Nice Articleship


Following  article is sourced from TOI written by Shobhan Saxena with very simple yet clear understanding of the movement launched by Dr Ambedkar. Mainstream media showing some glimpses of sporadic understanding off late. Anyways for Dalits that doesn’t matter at all. There life is devoid of sensationalism where heart of media lies.  Indian Media is  engulfed into (dignified?) blitz of parties and blockbusters whereas poor dalits fights for dignity everyday. Buddhas teaching supports them.

Better late than never; nice article this time in TOI. Thanks Shobhan!

The return of Gautama 

He was not born free. He was born a dalit. With a raging Ganga tearing down its banks and swallowing villages in its way across the heart of India, the sky pouring sheets of incessant rain, Puttu Lal came into the world on a broken cot, half-submerged in filthy water in a hut, his mother dead from excessive bleeding and his father fighting a water snake. He was born into a family of Musahars, the rat-eaters, the lowest of the low. He was born a Hindu.

He lived with the tag of untouchability, with that smell in his body which comes from eating rats. For the next 50 years, he lived a life of denial. He toiled in the fields, but suffered hunger. His brothers constructed houses for others, but slept under the open sky. They became skeletons. His father starved, decayed and turned into dust. Lal was an animal whom the Brahmins kicked and spat on if he tried to eat or drink with them.

Finally, Puttu Lal broke free. Late in life, at the age of 50, but he was free. Betrayed by the red and blue-faced gods he worshiped for ages, Lal decided to cross the caste barrier, leave the Hindu fold and take refuge in Buddhism. “While we suffered endless poverty and humiliation, the people who oppressed us prospered. The Gods didn’t care for us. They are with caste Hindus. It was time to leave the oppressive religion,” says Lal who now calls himself Bhikshu Sadanand.

With his tonsured pate glistening under the scorching sun, the bhikshu’s eyes turn moist when he talks about why he became a Buddhist. Waves of pain rise and fall on his face as he talks of the atrocities he went through as a Musahar. As they slashed his skin with a butcher’s knife for trying to enter a school as a boy, his mind rebelled against the terrors of the caste system. “I realised that I was doomed forever until I turned my back on this religion and took refuge under the Buddha who fought against the caste system.”

The Buddha described the cosmos as an infinite number of world systems forming, disintegrating and reforming with neither a beginning nor end. Within the worlds, he said, living beings undergo repeated births, deaths and rebirths based on their innate misconception of reality. Turning the Brahmins’ idea of karma on its head, the Buddha said the self was an illusion. Denying the existence of God as well as the soul and rejecting the Brahmins’ “meaningless rituals” for life after death and permanent salvation, he said nirvana was achieved when the self was conquered and all passions and desires were silent and the mind was fully awake and aware of its existence. It was a complete break from Hinduism.

Sitting under a flaming sun, thousands of people decided to join the Buddha’s path at the Mahalaxmi Race Course last week. As hundreds of dalit monks like Sadanand gazed into the sea of humanity breaking its ties with one of the oldest religions in the world, a group of nomads with long matted hair and iron whips in their hands arrived on the scene. They took refuge in Buddhism and burnt their old clothes in a huge bonfire. “We don’t have to break statues to leave Hinduism. We just walk away from the religion and accept Buddhism,” says Ashok Kamble, who came from Kolhapur to Mumbai to take part in the mass conversion.

For some people the rebellion stops at the symbolic conversion. Smothered into the drudgery of their daily life, they find it difficult to follow the Buddha’s path in a system where everything – from politics to jobs to pensions – is governed by caste. But, for people like Kamble, it’s nothing short of a social revolution. He even has objections to the term neo-Buddhist. “We are Buddhist, nothing more, nothing less,” he says, unleashing a torrent of pent-up feelings: The dalits were never Hindus; they were outside the caste system; and the Gods were imposed on them by upper castes who subjugated, exploited and humiliated them, stole their land and robbed them of their dignity. “For us, the conversion is not symbolic. It’s a revolt against Hinduism and the exploitative caste system.”

Some 2,500 years ago, Gautam Buddha travelled around the country giving sermons on his Four Noble Truths and Eight-Fold path. His message was simple: I give you a mantra, you try it. If it works for you, it’s fine. If it doesn’t, you follow your own path. With this simple formula, he initiated millions into the fold. In present day India, the dalits’ conversion to Buddhism is not that simple.

Now, when a neo-Buddhist is initiated into the religion, he takes a 22-point vow: “I shall have no faith in Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara nor shall I worship them… I shall have no faith in Rama and Krishna… I shall have no faith in Gauri, Ganapati and other Gods and Goddesses of Hindus…I do not believe in the incarnation of God… I do not and shall not believe that Lord Buddha was the incarnation of Vishnu… I renounce Hinduism, which is harmful to humanity…I solemnly declare and affirm that I shall hereafter lead my life according to the principles and teachings of the Buddha and his Dhamma.” Some 50 years ago, Dr B R Ambedkar took this pledge with some 400,000 people and became Buddhist. The trend continues today with a greater force. The conversion is not just social reformation; it’s a political statement as well.

This puts the other type of neo-Buddhists, those post-modern city slickers, who, looking for some kind of anchor in their fast-paced lives, turn to the Dalai Lama’s books for some self-help, in an existential dilemma. In the middle of a massive sea of lower caste people, preparing to take a giant leap that will shape the future of society and politics in this country, a few urban gypsies with designer shades and handmade Rajasthani clothes, sitting under their colourful umbrellas, look like a bunch of tourists lost in neverland. “It’s so sad the Dalai Lama could not come for the event. I wanted to see him,” said a south Mumbai lass.

But, for the dalits, the Dalai Lama is not some self-help guru, just like Buddha who was not a simple social reformer. With his thoughts, Buddha changed the social and political landscape of Asia forever. In his second coming, Buddhism is riding on a political awakening. The neo-Buddhists, ready to turn their back on Hinduism and re-draw the caste equations across the country, may be the new agent of change in India. 

Source: TOI

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