Religion conversion by Dalit

Caste Disabilities Removal Act 1850

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= Flag of the British East India Company (1801).svg
An Act for extending the principle of section 9, Regulation VII, 1832, of the Bengal Code throughout the Territories subject to the Government of the East India Company
Enacted byGovernor-General of India in Council
Date enacted11 April 1850
Date assented to11 April 1850
The Caste Disabilities Removal Act, 1850, also Act XXI of 1850, was a law passed in British India under East India Company rule, that abolished all laws affecting the rights of persons converting to another religion or caste. The new Act allowed Indians who converted from one religion to another religion equal rights under no law, especially in the case of inheritance.


ACT No. XXI Of 1850
[11 April 1850.]
An Act for extending the principle of section 9, Regulation VII, 1832, of the Bengal Code throughout the Territories subject to the Government of the East India Company.1
WHEREAS it is enacted by section 9, Regulation VII, 1832, of the Bengal Code, that "whenever in any civil suit the parties to such suit may be of different persuasions, when one party shall be of the Hindu and the other of the Muhammadan persuasion, or where one or more of the parties to the suit shall not be either of the Muhammadan or Hindu persuasions, the laws of those religions shall not be permitted to operate to deprive such party or parties of any property to which, but for the operation of such laws, they would have been entitled; and whereas it will be beneficial to extend the principle of that enactment throughout the territories subject to the government of the East India Company ; It is enacted as follows :—
  • 1. So much of any law or usage now in force within the territories subject to the government of the East India Company as inflicts on any person forfeiture of rights or property, or may be held in any way to impair or affect any right of inheritance, by reason of his or her renouncing, or having been excluded from the communion of, any religion, or being deprived of caste, shall cease to be enforced as law in the Courts of the East India Company, and in the Courts established by Royal Charter within the said territories.

Dalits Convert to Islam after Thakurs’ Atrocities in Saharanpur

Google+I was born a Hindu but will not die one. – Dr Ambedkar, Yeola Conference, 1935
Dr. Ambedkar had said convert to – Islam, Christianity, Buddhism or any other religion that gives you equality. For us, equality is what matters the most. Dr. Ambedkar had even asked Dalits to convert to Islam, Christianity, Buddhism or any other religion that gives you equality.
Convert to Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Dr Ambedkar
Convert to Islam, Christianity, Buddhism – Dr Ambedkar
Dalits were expecting good times after Modi government was formed with fake promises of Acche Din but now Dalits of Moradabad say that Modi and Yogi Government are anti-Dalits hence they decided to convert to Islam.
Bajrang Dal and some other Hindutva organisations’ people tried to stop these Dalits from leaving Hinduism but Dalits from Moradabad stick to their decision to leave the religion of discrimination.
No matter how tall promises Modi and Yogi Government are making the ground reality is different. People are suffering in one way or another, gau rakshak terrorists are killing innocent Dalits and Muslims, demonetization has taken away jobs and condition of government run schemes is poor.
Dalits from Moradabad were angry that their brothers are sisters from the community were attacked by Thakurs in Saharanpur and police, as well as RSS/BJP government, did not do anything to stop Thakur terrorists from burning and looting Dalits’ houses.
Even Dr Ambedkar had said that Dalits become Hindus only when there is Hindu-Muslim conflict otherwise Dalits are treated worse than animals.
A few days ago, National Dastak team had reported that even Gods were divided in the riot-hit Saharanpur and Dalits were not allowed to enter Hindu temples. Atrocities on Dalits in Yogi led BJP government in UP has increased. Dalits are treated worse than dirt in Hinduism so why stay in Hinduism?
Dalits Convert to Islam
Considering all these Dalits from Moradabad decided to leave Hinduism where they don’t have equal rights in Hinduism. Dalits leave their Hindu idols in the river and said that their belief in Hinduism has ended.
Dalits said, we will see how Modi and Yogi build Ram Mandir at Ayodhya, we will build Masjid in Ayodhya.
Dalits should leave the religion of discrimination and convert to other religions where they get better treatment and equal opportunities.
Dr. Ambedkar’s Bahishkrit Bharat newspaper (15 March 1929) exhorts people to convert to Islam if they are willing to change their religion. It is only after the in-depth studies of various religions vis-à-vis his goals that he decided on Buddha’s Dhamma. It is purely mischievous to say that Dr. Ambedkar was against Muslims. – Excerpts from Anand Teltumbde’s book Ambedkar on Muslims (2003)

