The Dalits, or untouchables, in India lead an oppressed life with almost non-existent access to education or jobs. The discrimination against them continues to be ramped even in a democracy as their place in society is inseparable with the Hindu religion and its caste system. Since India’s independence in 1948, there have been several attempts at reforming the caste system through political means, such as the implementation of a quota system, and also through revolt in various manners. None of these methods have substantially helped the Dalits better their situation though. This led Dalit leader Dr. B.R. Ambedkar to conclude that the only effective means of escaping the tyranny of the caste system was to convert to another religion. His religion of choice became Buddhism, and he led a mass conversion of Dalits in 1956. Since this day, there has been a large movement of Dalits converting to Buddhism as a means of evading the caste system and improving their socio-economic situation. It is an anti-caste movement, and has actually very little to do with Buddhism itself. Many converts have very little idea about the teachings of Buddhism and continue to follow Hindu traditions. The movement has increased the number of Buddhists in the country from about 3 million in 1956 to about 35 million today. The gains made by those who have converted to Buddhism are negligible though. They are still seen by upper-caste Hindus as untouchables and haven’t gained any kind of new privileges. What many converts have gained is what can be described as a sort of mental liberation. They have gained a sense of self-worth and do not think of themselves as untouchables any longer. In some cases, this has led them to seek out education and better themselves in a way they didn’t feel worthy of doing before.
|School:||The American University of Paris (France)|
|Source:||MAI 56/02M(E), Masters Abstracts International|
|Subjects:||Religion, Asian History, South Asian Studies|
|Keywords:||Buddhism, Caste system, Dalits, India|
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