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Has Conversion Helped the Dalits?

Avinash Kolhe

By Johannes Beltz
Manohar Publishers, Delhi, 2005, pp. 309, Rs. 750.00


Ambedkar led the revolt of the dalits of Maharashtra in October 1956 when he along with his thousands of supporters publicly converted to Buddhism. Since then this action has been discussed many times by too many scholars. The year 2006 saw the golden jubilee of this historic event. No wonder there were national seminars, symposia, books and research articles all over the country. Some scholars are keenly studying this phenomenon. Johannes Beltz is one such scholar. Buddhist and Dalit: Religious Conversion and Socio-Political Emancipation published by Manohar Beltz is an old hand at this. He has been seriously looking at this issue for quite some time. He has earned his Ph.D.on this subject.   Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar [born 1891] was a scholar-politician who became the undisputed leader of the Dalits of Maharashtra from the 1920s onwards till death claimed him in 1956, a few months after he converted to Buddhism. He was a rare individual to have led the Dalit society. Unlike Maharshi Shinde, Mahatma Gandhi, and other well-meaning upper-caste leaders he was one of them. Ambedkar, born into Mahar community, knew first hand what meant to be a dalit in Indian society. Unlike other Dalit leaders he was highly educated [a Ph. D. from Columbia University, USA and Bar-at-Law from Grey Inn, UK]. No wonder he was and is deeply revered by the dalits. He taught them to hold their heads high. He not only led a religious revolt, he also led a socio-cultural-political revolt against the upper caste domination. In his long public career he declared in 1935 that though he is a born Hindu, he shall never die as a Hindu. Much before the actual conversion he had shown his resolve to opt out of Hindu fold some day or the other.   Beltz was curious to see what changes, if any, the conversion to Buddhism have brought into the Dalit society. His fieldwork was confined to urban areas in and around Pune as well as Mumbai city. His interviews, his field notes reveal a different and fascinating world of Dalits of Maharashtra. He was curious to understand whether mass conversions were a social movement or a religious movement. This book is a product.   Dalits in India are a unique social group who face social segregation as well as economic exploitation. The author has spent a few pages in trying to trace the origin of caste system, the notions of purity. He ...

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