Converting Out of Caste
Why have many Dalits in India converted from Hinduism to Buddhism?
In recent years, hundreds of thousands of Dalit Hindus - the lowest of the complex Indian society’s structure - have been leaving their faith and converting to Buddhism. There are 150 million Dalits in India, but they are neither seen nor heard. Changing their religion makes them visible. They will hide their roots, give up their name, and change their religion, all in an effort to escape from their caste.
India’s Dalits are reconciling their religious conversion by referencing the most prominent Dalit in India and architect of the Indian’s Constitution, Bhim Rao Ambedkar. Six weeks before he died in 1951 Ambedkar said publicly Hinduism would not let Dalits live in dignity so he would convert to Buddhism. Sunita also meets those Dalits who have chosen not to convert, adamant a faithful life in the present will be rewarded by birth into a higher caste in the next.
In January a Dalit student, Rohith Vermula killed himself placing the status of Dalits further under the microscope. Sunita meets Rohith’s mother who plans to convert to Buddhism just as her son was in the process of doing when he died.
(Caption: An activist of the Bhaujan Vidyarthy Sangha (BVS) holds a poster of Hyderabad University student Rohit Vemula, who committed suicide last month, during a protest staged against Karnataka government demanding jobs for caste members in the private sector in Bangalore on February 3, 2016. Rohit Vemula, a 26-year-old doctoral student at the university of Hyderabad, was found hanged on January 17, triggering protests in the southern city and New Delhi. He was one of five students, all from India's lowest Dalit social caste, to be suspended by the university after they were accused of assaulting the head of a right-wing student political group -- a charge they denied. AFP PHOTO / Manjunath KIRAN / AFP / MANJUNATH KIRAN / Getty Images)