Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP) leader Mayawati has threatened that if Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are not ready to stop the atrocities against Dalits and backward castes, she along with her followers will leave Hinduism and embrace Buddhism.
While addressing a BSP workers' conclave barely a kilometer away from RSS headquarters in Nagpur, Mayawati also recalled a similar threat made by Dr Ambedkar in 1935. Dr Ambedkar had then said bluntly that although he was born a Hindu, he would not like to die a Hindu, and have given the Hindu leaders 21 years to reform Hinduism. But, Mayawati pointed out, since they were not prepared to make any change in their attitude, he embraced Hinduism at Nagpur in 1956. So, she said she was allowing a similar opportunity to RSS and BJP to change their approach to Dalits and backward castes and she warned, if they were not prepared to change she would embrace Buddhism at an appropriate time.
This kind of a threat against upper caste hegemony and arrogance is not anything new from the side of Dalit-backward castes. After Babasaheb Ambedkar, the architect of India's constitution, many have tried such a threat and some have converted too. And the one that caused the biggest storm among them was the incident a few decades ago in Meenakshipuram, Tamilnadu where the entire village converted to Islam and renamed the village Rahmat Nagar. It was not a plot of Muslims by lavishing monetary inducements, and by exploiting the poverty of the backward sections, as VHP and Sangh parivar tried to mislead. I n fact, the backward classes were en bloc - and that included doctors, engineers and government officials - were openly turning to Islam and embracing it. It took no time then for the government and Hindu organization to wake up, expedite development activities, throw money liberally, and in addition to all this they threatened the villages to accomplish 'ghar vapasi', but all to no avail: their endeavour did not meet with any success. Even later, there have been instances where threats of conversion surfaced against under-development and neglect in areas thickly populated by Dalits and other backward classes. And there are cases also of mass exodus to Buddhist religion.
But, Mayawati's threat of conversion to Buddhim does not seem have been taken seriously by the upper caste leaders. For, in their eyes Buddhism is Indian, and although Buddhism advocates non-violence in principle, there are those among Buddhist followers, many inclined to violence as in any other community. The world was able to witness the extent of ruthless violence Buddhist monks went to. Historically, at a certain stage of history, the ancient Hindu rulers and kings expelled Buddhism from India. Thus, the number of Buddhists in India is less than one per cent of the population, but Hindutva forces do not have their old hatred or prejudice against Buddhism. And add to it the fact that when Myanmar expelled the Rohingyan Muslims regardless of age or sex, the Modi government did not utter a single word against it. Therefore, in the current circumstances even if BSP president Mayawati and her followers announce their conversion to Buddhism, that may not cause much stir. But the picture would be different if the threat was that they would convert to Christianity or Islam.
Conversion to a religion by those who get convinced that the teachings of a religion are good for humanity and social justice, and without any coercion or inducement, is quite natural and a fulfilment of human freedom. But it is not a healthy practice to raise a threat of conversion for material gains, or even in the name of legitimate demands. In the current atmosphere of the country where stark intolerance, discrimination and equality exist, the struggle against them are not to be conducted through religious conversion or emotional stirrings, but through popular campaigning. The examples of Arab spring and the anti-corruption campaign led by Anna Hazare are cases in point. While it is true that governments and their back-end forces will go to any length to suppress popular resistance, there is no alternative to struggles with perseverance and sacrifice. If Mayawati is ready to rally the Dalit, backward and minority communities in unison, and enter the fray for equal justice and rights, she can certainly defeat state terrorism and upper-caste atrocities.