Ramdas Bandu Athawale, Minister of State of Social Justice and Empowerment, who is a veteran Dalit leader from Maharashtra and president of the Republican Party of India (RPI), speaks on current issue — Dalit youths in Una.
In an exclusive interview to Indian Express, Athawale said “Dalits should embrace Buddhism”.
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Earlier, news agency PTI reported that in the wake brutal thrashing of Dalits in Una, at least 1,000 people from the community in Banaskantha district have so far expressed their desire to convert to Buddhism, stating that there was not point in continuing with Hinduism, if they are not treated as equals.
These Dalit community members have even filled up the forms giving their consent for the religious conversion, which will soon be submitted to the government authorities.
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Meanwhile, various dalit rights organisations have announced to organise a mass gathering of the community on July 31 to decide the road map of their movement.
“Dalits across the state are deeply pained by the recent incident in Una. It shows that we are still subjected to discrimination and various atrocities in the name of caste, religion and profession. Thus, several dalits from Banaskantha have expressed their desire to covert to Buddhism,” local dalit leader and BDS secretary Dinesh Makwana said.
“In the last three days, thousands of dalits took part in the protest rallies here. During our meetings, we came to the conclusion that there is no meaning in practicing Hinduism if we are not treated as equal. Thus, we have distributed forms among dalits, who wish to convert. So far, around 1,000 such forms have been submitted back to us,” Makwana said.
Conversion in Gujarat is governed by the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, which came into force in 2008.
According to the Act, it is mandatory for a person, who wants to convert, to take permission from the district collector by submitting an application with a prescribed form.
According to Makwana, these forms, given to BDS by around 1,000 dalits, will be submitted to the Collector soon.
“We expect that some more dalits will join our movement and fill up their forms for conversion. After collecting all such forms, we will decide a date to submit it to the Collector,” added Makwana.
On July 11, some Dalit youths from Mota Samadhiyala village in Una taluka of Gir-Somnath district were flogged by cow protection vigilantes when these dalits were skinning a dead cow. The accused thrashed them alleging that they had killed the cow. After a video of the incident went viral, it sparked off violent protests across Gujarat.
Meanwhile, talking about the planned mass gathering on July 31 in Ahmedabad, Jignesh Mewani of Una Dalit Atyachar Ladal Samiti, said, “We have sought permission from the administration to organise a mass gathering of dalits on July 31 near collector office. Even if they dont give permission, thousands of dalits will converge here on that day. Dalits will decide the future road map of our agitation during this convention.”
“To make this government understand the importance of dalits, we have asked more than 1 lakh cleaning staff (safai kamdars) of various civic bodies to stay away from their work for at least on week. We also want agriculture land for dalits, as they no longer want to Dalits should embrace Buddhism, says Ramdas Bandu Athawale continue their profession of skinning dead animals,” Mewani added.