Sixty years after Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar led six lakh Dalits to abandon Hinduism for Buddhism, more than 5,000 people belonging to other backward classes converted to Buddhism on Sunday in Nagpur, Maharashtra.
The ceremony at Deekshabhoomi was the culmination of five years of planning by the Satyashodhak OBC Parishad, an activist group based in Maharashtra. The group had initially thought to convert in Nagpur on the anniversary of Ambedkar’s conversion, but abandoned the idea as the city would be too crowded that day.
“We finally decided to convert on December 25 for three reasons,” said Dhanaji Gurav, one of the organisers of the event. “This was the day Savitribai [Phule] started her first school for girls, it is Christmas and also it is Manusmriti Dahan Divas, the day on which Babasaheb burnt the Manusmriti [in1927].”
The date had the added advantage of being commemorated by women’s organisations associated with the group as their day of liberation, he said.
Since 2011, when their recruitment drive began, the group has been emphasising the history of OBCs as “nagvanshis”, who were Buddhists in medieval times. They have termed this their true “ghar wapsi”, or homecoming. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and other Hindu organisations have used the phrase “ghar wapsi” for efforts to convert Indians from other religions to Hinduism.
Most of those who converted were from Maharashtra, though around 10 to 12 representatives each from states across India were also present, Gurav said. The group now hopes to expand their conversion activities across the country, and to begin religious education classes for those who converted on Sunday.