Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Business of caste - Dalits convert to Buddhism

In one of largest mass conversions in India, thousands of lower caste men and tribals converted to Buddhism recently in Mumbai. In a hope that they would finally be ejected out of a discriminating religion which categorizes men into higher and lower merely based on which families they are born into. It is a futile hope. In India, you can never shake off your caste identities even if you change your religion. For example, there are dalits who are lower caste Hindus, and then there are Muslim dalits, Christian dalits and even Sikh dalits. Identity like Christian dalit sounds misnomer as Christianity does not have any notion of caste but when a dalit converts into Christianity he takes his caste along with him and there is even attempt to legitimize these identities when politicians demand reservation for converted dalits. Castism is a social problem and caste identities are so deeply ingrained in rural India that even if a person converts into a different religion he can not escape his caste. People in his village, in his neighborhood, in his social circle would always know what caste he belonged to. I said rural India because it is village which is really the den of caste based discrimination. Cities are product of migration of people and often in cities caste identities tend to evaporate. Even if it does not totally become irrelevant, it blurs as cities are melting pots. Cities provide certain amount of anonymity and loosely coupled social fabric which makes caste based identities less visible. Cities are also about economic activities and ability of a person to contribute in them takes precedence over his caste background .I am not saying that cities are about equality but a dalit person is less likely to be identified by his caste and stopped from entering a Hindu temple in a city than he is in his own village. As India become more urbanized, would caste identities become irrelevant is something left to be seen.

Ambedkar, the first dalit leader of modern India and author of our constitution realized this fact that caste in India is difficult to escape when he was stopped form entering a temple in Nasik in 1930. So dismayed was he with incident that he proclaimed that though he was born a Hindu he would never die in that discriminating religion and eventually few months before he died, he converted en-mass with his followers to Buddhism. What has been happening in Punjab is also a stark reminder of how deeply rooted castism is in Indian society. Sikh religion was created during a dark period in Hindu religion when it was under threat from Mugul (arab-muslim) invaders and from its own ritualistic distortions and brahmnical corruptions. The main teachings of Sikhism were based on equality and outright rejection of caste. So it is quite ironical that in today's rural Punjab, large number of backwards and dalit Sikhs feels discriminated and left out by mainstream Sikhism which is controlled by a body which is brahmnical equivalent of Sikhism. The Dera phenomenon which has gathered momentum in rural Punjab is a reaction to this very fact. People, who have felt marginalized by high body of Sikhism, flock to deras to get their fix of religion. The recent violence in Punjab between a dera followers and Akali Sikhs can be understood in this light as a power struggle between those who control the religion and those who feel left out and seek other alternatives. As I had mentioned in my post on social groups, it is a classic case of a social group (Sikh) conflict when members of a group desert it to form another group.

The mass conversion of dalits and tribals can perhaps be termed as political stunt by certain dalit politicians of Maharashtra but it is important to see it from another perspective which is that of emergence and assertiveness of dalits as political force in India. The fact that last month a dalit party, BSP, won elections with majority seats in most populous state of India and a dalit is chief minister is indication of this fact. What is unique about this new found political awareness is the fact that instead of being used as a pawn and vote bank in political equations by national parties, BSP has forged its own alliances to seize the power, signaling a shift in political maturity of the party. How interesting is it that BSP a party of dalits and lower caste has forged alliance with higher caste Brahmins and even fielded high caste candidates to seize the power taking most of national parties by complete surprise. What it would do to political landscape in India and how it would change social profile of dalits would make an engaging spectacle.

4 comments:

Khawatein Voice said...

Islam, Pseudo Dalitism and the Philosophy of Hypocrisy

If we look at the society around us, we find good and bad everywhere. In every stratum, in every caste, in every religion we have good and bad people. A poor should be called a poor, and a rich, a rich. Being poor doesn’t make one a good person, and being rich doesn’t make one a bad person. Goodness and Badness is not dependent one’s level of income. It’s an innate nature of human beings.

