Dr.Babasaheb Ambedkar had declared his firm resolve to change his religion. He had declared that he was born as a Hindu but will not die as Hindu. All along his life, he fought for the liberation of Dalits, liberation from untouchability. The conversion is one of the examples of his moves in that direction.
Baba Saheb’s conversion not only marked the beginning of Ambedkar(ite) Buddhism that continues to gather more followers every year but also gave lakhs of Dalits suffering under India’s oppressive caste system a new lens to view their identity from and redefine their place in the country.
Why leave Hinduism?
He believed religion is that which govern people. But not which discriminates people based on their birth. Since the caste system in the Hindus has the foundation of religion it is impossible to secure equality being Hindu. Therefore he believed the only way to get the liberation(freedom) is to leave the Hindu religion.
Now the question is ‘why Buddhism’?.
There are two aspects of religion; social as well as religious; material as well as spiritual. His reason for conversion is mere to improve social status. In order to break the political boundaries that accompany the religion if converted to any other religions, he chose Buddhism.
Speaking about the necessity of conversion, Ambedkar had in a speech in 1935 said, “After giving deep thought to the problem, everybody will have to admit that conversion is necessary to the Untouchables as self-government is to India. The ultimate object of both is the same. There is not the slightest difference in their ultimate goal. This ultimate aim is to attain freedom. And if the freedom is necessary for the life of mankind, conversion of Untouchables which brings them complete freedom cannot be called worthless by any stretch of the imagination.”
On October 14, 1956, the leader adopted Buddhism, along with lakhs of his followers in a simple, traditional ceremony at Deekshabhoomi, Nagpur.
Declaring that he was born a Hindu, but would not die as one, at a small conference held in Yeola, Nashik, Ambedkar had already quit Hinduism in 1935. Highlighting reasons for the decision, the leader told his followers, “So long as we remain in a religion, which teaches a man to treat another man like a leper, the sense of discrimination on account of caste, which is deeply rooted in our minds, cannot go. For annihilating caste and untouchables, change of religion is the only antidote.”
The leader also added how Hinduism had failed to secure basic human rights for his people, perpetuating caste injustices instead.
In the hymns of the Rig Veda, Ambedkar said, “we see man’s thoughts turned outwards, away from himself, to the world of the gods.” Buddhism, he said, “directed man’s search inwards to the potentiality hidden within himself”. Whereas the Vedas are full of “prayer, praise and worship” of the gods, Buddhism aims at “training of the mind to make it act righteously”.
Dalits have not only gained a new identity and dignity during this time but have undergone a complete transformation. Educated and confident, they are no longer apologetic about their caste origins and are actively contributing to the growth story of a re-emerging India, demanding what is rightfully theirs.
And while much still needs to be done, his vision of équal India’, it is safe to say, continues to take incremental steps every day.