From Dalits to Bene Ephraim: 

Judaism in Andhra Pradesh

Yulia Egorova

The community of Bene Ephraim was established in the late 1980s in Andhra Pradesh by a group of Christianized Madiga who declared that they belonged to one of the Lost Tribes of Israel. The paper explores the extent to which Bene Ephraim narratives of origin have been and are being shaped by the responses of others on the level of national and international politics. It is demonstrated that while in the beginning the leaders of the community were keen to stress their affinity to the scheduled castes of India and portrayed their social and economic problems in terms of the upper and lower caste dichotomy, later on they modified their story of origin to dissociate the community from the untouchables. Their self-representation as victims of caste domination gave way to expressions of concern about the possibility of becoming victims of anti-Jewish terrorist attacks. The paper argues that this change in the way the Bene Ephraim chose to frame the socio-political problems that the community is facing was linked to their attempts to be recognized as a Jewish group and be accepted in the State of Israel. At the same time, it is also suggested that this tactic provides yet another example of a Dalit group attempting to attract the attention of the international community to their condition of discrimination by reinterpreting their plight in the terms that foreign audiences would be more familiar with and could relate to more easily

Dalit Youth Turns Jain Monk
 June 16, 2010
-Abha Sharma
In a caste-dominated society, where dalit bridegrooms are often discouraged to ride a mare in their wedding processions, upper castes treat them with disdain and untouchability remains a stigma irrespective of what the Indian Constitution outlines, the induction of a dalit youth in Jain religion comes as a welcome change.
In a historic event, a 22-year-old youth belonging to Meghwal community was anointed as a Jain monk at Ahore town in Jalore district on Monday. Hailing from Mandwaria village, Sirohi district, Chandaram Meghwal alias Sandeep got a new identity as Anant Punya Maharaj at a diksha ceremony attended by a large number of people from Shwetambar Jain community and Sandeep’s relatives from Sirohi.
Sandeep who went to Mumbai in search of a job a few years ago was so impressed by Jain saint Suryodaya Maharaj that he expressed his desire to dedicate his life to the religion. He travelled with him to various holy places and attended religious sermons with deep devotion and sincerity to the surprise of the saint. On expressing his desire to join the religion, he was sent to Ahmedabad to study the Jain ideology for almost four years. Seeing his intense desire to lead life of a Jain monk, his family gave in after initial hesitation, reliable sources told Deccan Herald from Ahore.
He was given a warm send off from his village two days ago and reportedly there was a mad rush among the villagers to touch his feet to show their reverence. His monkhood moved about 1,500 people in the village to go vegetarian and give up drinking. Monday onwards, he would be known with his new name Anant Punya, said Mahaveer Jain, a businessman from Bangalore, who was currently in Ahore to attend the diksha ceremony. His 26-year-old sister also took diksha along with Sandeep, he said. A commerce student at the MES college in Bangalore, she gave up her studies to pursue the same path.
A tough life awaits the newly inducted monk from Tuesday as he will have to walk barefoot, clad in a white robe and seeking alms. No physical comforts will be allowed, including the services of a barber.
Courtesy: Deccan Herald

Jainism for Dalits

Adivasi Conversion To Jainism

Forget the conversions to Christianity. Forget, also, the re-conversions by the champions of Hindutva. It is Jainism which is fast growing into a major religion among Adivasis of the Vadodara and Panchmahals districts of Gujarat, thanks to vigorous campaign by a number of Jain organisations, all belonging to the Shwetamber sect. Though Christian missionaries and various Hindu religious sects, like the Swaminarayan, Jay Yogeshwar, Pragat Purushottam, Ramanand, and Kabir Panthi sects, and the Swadhyaya Parivar have been active in the area for many decades, lately Jainism has been attracting more and more converts.

