Una Flogging Victims, 450 Dalits Convert To Buddhism After Gujarat Govt Fails To Provide Alternate Livelihood
The Dalit Sarvaiya family, whose four members were thrashed in 2016 for skinning a dead cow in Gujarat’s Una, were attacked again on April 25 by one of the accused who is presently out on bail. The Sarvaiyas have converted to Buddhism to escape the oppression of the caste system.
At the event organised in Mota Samadhiyala village, 450 Dalits embraced the faith, as claimed by the organisers. Dalits are a minority in Gujarat – 7% of the state’s population.
The decision to convert into Buddhism was taken early in January this year after the Sarvaiyas alleged that the Gujarat government did not uphold its promise to give the victims a piece of land and government jobs.
The call for this religious conversion was made by the Sarvaiyas, who wished to follow Ambedkar’s footsteps. In 1956, Dr B R Ambedkar launched the Dalit Buddhist movement when nearly half a million Dalits – or untouchables – rejected Hinduism and with it the caste system thereby, embracing Navayana Buddhism.
The Quint interviewed the head of the Sarvaiyas, Balu Sarvaiya, who said, “Skinning dead cattle is our primary occupation. We used to collect carcasses from at least 25 villages nearby and life was going as usual, until they (Gau Rakshaks) assaulted us. Now neither are we in the same line of business nor can we take up manual labour as we have not fully recovered from our injuries. My wife and my sons’ wives do manual labour in the fields to feed us.”
“We are embracing Buddhism today. There is no point being in a religion in which you are treated as second class,” said Balu, reported by The Hindu.
The unfortunate incident took on July 11, 2016 when a group of cow vigilantes (Gau Rakshaks) attacked the Sarvaiya family, while they were skinning the carcass of a dead cow, accusing them of slaughtering the animal. The goons then kidnapped Balu’s sons Ramesh, Vashram and his nephews Ashok and Bechar in a car, taking them to Una town where they were publicly flogged, tied to an open jeep and paraded semi-naked on the streets.
The video of the attack became viral and was widely criticized, pressurizing the state government to pass on the case to Gujrat CID that arrested 43 people, including four police officers and two minors, according to a report The Wire, 35 out of which are out on bail. The case is still pending its first hearing.
Jignesh Mevani an independent MLA from Vadgam became a known face after he led the Chalo Una movement, making everyone pledge never to pick up and clean cattle carcass. He was invited by the Sarvaiyas to join the mass conversion program but he told them he didn’t have the time, reported The Quint.
Pradip Parmar, the BJP MLA from Asarva who was present at the conversion, told the gathering, “I congratulate those who are set to take diksha… I am a BJP worker and the party gave me a ticket, but had Babasaheb not given the Constitution and the provision of reservation, I would not have become an MLA,” reported The Indian Express.
Babu said, ”Buddhism is a good religion with no killings. In Hinduism, as a Dalit if I keep a moustache, they will kill us. People from the upper caste community taunt us by saying why don’t we convert to Islam. I told them I am walking on the footsteps of Babasaheb Ambedkar and I want to take my community in the same direction through peace. I told them that if the time comes and we need to convert to Islam then we may. But for now, we want to follow Babasaheb and Gautam Buddha.”
The Gir Somnath District Collector Ajay Prakash told The Indian Express that he was aware of the mass conversion event but added that nobody had submitted any application to his office, seeking permission for religious conversion, as required by the state laws. Gir Somnath Superintendent of Police Hitesh Joysar said adequate number of police personnel will be deployed in Mota Samadhiyala and other places to prevent any untoward incident.
The local authorities had, however, granted permission to hold the event.