Hyderabad Central University on 17 January, 2016. His death was widely regarded as a result of institutional discrimination.
P.G. Jyotikar, a trustee of the Buddhist Society of India, told the The Indian Express that conversions in Gujarat went from 400-500 a year to 1,500-1,600 till last year.
An estimated 87 percent of the 8.4 million Buddhists in India are converts from other religions, the majority trying to break free of the Hindu caste system.
Maheriya, a recent convert from Kheda district, told The Indian Express, "We find peace in Buddhism, where everyone is alike. There are no gods here who carry weapons, which are a sign of war and destruction. Buddhism teaches only peace and compassion. It gives you inner satisfaction that you are no longer looked down upon by those whose mindset gets polluted as they climb up the caste ladder."
Earlier this month, IndiaSpend reported that Dalits first started converting to Buddhism in 1956, the year that Ambedkar embraced Buddhism. IndiaSpend further reported that conversions to Buddhism rise every time the Dalit movement escalates including in the 1980s and 1990s.
Further, conversions to Buddhism have resulted in better literacy rates and gender equality.
However, the overall growth of Buddhists in India have declined. Citing census data, the IndiaSpend report pointed out that the number of Buddhists grew by 6.13 percent in 2001-11 and 16.76 percent for Hindus. In the previous decades, Buddhists grew by 24.53 percent and Hindus by 20.35 percent.
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