Thursday, September 16, 2010

Will Buddhism Flourish Again in India?

-Mahavir Sanglikar

Buddhism is one of the humanitarian religions in the world. It was founded by Gautam Buddha in 6th Century B.C. Buddhism strongly believes in equality of mankind and rejects the Vedic Varna and caste system.

Buddhism flourished everywhere in ancient India. People of all classes and castes joined this religion. But eventually this religion almost disappeared from the map of India. There are different theories about the causes of its disappearance, but that is not the subject of this article. I would like to put some light on the theories with a never discussed cause I have discovered in a different article.

Although Buddhism disappeared from India, it got a big number of followers throughout Asia except the countries in Western Asia.

Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar was the great man to reintroduce this religion to India. In 1955 along with his hundreds of thousand of followers he adopted Buddhism. This was the beginning of a new era in the history of India. Since 1955 millions of people got attracted to Buddhism and thousands of books have been published on various aspects of Buddhism.

But unfortunately, the conversion rate is very low. Most of the converts belong to a Dalit caste, i.e. Mahars (who are now known as neo-Buddhists) of Maharashtra and no others, in spite of having respect for Gautam Buddha and Buddhism, wish to adopt Buddhism. There are many reasons for this situation.

Indian society is victim of caste system and caste wars. All the religions and societies in India, even like Muslims and Christians are affected with this disease. The term Dalit is used for depressed classes. There are numerous castes in Dalits. Where there are castes, there are caste wars. So are in Dalits also.

Mahar and Matang (also known as Mang) are two major castes in Dalits of Deccan. There is a long history of silent battle between them. As Mahars have adopted Buddhism, obviously Matangs remained Hindu. Not only this, they became staunch Hindus, and many of them joined Hindutwa organizations like Shivsena, Patit Pavan Sanghatana and Samarasata Manch. On the other hand, a large number of Matangs got converted to Christianity. This reaction by Matangs is puzzling.

Vitthal Sathe, a Dalit writer and leader who belongs to Matang community, says, “I appreciate Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, Gautam Buddha and Buddhism, but we Matangs will never adopt Buddhism. The reason is very simple. Mahar community has hijacked this religion, and there is no space and place for others.” He adds, “In fact, Mahars have failed to become Buddhists in true sense. On the contrary, they have forced Buddha to become a Mahar”.

The Chamars, another major Dalit caste of Deccan, have the same sentiments. Long before Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar adopted Buddhism, a portion of Chamar community had been converted to Buddhism. But when Mahar community adopted Buddhism on a large scale, the Buddhist Chamars reconverted themselves to Hinduism.
Laxman Mane, who is an activist and leader of nomadic tribes wanted to convert NTs to Buddhism. He worked to create an environment for this by much propaganda. But he did not get any support from the NT communities. Eventually this much discussed convertion was failed.

Gautam Buddha was a born Kshatriya. In recent days, there is a soft corner for this great philosopher in Maratha community. This warrior community is spread all over the Deccan. Marathas too have fade up with Brahmanical Hinduism. Many of them want to leave Hinduism. But no one from this community is ready to adopt Buddhism. Instead, they are joining Shivdharm, a rational religion which finds its roots in Indus valley civilization.

What we learn from all these incidents? If Dalits of other castes are not interested in becoming Buddhist, how it is possible that other (so called higher) communities will take interest in it? Why Neo-Buddhists are failed to find the solutions on this situation? How can we expect that Buddhism will flourish once again in India?

It is time for neo-Buddhists to introspect. They have to change their attitude if they really want to fulfill Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s dream of Buddhist India. They should keep in mind that Buddhism is for all, Buddhism is staunch believer of equality. So the communities who wish to join Buddhism should get equal rights in Buddhist society.

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