According to a rough estimate of the Jain missionaries, more than two lakh Adivasis in Chhotaudepur, Jetpur Pavi, Naswadi, and Sankheda talukas of the Vadodara district, and Halol and Jambughoda talukas of the Panchmahals district have embraced Jainism in the last six years.

As many as 60 Jain temples have come up, and religious schools are running in 40villages to teach the neo-converts.

What began as a de-addiction and vegetarian movement 40 years ago, with the efforts of an Adivasi convert to Jainism, Jain Indradin Suri of Salpura village in Jetpur Pavi taluka, has now transformed into ``a Jain missionary movement'', says Purushottam K. Jain, manager of the Parmar Kshatriya Jain Dharma Pracharak Sabha of Bodeli.

The Sabha is one of the two local organisations involved in conversion activities. The other is the Parmar Kshatriya Jain Seva Samaj at Pavagadh in the Panchmahals. The Vijay Vallabh Mission Trust of Ludhiana in Punjab is also active here. Its main functionary in the adivasi belt is Yashobhadra Vijayji Maharaj. Jain businessmen from all over the country, especially the Oswals of Ludhiana, regularly visit the area, according to neo-Jains.

What is the attraction of Jainism for the tribals? It is the anti- addiction and non-violent teachings of the faith which have impressed the tribals, replies deputy mamlatdar of Chhotaudepur Parsinh NarsinhRathwa, who has himself converted to Jainism. Rathwa says the tribals regard Jainism as ``a reform movement''.

Dharamsheel Rathwa, a neo-Jain of Kavra village, 25 kms away from Chhotaudepur, says that alcoholism and frequent infighting in the clans, combined with ignorance and ancient evil practices, had damaged the social fabric of Adivasi society. This has been checked
to a great extent amongst neo-Jains and improved their quality of life, he said.

Thirty-two-year old Varsinh Mandubhai Rathwa of Sajwa village in Jetpur Pavi taluka, who embraced Jainisim three years ago, agreed with Dharamsheel. ``There is more peace in life now,'' he said, adding there is no protest from fellow Adivasis against Jainism.

But some do have reservations, like primary school teacher Bachubhai Nanubhai Rathwa, who alleged that the Jain missionaries were using money power to convert poor Adivasis. ``Whatever may be the reason for Adivasis' new-found love for Jainism, it will certainly lead to social tension when the convertsbegin to assert themselves politically,'' he said, citing the example of Kavra village, where some of the Adivasis had opposed the construction of a Jain temple two years ago.

According to Ganjbhai Kanbhai Rathwa, the Jain priest in Kavra, as many as 50 families of his village embraced Jainisim two years ago, and an 18-year-old youth and two children of 12 and 10 years, respectively, were ordained into priesthood recently. More than 100 families in Sankad, Asar and Kaidawat villages in Kawant taluka also embraced Jainism recently.

The visible symbols of the fledgling religion are also there. A big temple has come up in Salpura village near Bodeli and another temple and a `upasray' on gram panchayat land in Kavra village at a cost of Rs 20 lakh. Yet another temple is proposed to be built soon in
Tejgadh, said a Jain businessman in Chhotaudepur. A colony, named Mahaveer Nagar, too, has come up in the interiors of the tribal belt along Bodeli-Kawant Road.

If an SC converts to Buddhism, he continues to enjoy the benefits of reservation, so why are they denied this if they convert to Islam or Christianity?

