Friday, October 18, 2013

Conversions in Gujarat: Whom Does Modi Represent?

by Badri Raina,   Sri Lanka Guardian, October 17, 2013

 In the wake of his conflict with Gandhi over the caste/Dalit question, B.R.Ambedkar, later to be the chief architect of India’s Constitution making, had determined, as early as 1935—the year the Government of India Act was passed—to leave the Hindu fold.

Upon a deeply considered evaluation of the social content of all major religious faiths, Ambedkar chose the Buddhist faith as the most befitting social/spiritual anchor because of the explicit rejection in the Buddhist Dhamma of all constructions of inequality among humankind. And a full two decades after his first resolve to abandon Hinduism, on October 14, 1956, this agonized doyen of the downtrodden took his vows at Nagpur alongwith some 3,80,000 Dalits, the date of his conversion recalling the conversion of the Maurya King, Ashok, to Buddhism after his revulsion at the massacres at the battle of Kalinga, third century B.C.

It must be tellingly ironical that a full half century after Ambedkar’s conversion the next mass exodus of Dalits from Hinduism should have occurred just a few days ago in the land of Moditva/Hindutva at Junagarh in Gujarat. At this event, some 100,000 took their Buddhist vows, which include the clear enunciation by the convertees that “Ram and Krishna are not (our) gods.”

Pointedly, this mass rejection of Hinduism has not taken place in some Indian state where scant claims are made for “Hindu nationalism,” but in the one state of Gujarat which under Modi has sought over a decade to consolidate Hindutva. Just to recall, not too long ago, Modi defined himself unproblematically as a “Hindu nationalist,” leaving many to wonder whether others might then define themselves as “Muslim or Christian or Sikh nationalists” without causing Hindutva hackles to go up.

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