Thousands of Dalits from the state gathered at Patapar village near Junagadh and converted to Buddhism with an aim to “walk on the path of Truth” on Sunday.
Eyewitnesses said that around 5,000 Dalits from Saurashtra and Kutch and other parts of the state attended “Chalo Buddh Ki Aur” event and converted to Buddhism in the presence of Bikhhu Sanghasena, the founder of the Mahabodhi International Medication Centre (MIMC), and leaders of Mahabodhi Society from Sri Lanka.
Jaydev Bapa, a revered figure here, was among the Dalits who converted to Buddhism.
“We seek to walk on the path of Truth. Buddhism preaches equality, brotherhood and non-violence. This change would help develop the community,” Deven Vanvi, convenor of Buddha Diksha Mahotsav Samiti (BDMS), an umbrella organisation of Dalit associations, said.
The BDMS had organised the event.
“We all know what is happening in the society. This will change our identity as individuals. If someone asks us who we are, from now on we shall say we are Buddhists, forsaking the term ‘Harijan’ coined by Mahatma Gandhi for us and uncomfortable feelings associated with it,” Vanvi further said. Tushar Shripal, a member of BDMS, said, “This is a matter of self-respect. Being a Dalit is like living in a constant state of humiliation. The change will give people self-respect and self-pride.”
The organisers claimed that the event was largest of its kind in the state. Dalits from Kodinar, Manavadar, Keshod and Junagadh talukas attended the event with entire community.
“We took inspiration from Dr B R Ambedkar and had been planning the event since this February under the guidance of Jaydev Bapa,” Vanvi added.
Dr Ambedkar, the architect of our Constitution, had converted to Buddhism along with scores of his community members in protest against caste prejudice.