What currently exists on the law- books is an anomalous situation.
If an SC is allowed benefits on conversion to Sikhism/ Budhism ONLY because these religious are of Indian origin, and not allowed benefits on conversion to Christianity / Islam because they are foreign origin, it is violation of the principles of the Constitution.
If the difference in treatment is allowed because Christianity and Islam are caste-less it does not stand the test of natural justice as Buddhism and Sikhism are equally caste-less. Hence again a violation of the Constitution.
So what exactly is happening ?
There are 2 political/ social groups involved.
  • Hindutva proponents who stand to lose a great deal (due to conversions , mainly to Christianity) if the Supreme court were to rule that SC would continue to receive benefits on conversion to ANY religion including Islam/ Christianity. The flood-gates to conversion away from Hinduism would open.
  • Christian organisations who would tend to gain if the Supreme Court were to rule as in the point above.
The Law is clearly favouring the Christian groups. The question that naturally follows is why are the christian groups not actively following it up ? I think it is the fear of violent back-lash from Hindutva groups that is holding the Christian organisations back. After all, Hindus are 80% of the population and Christians about 2.5 %. Plus we have a BJP govt at the centre and in many states.
I don’t think the anomaly will be resolved any time soon.

मनुवादियों के अत्याचार से परेशान होकर 80,000 धानक मुसलमान बन गये थे

Indian Dalits hope to end discrimination through conversion

People shout slogans as they attend a protest rally against what they say are attacks on India's low-caste Dalit community in Ahmedabad, India, on July 31, 2016. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Amit Dave

MUMBAI, India (RNS) Fed up with the divisiveness of Hinduism’s caste system -- entrenched for centuries -- many Dalits are finding refuge in Buddhism.

 The Politics of Religious Conversion

by Vatsala Vedantam
Vatsala Vedantam is a former associate editor of the Deccan Herald in Bangalore, India. This article appeared in The Christian Century, June 19-26, 2002, p. 25-27. Copyright by The Christian Century Foundation; used by permission. Current articles and subscription information can be found at This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.

In their long struggle for equality, India’s dalits, or "untouchables," have often exchanged their Hinduism for Islam, Christianity, Sikhism or Buddhism, believing that they will better their lives by doing so. They have been persuaded that Hinduism, with its varna ashramas (caste distinctions), has been solely responsible for all their ills. But when they switch to other religious faiths and experience the same distinctions -- albeit in different forms – they realize that such a change neither improves their social status nor remedies their economic problems of unemployment and poverty -- the real source of their social discrimination.

A letter written by M. Mary John, president of the Dalit Christian Liberation Movement, to Pope John Paul II during his 1999 visit to India speaks volumes about the treatment meted out to dalit Christians within the churches of India. The dalits are oppressed and persecuted by "the hierarchy, the congregation, the authorities and the institutions of the Catholic Church." Despite the condemnation of such practices by the Catholic Bishops Conference of India, casteism still persists among Christian communities. A state commission on dalits has pointed out that they are "twice discriminated against" -- in society and within the church. At the time of conversion, they are assured that they are being inducted into a religious fold that is egalitarian and free from the twin curses of caste and untouchability. But the reality is altogether different.

Sikh places of worship have separate quarters for dalit Sikhs. High-caste Muslims do not marry dalit Muslims. Dalit Christians can hardly hope to reach any high position within the church. (They are not even allowed to occupy the pews meant for higher-caste Christians.) And Buddhist monasteries have not been able to prevent their converts from continuing their earlier casteist practices.

At the same time, in breaking away from Hinduism, dalits lose out on the basic safeguards provided to them in the Indian Constitution. In 1981, thousands of dalits in southern India converted to Islam to escape social victimization -- only to find that they had forfeited whatever state privileges they enjoyed earlier as Scheduled Caste Hindus. Converted dalits are now fighting for these privileges, having perceived the age-old caste system still dogging their footsteps. The very fact that they still have to label themselves as "dalits" even after conversion in order to seek special privileges exposes the futility of that exercise. Today, India’s dalits are 82 per cent Hindu, 12 per cent Muslims and less than 3 per cent Christian.
A mass conversions of dalits to Buddhism in recent months in India poses the question once again whether religious conversion alone can improve the social and economic status of people who have been marginalized for centuries. Some 50,00 dalits assembled in New Delhi in November to embrace Buddhism. In January another 25,000 followed suit in the southern state of Kerala. Such conversions expose the hypocrisy of the religious and political leaders who exploit the socially and economically backward groups for their own ends.
In the November mass conversion, participants from both northern and southern states converged on India’s capital city. They were led by Ram Raj, an official working for the Indian Revenue Service, who also heads the All India Confederation of Scheduled Caste/Schedule Tribes Organizations. Giving himself a new name and identity after his own conversion, he used the occasion to lash out at the Bharatiya Janata Party -- led Government at the Center, claiming that it had denied opportunities to the dalits.