However, this innate nature is often influenced by external conditioning – such as family environment, immediate society, education, religion etc. To a Christian or a Hindu, the influence of his religion is not as strong as that on a Muslim (male). This is because a non-Muslim is never “conditioned” to think in one way - as a Muslim man is conditioned to think. A Muslim man cannot think beyond Koran. Dr. Zakir Naik of Islamic Research Foundation rightly says that for Muslims like him Koran is the benchmark for everything. Science is okay in as far as it agrees with Koran. It’s a different matter that Muslim scholars strive to extrapolate, mince and misinterpret Koranic verses to prove that they contend with science. Koran and Science is a new area of research for these Muslim “scientists” (people like Dr. Zakir Naik) to prove that Science agrees with Koran (and, not otherwise). All developments of science - theories, postulates, theorems and axioms are there in Koran, which need to be researched, unveiled and exposed. Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, Quantum theory, Concepts of relativity, Postulates of Darwin… etc. are all there in Koran. Prophet Mohammed was not only a prophet; he was also a scientist-par-excellence. He had his own research laboratory with 11 lab assistants (you guess the names). It’s an irony that the developed world doesn’t recognize his scientific genius. One Koran is enough to replace all books on Math, Physics, Chemistry, Botany, and Anthropology… by just knowing and understanding the Koran, a person can understand all the secrets of nature.

The Rich Dalits and Muslims… Thriving on Hypocrisy and Hatred towards Hinduism

I must not deviate. Though I am a Muslim myself (a true Muslim never deviates), I am in the habit of deviating from the right path (the path of Islam) and search for newer paths. The Koran in Surah 2 (The Heifer) talks about these hypocrites like me. I, on my part, would like to talk about the hypocrites like VT Rajshekar (Editor of magazine “Dalit Voice”), Kancha Ilaiah (of “Why I am Not a Hindu” fame), Zakir Naik (Dr. Koran)… and the likes. These people portray themselves as oppressed and subjugated – as if all the agonies and sorrows on earth have befallen them. So beautifully they craft words to win audience, that the true Dalits – the really true Dalits, who are really oppressed and exploited, lose their voice. Has anyone enquired into the personal lives of these pseudo-dalits? Are they really dalits? To talk about the rights of dalits is welcome – but who is the real dalit? Whose voice is unheard of? These powerful men have themselves become rich talking about dalits and Islam, but we Muslim women continue to remain under misery and desolation. Do Muslim women have any voice? I was luckier that I married a non-Muslim. And today I have the freedom to write about the issues beyond the veil. The dalits of India are not as exploited as these leaders portray them to be. The plight of dalits (other than Muslim women) has more monetary nuances than otherwise. The oppressed are they who are financially weak. The financially strong, from whatever lower caste they may come from, are not oppressed. And this oppression too is sporadic and milder compared to the oppression that Muslim women face. India offers its citizens far more rights than any other country. But Muslim women are really oppressed, irrespective of their financial status. And the reasons are religious, not political or otherwise. Only Islam is responsible for their poor condition.

Majority of the Hindus are liberal, respectful to other faiths and peace-loving

My husband is a Hindu, loves me, and respects Islam more than I myself. I must say, that India offers tremendous freedom to people to speak their mind. Anti-Hindu books have sold like hot cakes – bought predominantly by Hindus only. Hindus have tremendous tenacity to accept criticism. Anti-Islam literature is mostly available online (many Islamic countries do not permit thought-provoking sites such as faithfreedom.org), but you’d find anti-Hindu books in Hindu shops! What does it speak of? If Hinduism is really that bad, if it is really that oppressive, it’d oppress anti-Hindu publications also. But it never did so. Go to any railway book stall beside Gita-Press outlet and you can freely ask for a copy of Kancha Ilaiah’s “Why I am Not a Hindu?” You can also frivolously tell the Hindu bookseller how much praise you have heard about this book from Dr. Zakir Naik (Dr. Koran) or VT Rajshekar. But I can assure you, you’d never get a hard copy of “Why I am Not a Muslim” by Ibn Warraq anywhere in India, neither in Hindu shops, nor in Muslim shops. [Read my post “Mr. Kancha Ilaiah - Why I Am Not a Muslim!’ You can use the search field on top left of this page]. You’d never get published copies of all those articles posted by Brother Ali Sina (and party) on their website http://www.faithfreedom.org. Ask for VT Rajshekar’s “Dalit Voice”, and you can easily get it in your city if you do a little search. VT Rajshekar calls the Brahmins cunning – and it’s an irony that his so called “Brahmin-ruled” India hasn’t banned his books and magazine.

