MEMBERS of a Dalit family who were allegedly assaulted by ‘cow vigilantes’ here in July 2016 converted to Buddhism on Sunday, along with around 300 members of the community from various parts of Gujarat. The ceremony, organised in Mota Samadhiyala village near Una town of Gir Somnath district, was attended by BJP Dalit MLA Pradip Parmar.
Not believing in Hindu gods and goddesses was among the 22 resolutions that the converts made. The conversion will be recognised only when registered with the district collector, as per the Gujarat Freedom of Religion law.
Balu Sarvaiya, his wife Kunvar, sons Vashram and Ramesh, and daughters-in-law Manisha and Sonal, were initiated into Buddhism by three monks. They were joined by Balu’s nephew Ashok, relative Bechar and his wife Hansa, and another relative, Arjan Babariya, of neighbouring Bediya village.
Vahsram, Ramesh, Ashok and Bechar had been allegedly beaten up by ‘cow vigilantes’ while skinning the carcass of a cow in Mota Samadhiyala village on July 11, 2016. The assailants had accused the Dalits of slaughtering the cow. Balu and Kunvar, who rushed to the spot to rescue the four, and Devashi Babariya and Arjan, who tried to intervene, had also been beaten up. Later, the accused had taken Vashram, Ramesh, Ashok and Bechar to Una town, tied them to a vehicle and publicly flogged them. Videos of the incident had gone viral, leading to an outcry.
Police investigation later determined that the cow had been killed by a lion.
Pradip Parmar, the BJP MLA from Asarva who was present at the conversion, told the gathering, “I congratulate those who are set to take diksha… I am a BJP worker and the party gave me a ticket, but had Babasaheb not given the Constitution and the provision of reservation, I would not have become an MLA.”
Jayanti Makadiya, the president of the Gujarat Dalit Sangathan, an organisation working for Dalits, said they had invited all the 13 Dalit MLAs of the state, belonging to various parties, but only Parmar showed up.
Speaking to The Indian Express after the conversion ceremony, Balu said, “I feel relieved and empowered today. Today I junked blind faith forever. This is so liberating. After I was assaulted and humiliated, I realised that these things were burdening me. Now that I have thrown them out of the window, there will be a revolution. Now no god or goddess will prevent us from doing what we want to do. We shall study, educate ourselves and choose suitable professions.”
He added, “The British ruled us because they were educated.”
Ramesh told the media, “We followed Hinduism for thousands of years, but were never treated as a fellow Hindu by other faithful. We were not allowed to enter temples and were treated as untouchables. When we went to work on someone’s farm, we were asked to bring our own utensils for meals. Fed up of all these prejudices, we converted to Buddhism.”
Following the Una incident, there had been state-wide protests, including reports of suicides by Dalits. Ramesh said many of the assurances made by the state government after the incident had remained unfulfilled.
“One-and-a-half years have passed. We took this time to understand Buddhism… We failed initially to understand the import (of the incident). But once we came to terms with what had happened, we and victims of other cases decided to walk the path shown by Lord Buddha and Babasaheb Ambedkar,” said Vashram.
Parmar told the gathering he had been “longing to visit Una since the time of the incident”. “But I was a small worker of the BJP then. I was unsure if people would meet me or not. It has been three-four months since I became an MLA and every day, I recall this event and this family. So today I have come to have their darshan.”
The Mota Samadhiyala event was organised by Balu and his family. The local administration had granted them permission for it, but the Gir Somnath collector told The Indian Express nobody from Mota Samadhiyala had applied to his office to convert to Buddhism.
Deven Vanvi, one of the organisers, admitted this, but added, “The Buddhist Society of India has issued them certificates of initiation into Buddhism. We shall apply for the district magistrate’s permission later.”
This was the second major conversion event held in Saurashtra after one in Junagadh in late 2013. There were strict security precautions, and no untoward incident was reported.