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‘Kept out of temple, fined for touching idol’: Dalits in Karnataka’s Shorapur are adopting Buddhism

Many from Yadgir district's Dalit community are adopting BR Ambedkar’s Buddhism which focuses on social justice. Over 100 men and women chose to convert at an event held Friday.

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Shorapur, Karnataka: Shorapur taluk of Karnataka’s Yadgir district Friday witnessed a mass conversion event where over a hundred Dalit men and women adopted Buddhism on the occasion of Buddha Dhamma Diksha, which marks the day social reformer B. R. Ambedkar embraced the religion 66 years ago.

The event comes days after Yadgir’s Dalit community renounced Hinduism and threw photographs of Hindu gods in the Krishna river, a video of which went viral earlier this week.

Explaining their action as a “respectful visarjan” (immersion), some of the men who took part told ThePrint that they were rejecting the Hindu religion and adopting Ambedkar’s version of Buddhism.

“Just a few months ago, in a nearby village, the upper caste people did not allow Dalits to enter an Anjaneya (Hanuman) temple. We had to get the police and local authorities involved and only then did the doors open,” said Venkatesh Hosmani, one of the men.

“It’s 2022 and we are still seeing all this. If practicing Hindus do not see Dalits as equal, if Hinduism does not call us equal, then why should we practice it anymore?” he added.

Day before the ‘visarjan’, a Dalit boy’s family was fined Rs 60,000 in Kolar district for touching a pole attached to an idol of a Hindu deity.

Hosmani is not shocked. “This has been going on for years and will continue to happen. We cannot even sit with all of them and pray together. BJP MP (A.) Narayanaswamy was not allowed to enter a temple in his village just because he was a Dalit. When such powerful people are not able to do anything, we are small people. How can we fight?”

The men in the ‘visarjan’ video are part of the Golden Cave Buddha Vihar Trust which was started last year described by members as a ‘sub-group’ of a Dalit welfare organisation called the ‘Dalit Sangathan Samithi’.

The police have said that they have not yet received any complaints in relation to the Shorapur incident.

“Our intention was not to hurt or disrespect anyone or any religion. In fact, what we did was a respectful visarjan. We normally leave idols in water bodies, so we, too, took the photographs and left them in our holy Krishna River’s water,” said Rahul Hullimani, a member of the Golden Cave trust.

Asked why they didn’t just give away the photographs to any practicing Hindu, Hullimani said that no one from other castes would be open to taking them.

“Upper caste people don’t even sit next to us or take water from us. You think they would take these photos? Even within the Dalit community, those still following Hinduism might not take it because they believe our karma might get transferred to them. So, we thought it best to do an immersion. We took the photographs that were at our homes,” he added.

The Shorapur assembly constituency is an ST-reserved constituency. Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai’s government had last week announced that it would enhance reservations for the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes community.

Karnataka is likely to go for polls next year.

Also read: Are Brahmins the Whites of India, and Dalits the Blacks of India? Is Caste Same as Race?

Ambedkar’s re-interpretation

On 14 October 1956, Ambedkar had, along with over 3.5 lakh followers, left Hinduism, which he considered a threat to freedom because it propagated the caste system, and embraced Buddhism.

His re-interpretation, often referred to as the Dalit Buddhist movement, Navayana, or Neo-Buddhism — rejected the “four noble truths” of traditional Buddhism, and was instead remodeled with a focus on class struggle and social justice.

But broadly, Ambedkar preferred Buddhism over other religions as he found the practice more suitable to liberate the marginalised sections of society.

For the Yadgir Dalits, the adoption of Buddhism was not an overnight move. They had been wanting to do it for almost four years or more, they said. Some of them, who haven’t officially converted to Buddhism yet, have stopped practicing Hinduism, they added.

“I took time to understand Buddhism and what Ambedkar’s idea of Buddhism is. I spent years gaining knowledge on his idea of the religion liberating the community. After all, all that he preached or wanted was equality and social justice,” said Hullimani.

For 51-year-old Naganna Kaladevanahalli, who adopted Buddhism in the 1990s, choosing Buddhism was like “coming home”.

“Our constitution rightfully allows us to practice any religion we want. We are not doing anything wrong. We will still be under the Scheduled Castes category. Basically, we are continuing the legacy of our Baba Saheb [Ambedkar],” he said.

‘We carry baggage of being untouchables’

According to members of Shorapur’s Dalit community ThePrint spoke to, not much discrimination is seen in the municipal town area, but is very much prevalent in the villages of the taluk.

One of the key landmarks in the urban Shorapur town, spread over an area of just 14 km, is an Ambedkar statue. In a bustling area near it stand three flags in a row — a Buddhist flag, a saffron flag for Hinduism and a blue ‘Jai Bhim’ Dhamma chakra flag.

“We live peacefully in the town, but that does not mean our community is being treated as equal. We carry that baggage of being untouchables and it is being practiced in villages. I have been stopped twice in the past few years from entering temples in some villages,” Hosmani, quoted earlier, said.

He further explained that there are still villages in their taluk where if there is death in a Dalit family, hotels or shops (run by upper caste people) are shut down. “Because Dalits from other villages, relatives of the deceased will be coming to the village and they might come to their places and drink water or such.”

When ThePrint visited the Shorapur police station, in the town, Inspector Sunil V. M. confirmed that the most such recent incident was in a village named Kirdhalli in the taluk.

“They do not accept that they’re shutting down for such a reason, but instead say it is an age-old tradition to shut down the place when a death happens. When you ask what’s the reason behind the tradition, there is no answer. And this is limited only to deaths in Dalit families,” he added.

(Edited by Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri)

Also read: ‘I’m Dalit but identify as a Brahmin’ — How Dalit comedians in India are smashing elite nexus


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