Four Dalit men who were beaten up by cow vigilantes in Una, Gujarat, in 2016 were among hundreds of their community who converted to Buddhism on Sunday. One of them, Ramesh Sarvaiya, told PTI that Hindus had never considered them part of their community even though they have followed the religion for “thousands of years”.

In July 2016, a mob assaulted seven members of Sarvaiya’s family, including him and his brothers, for skinning a dead cow near Una town of Gir Somnath district. Later, they allegedly stripped four of them, tied them to a vehicle and beat them with sticks and iron pipes.

The family decided to convert to Buddhism in January and urged others of their community to do so as well. They scheduled the mass conversion on April 29, the eve of Buddha Purnima.

Days before the conversion, on April 25, one of the accused out on bail allegedly attacked Sarvaiya and his cousin Ashok again and asked them to withdraw the case, The Wire reported. He allegedly charged at them with a spade but no one was injured as a crowd gathered on time and they fled. The incident took place when the family was returning home after shopping for the conversion ceremony. The police have filed a case against the accused and a friend.

Sarvaiya’s father Balubhai, who organised the event in Mota Samdhiyala village, claimed that 450 Dalits converted to Buddhism on Sunday, and more than a thousand Dalits participated in the event. The Buddhist Society of India gave certificates to the new converts.

“Hindu cow vigilantes called us Muslims,” Sarvaiya said. “The kind of discrimination we faced by Hindus pains us and therefore we have decided to convert. Even the state government has discriminated against us by not fulfilling the promises made to us in the wake of the flogging incident.” He said abandoning Hinduism may not change anything, “but we will no longer pray before the same gods whose followers thrash us and treat us like animals”.