Subsequently, the converts recited the 22 vows taken by Baba Saheb Ambedkar, founder of the dalit movement in India, who in a similar exercise in 1956 had embraced Buddhism, along with half a million other dalits, "to escape the tyrannies" of Hindu society. Senior monk Buddha Priya initiated the new converts into the Buddhist fold. Surprisingly, well-known Christian activists also participated in the conversion ceremony to provide "moral support" to the dalit movement. Although no Christian literature was circulated, a Syrian Christian bishop who had traveled all the way to New Delhi sat through the ceremony, offering to convert to Christianity anyone who desired it.

Dalits seem to prefer Buddhism to other religions unless they are enticed with gifts or other allurements. The reason is that Ambedkar, who was also one of the main architects of the Indian Constitution, stated that of all religions only Buddhism advocates equality of all human beings as a fundamental principle. Declaring that Lord Buddha alone raised his voice against separatism, and that the religion he taught is the only one which does not recognize caste, the dalit leader exhorted his followers to convert to Buddhism -- "which is a religion of this country" -- rather than Christianity, which enticed the poor and the oppressed "by giving them porridge free of cost."

It has also been argued that Buddhists are accepted more easily in Indian society than other minority groups. Since Buddhism, like Jainism or Sikhism, is an Indic religion, it is not considered alien. Christianity and Islam are both perceived by Hindus even today as the religions of the conquerors and invaders.

"Dalit" literally means depressed. Mahatma Gandhi named these hapless citizens Harijans, meaning "the children of God." In the ancient and much abused system called varna ashrama, citizens were originally divided into castes based upon the professions they followed. Even during the days of British rule, manual workers in India’s villages were placed in the lowest hierarchy of the caste system. It was only after independence in 1947 that the govenment instituted a policy of affirmative action, through its Constitution, to reduce these inequalities.

By reserving 23 percent of all central and state government jobs for Scheduled Castes and Tribes, with comparable reservations for school and university admissions across the country, India paved the way for improving dalits’ professional and educational opportunities. They also have seats in legislatures, state assemblies and Parliament so as to allow them greater participation in the country’s governance. Conversion, unfortunately, only deprives the dalits of these special privileges, which are intended only for Hindu Scheduled Castes and Tribes.

The answer, then, is not in religious conversion so much as in streamlining the system of reservations itself. While this system has gone a long way to better the economic status of India’s 82 million Scheduled Castes and Tribes, it has lost its direction because it is not envisioned as a time-bound program. The earlier beneficiaries and their progeny continue to enjoy its privileges even after half a century. These privileges are now passed on to the second and sometimes to the third generation. Families who have reaped the full benefits of the Indian governments reservation policies have already advanced in both social and economic terms. And they continue to corner desirable jobs and university or school admissions through the reserved quotas.

Result: the poorest sections of the same reserved categories are denied their due. It is not uncommon, especially in rural India, to find poor and illiterate Scheduled Caste workers serving as the bonded laborers of their rich and influential kinsmen. An insidious caste system has thus crept into dalit circles as well. Privileged members of the community do not many those doing menial jobs, since they consider them inferior. A few years ago, the Indian government reduced the opportunities of dalits further by extending reservations to other backward castes. And lately the government in New Delhi has extended reservations in promotions to those who have already benefited by its policies. Consequently, almost every caste is seeking the "backward" tag to claim a piece of the pie.

