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Why Jatavs (Scheduled Castes) Converted to Buddhism?

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Why Jatavs (Scheduled Castes) Converted to Buddhism?

Post  nikhil_sablania on Wed Jan 25, 2012 10:42 pm

In 1956, most of the Agra Jatavs followed Dr. Ambedkar into Buddhism.

Four important elements involved in the conversion to Buddhism.

First, Buddhism was an indigenous Indian religion and therefore could not be treated as foreign and suspect, as could Christianity and Islam. Second, it was strongly anti-caste, at least in Ambedkar’s version of it. Thus, it appealed to an indigenous but non-Hindu tradition. Buddhism presented an alternative to the caste system in which Jatav attempts at social mobility had been unsuccessful. It can be seen, then, as an adaptive response on the part of many Jatavs to the emerging social structure of post-independent India. It was also an attempt to fill the vacuum created by the loss of the unifying ideology of the independence movement. Mahar has very perceptively pointed out this vacuum in her study of Khalapur village:

Abolition of untouchability, and social and economic advancement for untouchables, are justified by the Merchant, the Sweeper and the Chamar in terms of the goal of independent rule for India. This goal was achieved more than a decade ago and as the Chamar points out, some of the immediate enthusiasm for equality has been dissipated. These men do not justify equality in terms of the need to maximize talents and ability for India’s economic development, a rationale offered in India’s Five-Year Plans. Nor do they discuss the dignity of the individual as does the Permeable of the Indian Constitution. It appears that if Khalapur is to accept value of personal equality, some new set of justifications for caste equality must be introduced (Mahar 1958: 68).

Third, because Buddhism exists in countries outside India, the expectation that non-Indian Buddhist would take the case of the depressed and “persecuted” Buddhist in India to an international forum was voiced by a number of my informants.

And finally, the “We are the original Indians” them gave an ideological and moral justification to Jatav political demands for “giving the land back to the tillers and the government back to the people.”


Excerpts from the book, “The Politics of Untouchability” by Owen M Lynch
Chapter-IV, The Politics of Untouchability, Pages 92 & 93
National Publishing House
23,Darya Ganj, Delhi-110006 (India)
@1969 Columbia University Press
First India edition: 1974

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