Conversion wouldn’t improve Dalits’ lot

July 24, 2007

by Krishna Vattam

I have been truant in posting, although there have been a plethora of events in political and social spheres across the globe that exercised my mind. However, I have been inventing petty excuses for not giving vent to my feelings here. True, I have commented on some of these developments through my weekly column in the Kannada daily I edit.

The reports that some of Mysore City Dalit leaders, notably, former union minister Mr V Srinivasa Prasad and reputed writer Mr Devanur Mahadev, embraced Buddhism at a recent function in Bangalore disturbed me. Not because such conversions will affect Hinduism. I was concerned, because such demeaning practices, sought to be associated with the Hindu religion as such, are still followed by sections within the Hindu fold. In my opinion no person with a sense of self respect will stay attached to a religion or a caste that discriminates against and treats as ‘untouchable’ someone within its own fold.

A few months ago when a section of Dalits embraced Buddhism at a function organized in Gulbarga in connection with the golden jubilee celebration of Dr Ambedkar’s conversion to Buddhism, I commented at some public functions that this event should serve to wake up the Hindu religious heads, those Hindu zealots, and organisations who swear in the name of Hinduism These conversions were reflection of the righteous indignation of the oppressed, who may feel that they would be better served by switching their religious faith.

I strongly feel that if such conversions serve to bring about a change in the outlook of tormentors in the name of caste, I wholeheartedly welcome the action of Dalit Leaders. If I were a Dalit, I would have done the same and abdicated a faith that does not respect me. I would have advocated all Dalits to embrace Buddhism. But it is naive for one to believe that with mere change of religion the demeaning practices vis a vis treatment of Dalits can be ended overnight. A person who changes his shirt will remain the same self, A Dalit who changes his religion will remain a dalit till he asserts his being in the same religious- fold.

True, in urban areas, we do not see this pernicious practice. It may be due to fear of being prosecuted or it may due to a feeling that such practices are inhuman. Or, maybe due to cosmopolitan environment of the city. The rural scene is different. Some elites among Dalits, English-speaking and well placed, embrace Buddhism, leaving a sea of the vast , preponderant, illiterate section of the Dalits behind. Aren’t they being escapist? Real role models are those who choose to remain within one’s fold to fight it out.

Dalits would do well to shed their inferiority complex and take pride in being what they are. We see this awakening in Andhra Pradesh where Dalits affix their caste identity along with their names, like Krishna Madiga and Rama Mala. The elite among the Dalits who have climbed up the ladder should turn towards those who have remained outside the purview of reservation.

I am referring to creamy layer concept. Why should children of IPS, IAS, KAS officers, MLAs, Judges, MPs, amongt the Dalits, continue to enjoy benefits of reservation? They can set an example by foregoing their entitlement as Dalits, to enable their lesser brethern to maximise social benifits extended to their caste members under the quota system.

However, I see some good tidings sweeping in parts of the Country. Sri Pejawar Swamji has been saying on a number of pub lic platforms that it was high time the Hindus, who still believed in discrimination, looked inwards. Introspection is the operative word.

(Krishna Vattam is the veteran Deccan Herald and Praja Vani journalist, currently the editor-in-chief of Praja Nudi and The Mysore Mail.)


10 Responses to “Conversion wouldn’t improve Dalits’ lot”

  1. refractor Says:

    I am also not sure of role of conversion in improvement in welfare of untouchables.

  2. mouna Says:

    well-written sir. why would anybody remain in a particular religion and its community if she/he is not even recognised?

    the elite who are catogarized as dalits should improve their kin. it’s a pity that it does not happen so.

  3. Mudnakudu Chinnaswamy Says:

    I request Mr.Krishna Vattam to read Dr.B.R.Ambedkars’s “WHY GO FOR CONVERESION’. Then, I hope he will be convinced. Dalit Ideology stems out of Ambedkarism, whereas the upper caste intelligentia is turning a blind eye towards the huge literature that Ambedkar created. The gap is therefore very wide.

    It is easy to brand those who convert as escapists. It is an escape from humiliation, insults. (Remember Mr.K.R.Narayanan’s episode at France, Mr.Jagjivanram’s humiliation at Kashi). Conversion for a Dalit is a route to escape from the onslaught on self respect. There’re innumerable instances being reported in the press day-in and day-out. They do not uphold the dignity of the nation. As per a recent report no caste Hindu will rent a house for a dalit in the main localities of Ahmadabad however educated, well placed he is. Therefore it is said that some 300 dalit housing societies have come up in Ahmadabad alone.

    It is easily advised that, the Dalit who acquired certain status in the society should look back and bring up their brethren. It is very interesting! When the caste Hindus continue to practice the same old system of untouchability, perpetrate other discriminations, is it possible to bring about change by themselves.