No wonder this poorest and most backward segment of India’s population is constantly exploited: by politicians for their votes; by religious leaders for their numbers; by their self-styled advocates for power. Despite much touted policies of compulsory primary education, there are no proper school facilities for dalit children, Family planning and other health-care programs rarely reach dalit women. Illiterate, impoverished and vulnerable, the Scheduled Castes cannot even reach the jobs that are earmarked for them because they are not qualified.

These crucial issues are completely ignored by their champions, who prefer to harp on caste discrimination and religious conversion rather than take the real measures that might improve dalits’ lives.

Politics Of Conversion
By Rashid Salim Adil and Yoginder Sikand 

'Islam Gave Me Self Respect' Rashid Salim Adil, a Delhi-based advocate, social activist and politician, is a Dalit convert to Islam. Here he talks to Yoginder Sikand on Dalits, social liberation and Islam.

Q: What made you convert to Islam?
A: I see my conversion to Islam as the culmination of a long search for liberation from the caste system and as the answer to my quest for self-respect. I was born in a poor Chamar (Dalit) family, who are hereditary leather-workers, in a small village near Delhi. We were considered as untouchables by the uppercastes. My illiterate father had a small shop which catered to the Dalits, and it was with great difficulty that he managed to send me to school. I failed the high school examinations, and came to Delhi looking for a job. It was in Delhi that I was exposed to a totally different world of ideas. I was an atheist initially, but later turned to religion. I first joined the Arya Samaj enamoured by their slogan of social equality. The Aryas present themselves
as very radical, but if you closely examine their writings, and, even more, their attitudes, you will discover that in matters of caste there is little to distinguish them from the other Hindus. I soon gave up the membership in the Arya Samaj and became a Buddhist. The passionate Buddhist that I was, I took to reading all of Ambedkar's books and doing an M.Phil. in Buddhist Studies, after which I took a degree in law. Later while working as a law officer in the Delhi Development Authority, I became actively engaged in the Buddhist movement among the Dalits. I helped set up a number of Buddhist viharas (temples) in the slums.  
It was in 1981, shortly after the conversion to Islam of several hundred Dalit families in the village of Meenakshipuram in Tamil Nadu, that an event took place that totally altered my perception of social realities in India. One day, as I was going to office, I saw a team of bulldozers of the Delhi Development Authority tearing down a Dalit Buddhist vihara which had been illegally built on government land. However, they spared a Hindu temple standing nearby from similar destruction, although it, too, was an illegal construction. It struck me that the only reason that they destroyed our vihara was because we are Dalits. Even after converting to Buddhism, I realised, we were still treated as untouchables. Buddhism had, it dawned on me, not helped us at all in our quest for empowerment. If it had, do you think that they would have had the courage to raze the vihara like that?

Q: How did you veer round to the opinion that Islam could help you and your people in your quest for empowerment?
A: When the Dalits of Meenakshipuram converted to Islam, there was a sudden change in the attitude of the local so-called upper castes towards them. Now they could enter village tea-shop, could wear shoes, something that was not possible earlier. This was because the Hindus knew that the Muslims would not let them carry on treating our people who had become Muslims as they had been treating them before. In this way, Islam gave these Dalits a new sense of identity and pride. The news about the Meenakshipuram conversions spread like wild fire and soon even in the North many Dalits began thinking about Islam. Judging by the panic that struck the upper castes, and even the Indian State, I realised what a powerful tool of emancipation Islam really was. I now began studying Islam myself to see what it was in that religion that has drawn oppressed people to its fold over the centuries, and I found what particularly attracted them was Islam's stress on justice and equality and the sovereignty of God alone. All man-made masters, all priests, pundits and moulvis, are denied completely. And so, after a detailed study of Islam, I decided to convert. I recited the kalima [the Islamic creed of confession] at the historic Jamia Masjid in Old Delhi, on December 6, 1981, the 25th death anniversary of Dr. Ambedkar, and was given my new Islamic name.

