How the Hathras Horror is Pushing More and More Dalits to Convert to Buddhism

Social Commentary

How the Hathras Horror is Pushing More and More Dalits to Convert to Buddhism

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A spate of horrific caste-based crimes, most notably the rape and murder of a Dalit woman in UP’s Hathras, and the murder of a Dalit activist in Gujarat, may have gone unnoticed by those in power, but have clearly angered those from the Valmiki community.

Last week, as many as 236 members of the community in the Karera village of Ghaziabad decided they had had enough, and converted en masse to Buddhism. The pledges were delivered on October 14, which is notably the date B R Ambedkar converted along with nearly 3.65 lakh followers 64 years ago.

The oaths were administered in the presence of Ambedkar’s great grandson Rajaratna Ambedkar. A number of the villagers said that the Hathras incident and the UP administration’s handling of the case was the final straw. They told reporters that they had lost faith in the state government after news broke that the police cremated the body of the 19-year-old woman in the middle of the night.

The families, who have now received certificates from the Indian Buddhist General Assembly, also said they were suffering from mounting financial crises, complaints about which have fallen on deaf ears.

“No fees were taken for this. After adopting Buddhism, we have been told to undertake good activities like social service,” one of the villagers, Bir Singh, clarified in News18.

“After what happened in Hathras with the 19-year-old Dalit woman, we decided to convert,” he said. “There is no caste in Buddhism; no one is a Thakur or a Valmiki there. Everyone is a human being, everyone is just a Buddhist,” a 65-year-old told The Indian Express.

“Upper-caste children don’t want to sit with our children; teachers want our children to be backbenchers. Why? Because of their surname: ‘Valmiki’. So we will change it. This is for our future,” another villager was quoted as saying.

In the weeks after the Hathras incident first came to light in September, many members of the Valmiki community, which the 19-year-old victim was a part of, held protests across the state, and country. The crime had caused an international outcry, especially over allegations that the state was trying to cover up the extent of the brutality.

“An upper caste man who was walking by said that night: ‘Fasi lagwa di hamare beton ko? Mil gayi shanti?’” one of the members of the community told The Print in an indication of the highhandedness the community must deal with even to this day.

According to the report, the sharp caste divide in Karera is visible. Upper-caste localities are characterised by large houses and clean alleys while the land allotted to the Valmikis is characterised by shoddy two-room houses and open drains.

Even so, there has been a massive debate over the last few weeks on whether caste-based crimes are as common today as they once were. But as this story — and the headlines from the last few weeks — prove, there are no two sides to this debate.