Sixty years back on 14th of October 1956, Babasaheb Ambedkar rejected Hinduism and accepted Buddhism in Nagpur, Maharashtra.
This day is significant in many ways. Dr Ambedkar had decided that Hinduism was hateful to him and millions of Dalits in India as it condemned them to a death-like life by religious sanction. In his own words, he famously said,
“Unfortunately, I was born a Hindu untouchable—there was nothing I could do to prevent it. However, it is well within my power to refuse to live under ignoble and humiliating conditions. I solemnly assure you that I will not die a Hindu.”
14th October 1956,Nagpur, Maharashtra
Along with Dr Ambedkar nearly 600,000 of his followers shunned Hinduism and got converted to Buddhism by accepting his 22 vows. This was one of the largest conversions in India’s post independence history.
Every year on this day and on April 14th(Ambedkar’s birthday), lakhs of Dalits, follow his example and get converted to Buddhism. They renounce the Hindu religion that considers them to be the lowest in the hierarchy. This has become an annual event in India and due to the sheer numbers involved should get publicity anywhere.
For example, this year in the state of Gujarat, nearly 300 Dalits converted to Buddhism on Vijayadasami day. The outrage after the Una atrocity was seen as cause for the increased conversions this year. The converts said that Buddhism is a more humane religion than Hinduism. The collectors of the districts however deny knowledge of these conversions!
Alarmed Hindus try to explain this revival of Buddhism in India thus: “All other religions like Buddhism, Jainism, born in India are actually part of the large religion which is Hinduism.”
Dr Ambedkar provides the clearer viewpoint –“ It is false that Buddhism and Hinduism are one. In Buddha’s Dhamma there is no Casteism, inequality and chaturvarnya.”
The significance of the day is to remind ourselves the freedom to follow any religion. To put it in Ambedkar’s succinct words-“the time has arrived when religion should no longer be inherited from father to son, like goods and chattels but should be examined rationally by everybody before personal acceptance.”
It is another matter that this historic day of rejection of Hinduism is now used by Hindutva politicians to rally Dalit support, for the upcoming elections.