The Role of Media and Non-Muslims in Converting Muslim Women to Other Faiths

It’s high time that media highlights the pathetic condition of Muslim women across the globe. Let not get swayed away by the baseless rants of these hypocrites. Dalitism for them is a money-making affair. The best leaders of dalits were people like Buddha, Guru Nanak, Sufiyan Thuri, Hazrat Khwaja Garib Nawaz, Sant Ravidas, Baba Bulleh Shah, Sri Ramakrishna… who really strove for an egalitarian society... without making their life-goal a money making business. At least, they were not hypocrites.

In the end, I’d reiterate that the real dalits of India are Muslim women. They hardly have any say in anything. True liberation can only come if non-Muslims come forward to help them. Their plight is more religious than economic. They have been victims of the lop-sided and prejudiced teachings of Koran that has pushed them much behind their own men-folk (who are already behind other men of their age) in terms of education and better lifestyle. True revolution can only come if Muslim women marry non-Muslims. Christians can play a more important role. Missionaries can come forward and attract Muslim women to their fold. Secular Christian education can really go a long way in improving the status of Muslim women. Hindus need to be more liberal in converting people to their faith. There is serious lack of missionary zeal among Hindu organizations – most of them are only indolent outfits busy stopping converts to Christianity. I strongly feel that the plight of Muslim women can improve only if both Hindus and Christians come forward to uplift them. The Sikhs and Buddhists can also play important roles. Buddhists have far more missionary zeal compared to Hindus. Moreover, many Buddhists and Christians in India are non-vegetarians. This would facilitate easy conversion of Muslim women to their faiths. Let us come forward to help the really deserving dalits – the Muslim women who have been victims of worst kind of gender bias for centuries.

Mrs. Haseena Khatun, MA
Editor, Khawatein Voice
www.khawatein.blogspot.com

devang j pandya said...

Buddha did great work in his times by bringing people of different groups together for a common cause- 'spiritualism'. In fact, he is considered as the 9th avatar of God according to Hindu texts. Such was his greatness!!
However, the belief that Buddhism brought about 'social equality' is a bit misplaced. If Buddhism was meant to bring about social equality, then why did it have to leave India, even when it had established itself in India for 1000 years? And how come the '4-varna system' was able to re-establish itself, if it was unfair, because even now the 'general' or 'open' Hindu category is only 20% of the total Hindus, and it must have been the same then. Then how was it possible for those 20% 'general' Hindus to overpower/convince the other 80% Hindus to re-establish an 'unfair' 4-varna system, especially if Buddhism was supposed to have established 'social equality' for 1000 years!!! There seems to be no historical event that certifies such an overturn.
Also, if Buddhism advocates social equality, then why was there no social equality in China for 1950 years out of the 2000 years that Buddhism has been there ?(China has become a people's republic only in last 60 years). And even now there is social inequality in China!!
Buddha was the one who guided the people towards spritualism in dark times, but the concept of Buddhism bringing about 'social equality' seems to have a lot of political undertones rather than facts, most probably of cross-border origin. Lets not disgrace Buddha by creating a divide between 'general' category & 'other' categories of Hindus.

Ravana said...

There is no either controlling god or creating god according to the buddhism. But other main religions(Islam/Christian) has depend on faith. It has either creating and controlling god concept.
According to the buddhism, We are controlling by ourselves. Thinking is being done by our minds. We will get decession according to the now observation and previous experiences. So that is why, loard Buddha taught us that our mind is contriled by our selves, but not out side unseen god...

underover Indian said...

Buddha was a master. Enlightened soul. His teaching was simple. He said that path to God lies within you. He learnt this path from Kriya yogis of those times and perfected it for himself.

Just like other masters, Buddha's followers twisted and turned his teachings. Many couldn't understand what he said.

But religion is not about finding god or spirit, but is about politics of control.