    Gandhiji’s agenda for solving this problem was to change the upper caste mind set. He failed. Therefore, Ambedkar took this stand and advised dalits to embrace Buddhism which is very, very Indian (Shirt).

  4. Resourceful Says:

    Sir, You have raised a relevant point “Why should children of IPS, IAS, KAS officers, MLAs, Judges, MPs, amongt the Dalits, continue to enjoy benefits of reservation? But how many of these so called educated and elite will come forward and forego these benefits. They want an easy way out for their children to join the elite club.

  5. Dr (Lt.Col.) Y.N.I Says:

    I agree with Shri Vattam albeit partly. Had I been a Dalit and had been discriminated against, I would NOT have run away to embrace another religion but stayed on fighting, utilising all the available options provided by the constitutions. The Dalits need an attitudinal change much more than by the caste Hindus. If I am proud of belonging to a particular sect or caste, so should be a dalit as is the case in AP. Unfortunately, while the lower strata are being discriminated by their own brethren, their upper echelons corner all the available benefits leaving the downtrodden far behind. It is this aspect that needs to be addressed rather than rushing to provide them with more benefits. You can not make a tiger out of a lion merely by changing his hide!!

  6. B.R. & Shamala Says:

    Following a faith should come from within. A true follower is one who adhears to the truths of that faith. Buddha, ashamed by his selfish life of splendor and influenced by the Upanishads founded Buddhism. Converting to Buddhism therefore calls for adhering to its four truths, 1. that there is suffering in life, 2. which is caused by desire and attachment to transient things, and 3. to cease suffering one must end desire and attachment, and 4. to eliminate attachment and desire one must pursue righteous behavior and attitude. I am sure these erudite people would have thought about this before converting.


  7. latha vidyaranya Says:

    thats a nice interesting and thought provoking post. as some reader has mentioned, the dalits need to be uplifted and strengthened by their own lot who have already come up socially making use of the social benefits made available to them by the government. ofcourse, it is the duty of every Hindu to see that others come up in life too, becoz our basic tenet says “sarve bhavantu sukhinah” and “samasta loka sukhino bhavantu”. it is very correct to expect those dalits who have already made their foothold strong in our society through their education and hard work to lend a hand to their brethern to make use of the facilities offered to come up in life. it is very sad and shameful to each one of us when we try to pass the buck to someone else, totally ignoring our own social responsibility,ignoring these heinous untouchable practices. we need to advocate for them in our own small social spheres, like for example, encouraging the children of our maid servant to study well and come up in life, or to educate the labourer at a construction site to send his child to school and not use his services to build another concrete structure. “each one uplift one” policy can help better their lot much more effectively than mere conversion into another faith.

    latha vidyaranya

  8. Nagarajan S Says:

    I would not blame the Dalits for doing what they did – after facing discrimination that has continued across milleniums, I think it is safe to say that they have lost hope. Another important point mentioned is that of the creamy layer taking up some of the benefits meant for them. but I think this is the way it works, whether we like it or not.

    It is sad that on the same day I receive an article about an Indian woman protesting against dowry harrasment by her in laws in a public way, I also read this article about Dalits. For all the invaders who inflicted a great deal of harm on us, I don’t think any one has hurt India more than Indians themselves. And thats a great shame.

    Things are changing – women today have far greater freedoms than before. the same thing with the Dalits – but of course, there is a long, long way to go. One thing that might fasten this process is giving them avenues to improve their financial situation.

    I think we may have to go the Chinese way – give people a chance at a better life by training them in the manufacturing industry. But of course treat them with more compassion. this may not be the perfect solution -but when we make people learn a productive skill and make them feel good about themselves, we would have made a good start. This has to be in parallel with giving more education to girls especially in villages.

    But none of these things are going to matter much as long as India is strongly entrenched in the caste system. It may take yet another millenium for real progress. as sad as it is to acknowledge, we probably need a thousand years !

  9. refractor Says:

    To the best of my knowledge Dr. B. R. Ambedkar said that his own people had betrayed him. This statement he made in Agra.
    How right he was ? Please consider his statement in view of contribution of Dalit elites to their own less fortunate brethren.

  10. Sathya Says:

    It is not that other people are exploiting them. They have it within themselves. Educated and not-so-educated, left and right hand factions in them, too much of selfish attitde, cornering all athe available benefits by a few selected , all these are contributing to widen the gap. No religion can give them salvation. It is the self-effort and self-realization that are more important. The so-called leaders amongst them are misleading the people by such tricks. If somebody wants to be in limelight whether in power or out of power they do all these things, just like politicians approaching the people just before elections and conveninetly forgetting them after the elections. Thanks Vattam for venting your feelings

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