Q: How was your conversion received by your people?
A: By that time I was quite active in the Dalit movement. Several Dalit activists had come to congratulate me on my bold decision. My radical Dalit colleagues agreed with me in private that the step I had taken was the only way out for the Dalits to seek their liberation, but many of them could not muster the courage to take the same decision. Some of them were scared of what their relatives would say or do, or of how the upper castes would react, and others feared losing their jobs if they were to become Muslim. But deep down in their hearts they knew that the only solution to the plight of the Dalits was through conversion to Islam.

Q: But surely you must have faced some hostile reaction to your turning Muslim?
A: Oh yes, I had more than my share of that! My wife and children too had converted along with me. When my wife's parents came to know about this, they instigated her against me, and our marriage ended in a divorce. Then, of course, I had to face opposition from many upper castes who naturally did not take too kindly to my conversion. A team of Arya propagandists came to meet me to persuade me to renounce Islam and enter the Arya fold, saying that the Arya Samaj, which they claim is true Hinduism, preaches social equality and brotherhood. They did not know that I had been in the Arya Samaj myself at one time, so when I quoted Sanskrit verses from their scriptures that sanctify the caste and racial prejudice they were shocked.

Q: Dalits are today looking at various alternative paths in their struggle for liberation, religious conversion being only one option. Why do you feel that conversion is so important for the Dalits?
A: Well, in order to address this question one would have to go way back to the earliest periods of Indian history. You see, the Dalits were the original inhabitants of this land, and some three thousand years ago, the fair-skinned Aryans invaded India from the north-west, subduing the original inhabitants, the Dravidians, and turning them into slaves. Now to keep them subjugated, physical force had to be supplemented with ideological and cultural force, and so you had the development of Brahminism and all its scriptures and superstitions. The real basis of Brahminism, which is really what Hinduism is all about, is the caste system, based as it is on the supremacy of the Brahmins and the degradation of the Dalits, treating them worse than animals. Cows, snakes and monkeys are worshipped in Hinduism, while the Dalits are treated worse than vermin. Thus, in order to be liberated from the caste system, the Dalits first need to liberate themselves from Hinduism. That Brahminism spells eternal mental slavery for the Dalits is something that all thinking Dalits are well aware of. That is why Dr. Ambedkar himself announced in 1935 that conversion was a must for Dalit liberation. He himself renounced Hinduism, along with some 400,000 of his followers at a mass ceremony in 1956.

Q: But Ambedkar himself converted to Buddhism, not to Islam?
A: I consider this as the biggest blunder by Ambedkar. But in a sense he was forced into it. You see, I am convinced that Ambedkar was aware that the most effective means for Dalit liberation was through converting to Islam. In this he was following in the tradition of Mahatma Jyotiba Phule, who argued that by becoming Muslims, the Dalits could overcome the stigma of untouchability that the upper castes branded them with. In 1935, in a public address to his fellow Mahars, Ambedkar first spoke out on the need for the Dalits to renounce Hinduism and to convert to another religion. He said that the Dalits could choose from between Sikhism, Christianity or Islam, but added that Islam seemed to offer the Dalits the best deal. He commented on how Muslims are so closely united, and how the bond of Islamic brotherhood has no parallels in any other religious community or tradition. It is revealing to note that at this time he made no mention at all of Buddhism.

