Around 500 Dalits from various parts of Gujarat embraced Buddhism on Tuesday (October 8) in three separate programmes held in Ahmedabad, Mehsana and Idar of Sabarkantha district on the occasion of Vijayadashami.
The day of Vijayadashami holds a special significance in Buddhism in India. It was on a Vijayadashami day on October 14, 1956 that Dr B R Ambedkar famously embraced Buddhism along with lakhs of his supporters in Maharashtra.
Figures from the 2011 census confirm that there are more than 200 million Scheduled Castes (the official term for Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist Dalits) in India.
Untouchability is the idea that coming into contact with a Dalit would make an upper-caste Hindu impure was made illegal in India's 1959 Constitution. However, discrimination and segregation continues.
India's Caste System
To borrow Archana Chaudhry of Bloomberg, seven decades ago, the founders of post-colonial India outlawed caste discrimination and enshrined affirmative action in the constitution. That included reserving government jobs and places in higher education for Dalits. Yet caste remains a significant factor in deciding everything from family ties and cultural traditions to educational and economic opportunities, especially in small towns and villages, where more than 70% of Indians live.
Nearly a third of Dalits make less than $2 a day and many don't have access to education or running water. Most menial jobs are carried out by Dalits; few office jobs are.
Hate crimes against Dalits have proliferated in recent years, prompting criticism of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party for stoking social divisions. The party is the natural home for Hindu hardliners, some of whom have attacked Muslims for eating beef and lower-caste Hindus over their links to the beef trade. (Hindus consider cows sacred.) Dalits have taken to the streets by the tens of thousands to protest and to demand better rights.
Plight of Dalits in India worsened under Modi
There is a rise in rape cases against Dalits since 2014 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi's RSS backed government into power.
The current scenario is very disturbing, the Milli Gazette of New Delhi wrote and gave few instances: A 20-year old Dalit girl of Rohtak was gangraped by five men belonging to upper castes on 13 July, 2016.
The girl was gangraped by the same group two years ago in 2013 in Bhiwani. As the accused got bail, they again committed the heinous crime to take revenge from her for not withdrawing charges against them in exchange for some money.
On 25 July, 2016, a 14-year old Dalit girl succumbed to death after getting raped frequently by a man who allegedly tortured her and compelled her to drink some corrosive substance. She was tortured for two months but the accused people have not been arrested yet.
'Hidden Apartheid' of Discrimination Against Dalits
India has systematically failed to uphold its international legal obligations to ensure the fundamental human rights of Dalits, or so-called untouchables, despite laws and policies against caste discrimination, the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice and Human Rights Watch said in a new report released in February 2007. The 113 page report was titled: "Hidden Apartheid: Caste Discrimination against India's 'Untouchables'."
A resolution passed by the European Parliament on February 1, 2007 found India's efforts to enforce laws protecting Dalits to be "grossly inadequate," adding that "atrocities, untouchability, illiteracy, [and] inequality of opportunity, continue to blight the lives of India's Dalits." The resolution called on the Indian government to engage with CERD in its efforts to end caste-based discrimination. Dalit leaders welcomed the resolution, but Indian officials dismissed it as lacking in "balance and perspective."