Dr. Ambedkar in his speech delivered on Oct 13, 1935, in Yewala, in Nashik district had thundered that although he was born as a Hindu, he would not die as one. He advised the Depressed Classes to abandon all agitation for temple-entry privileges; instead, he advised that they should leave Hinduism entirely and embrace some another religion.
Vexed by the rampant Caste discrimination rooted in the Hinduism that did not spare even a foreign returned doctorate scholar like him, he fought against the bigotry all his life. Twenty-One years later, On October 14, after studying various other religions he chose Buddhism – an indigenous religion of India that promotes peace and equality and which is based on human compassion than any divine power. So influenced was he about the religion that he demolished the cast –based Hindu ideology and gave birth to Indian Constitution based on Liberty, Equality,Fraternity and justice. The fundamentals enshrined in the Constitution are proof of that.
This year, 14th October marked the 60th Anniversary of the conversion of millions of Dalits lead by Dr. Ambedkar at the historic Nagpur place. The celebrations took place on October 9th as per Lunar Calendar. This was by far the largest religious mass conversion in the history of the modern world without any bloodshed. Unfortunately, Dr. Amebekdar did not live longer and consequently his mass conversion programs at Mumbai and other places did not materialise. The Censusindia.gov.inwebsite lists Buddhist population at 8 million as per 2011 census. The largest concentration of Buddhism is in Maharashtra (58.3%), where (73.4%) of the total Buddhists in India reside. Karnataka (3.9 lakh), Uttar Pradesh (3.0 lakh), west Bengal (2.4 lakh) and Madhya Pradesh (2.0 lakh) are other states having large Buddhist population. Sikkim (28.1%), Arunachal Pradesh (13.0%) and Mizoram (7.9 %) are top states in terms of having the maximum percentage of Buddhist population. Since most neo-Buddhist were erstwhile Dalits from Maharashtra, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh, the term Dalits and Buddhist is used interchangeably here. Some still maintain their Hindu caste certificate although they practice Buddhism. The confusion and question mark created related to reservations for converted Buddhist meant that people had apprehension reporting themselves as Buddhism. Thus, in reality, the population could be much more.
Every year millions of Buddhist and Dalits converge to Nagpur from across India to celebrate the anniversary of conversion called as DhammaChakra — named after Buddhist meaning of revolving the Chakra. According to one estimates, turnover on the sell of books on Ambedkar, Buddha, Phule and other social reformers ranges in Lakhs. Also, there are hundreds of stalls giving educational information, assistance or guidance to Dalit youths. Many organisations participate in this event.
Dr. Ambedkar had asked his followers to donate 5% of their income for social cause so that their brothers and sisters could be taken out of abject poverty and neglect. Today there are thousands of people who follow Dr. Ambedkar’s idea of community services. Pankaj Meshram and his wife Sheetal traveled from USA to participate in the event. While Pankaj works for a private company, Sheetal is a doctor in US. They have been collaborating with local grassroot organizations in India to train, educate and empower women and students from the lower echelon of the society. This includes bicycle and computer donation, educational assistance and other activities including self-defense training for Dalit girls. “Nowhere in the world would you see such a crowd that is driven by passion for social work and upliftment of downtrodden. I also liked college students doing street play to raise awareness and it’s a great sign to see youngsters carrying forward the caravan of Babasaheb Ambedkar”, Says Pankaj who along with Sheetal had placed a stall on Women’s empowerment.
There are many others who have traveled to Nagpur. Mr. Raju Kamble has been pioneer in social work for many years. Among other things, free distribution of Dr. Ambedkar literature to the young students in Engineering and Medical colleges for last fifteen years has been one of his successful ideas.
Vidya Bhushan Rawat, noted journalist also took part in the DeekshaBhoomi event this year. He wrote “We hope with this positive minds working together will see changes in India for an enlightened India of Babasaheb Ambedkar’s dream. They came in lakhs to pay their tribute to celebrate the Historic Day of Ashoka Vijaya Dashami in Nagpur when the DhammaChakra pravartan day celebrations overshadow the Dussera celebrations in the RSS headquarters just miles away. Everywhere you see Dhammachakra, the Buddha and Dr. Ambedkar their literature, music, culture, theater, dance and reverence — everything here to understand what makes Dr. Ambedkar the tallest intellect of India. The people come on their own and their emotions and passion can only be understood if you have sensitivity”
You’d imagine all this positive news would make excellent sound bites for the mainstream media. Isnt it? But not to be. Just like every year, the mainstream Media continues to boycott such historical and mammoth gatherings. You will never see in mainstream media, Print or Electronic Hindi or English, giving decent coverage to this grand event attended by millions. Even local Marathi TV channels in Maharashtra covers the Deekshabhoomi event scantily. This year they covered half-a-minute sound bite of the chief minister Devendra Fadanavis, who attended the event at DeekshaBhoomi Nagpur, without elaborating anything about the event. Also important to note that, to mark this anniversary, every year, thousands of low caste people willingly convert to Buddhism.
Just few kilometers from Deeksha Bhoomi the RSS does its annual Dussera festival which is aired live on many channels or covered extensively. Somehow Dikshabhoomi gets censored every time. Rediff recently reported that in Gujarat, following the Una Dalit atrocity, hundreds of Dalits have taken a pledge to Buddhism on occasion of the 60th Anniversary of Conversion. Again, the Mainstream media turns a blind eye. (http://www.rediff.com/news/report/three-hundred-dalits-convert-to-buddhism-in-gujarat/20161012.htm)
While Nagpur has DeekshaBhoomi, Mumbai has ChaityaBhoomi, the place where Dr. Ambedkar was cremated on 6 Dec 1956. Millions of Dalits gather here to pay their homage and yet there is never a media coverage. If anything, this event is reported in the news form of traffic congestion and pollution or inconvenience to the residents living in the vicinity. Again, here too, books get sold more than ritualistic material like garlands or incense sticks. Last year on 6th Dec, some youths led by young poet and Journalist Vaibhav Chhaya started a noble initiative along with groups of his friends – ‘One book, One Pen’. Millions of pens and notebooks were thus donated by each person visiting. They were later distributed to the needy students, and schools. The group has replicated this success to Deekshabhomi this year.
Granted, mainstream media does highlight, to some extent, the atrocities committed on Dalits. Although they do not make to prime time debates, it is at least getting reported now. But positive news or show of strength almost finds no mention in the mainstream media.
In the age of social media, the mainstream media gets completely exposed with its overt bias towards gatherings of Dalits and Buddhists.
Ravikiran Shinde is a writer, blogger and a commentator on socio-political issues in India