Q: Why then did he not convert to Islam himself?
A: I think he was gradually moving in that direction and then the Partition took place in 1947, which made him change his plans. As I see it, he was increasingly co-operating with Muslims on the political plane. The Nizam of Hyderabad granted him a huge sum of money for his educational projects and Muslims in East Bengal helped him get elected to the Constituent Assembly in the face of stiff Hindu opposition. Ordinary Muslim villagers went out of their way to support him in his struggles for justice for the Dalits, as in the case of the well-known Mahar tank agitation to allow Dalits use of village tanks. Ambedkar was also increasingly co-operating with Jinnah and the Muslim League in opposing upper caste hegemony. I think he was quite clear that if the Dalits embraced Islam en masse, then the Muslims would have become the single largest community. He clearly saw how this could empower the Dalits in their struggle.  This is why some sections of the upper castes in the Congress and the Hindu Mahasabha, conspired to drive Jinnah to the wall, and forced him to come out with the demand for Pakistan by refusing to seriously consider any measures for the protection of Muslim interests in a united India. In doing this, they killed two birds with one stone. By creating Pakistan, the upper castes got rid of a large chunk of the Muslim population, and reduced the Muslims remaining in India to a persecuted minority. In addition, by inflaming anti-Muslim prejudice and launching anti-Muslim pogroms, the Dalits were clearly told what fate they would meet if they dared to contemplate converting to Islam. Naturally, in this context, Ambedkar had to change his strategy. Since converting to Islam was now ruled out because that would have meant the mass slaughter of Dalits in every village and town, Ambedkar took to Buddhism as the next best alternative.

Q: How do you see the Buddhist conversion movement today?
A: Very small number of Dalits, mainly among the Mahars of Maharshtra and a section of the Chamars of western Uttar Pradesh have actually converted to Buddhism. So, in that sense, it has not brought all the Dalits of India within its fold. The biggest problem with conversion to Buddhism is that because there was no pre-existing Buddhist community into which they could merge themselves and lose their Dalitness, when Dalits went over to Buddhism they could still be identified as Dalits. In this way, conversion to Buddhism has not been able to rid the Dalits of their Dalit identity, and as long as they are identified as Dalits they cannot escape from the shackles of the caste system. Further, if you see what conversion to Buddhism has actually meant for most Dalits, it appears that this has entailed only a cosmetic change in some rituals. On the whole, however, most Buddhists carry on with their pre-conversion Hindu practices and beliefs. Little wonder then that Hindu chauvinist groups that are so vehemently against Dalits converting to Islam argue that Dalits may, if they like, become Buddhists, because in their view Buddhism is a branch of Hinduism.

Q: If conversion to Buddhism has not been successful in empowering the Dalits, why do you feel Islam is the answer?
A: Islam and Brahminism are two diametrically opposite ideologies. This comes out strikingly if you compare their views on social affairs. Brahminism is based on extreme hierarchy, the caste system, the supremacy of one priestly caste and the slavery of the Dalits. Rama, whom Hindu chauvinists claim as their supreme god, lopped off the head of a Shudra for spiritual austerities that would have taken him to heaven. Contrast this with Islam, which is based on social equality, on the oneness of humanity, of us all as children of Adam and Eve. No religion gives such importance to justice and social equality as Islam does. So, in that sense I see Islam as offering the Dalits a powerful means to challenge the oppression of caste, providing a new social order, a sense of self-respect and a feeling of being accepted as fully human for the Dalits, which Hinduism, of course, cannot provide. In addition, there is this massive Muslim population in India. If the Dalits were to convert to Islam, they could easily be absorbed into the Muslim community, shedding off their Dalit-ness, in the process empowered by joining the fold of a large community.

Q: But surely there is the problem of caste within the Indian Muslim community?
A: Yes, Muslim society in India is characterised by caste-like features. But this is entirely because of the result of living in a largely Hindu environment. Since Islam is fiercely opposed to caste, as Islamic movements for reform gather strength, these distinctions would gradually give way. In my own case, for instance, I was able to marry into a Sayyed family after my divorce. My children, too, have married Muslims who come from so-called upper caste families. That has been no problem at all.

Q: How, as a Muslim, do you see your role in the Dalit liberation project? Do you see any role for Dalit-Muslim dialogue that is not predicated on Dalit conversion to Islam?

A: I am closely involved with various Dalit groups. We have set up a publishing house to bring out literature to show how Islam can offer the Dalits a means to their salvation, freeing them from caste slavery. Further, we have also set up a political party, the Sab Jan Party, All People's Party, which is still in its infancy. Through this party we are trying to bring all oppressed groups on a common plane.


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