Monday, May 28, 2007
Tribal Conversions in Mumbai
The mass conversion to Buddhism of around 50,000 people in Mumbai—an event that was witnessed by another 100,000—has been widely reported. However, the coverage leaves out the background, which shows what makes this a truly remarkable occasion.
The converts are from castes of nomads and 'dacoits'—whose hereditary caste identity is to be criminals. These are the people who live in tents on the edge of Indian towns, but because of their lifestyles they are unregistered with the government—hence they fall outside the affirmative action programmes that have helped dalits. I really don't think it is an exaggeration to say that they fall below the dalits in Indian society.
An estimated 50 million Indian belong to these communities, but they have been virtually invisible in Indian society. For 50,000 of members of this community to do anything together is quite unprecedented and is their attempt to register their presence for the first time.
The leader of this movement is Lakshman Mane. I interviewed Mane last Autumn for Tricycle, and a fuller version of my interview is on my own Ambedkar 2006 blog.
Gathering so many people is a truly remarkable achievement and I sincerely hope that the diksa helps the community meet its goals: no one needs help more than they do.
An excellent resource to follow this and many other developments in the Indian dalit Buddhist community is Atrocity News.