The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Security fears stall conversion

Mumbai, June 12: Administrative ambiguity and lack of commitment on the part of Gujarat police in providing security has forced the Vishwa Boudh Sangh to postpone its programme to convert 55,000 Dalit Hindus to Buddhism, says the organisation.

Sangh national general secretary Bhante Sangpriya today said the organisation was putting off its June 16 conversion till October 20 “because the police refused to provide us security cover in the face of threats from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and some other organisations”.

Police officers in Ahmedabad refuted Sangpriya’s allegation. They said it was impossible to arrange for security at such short notice. “It is not the police but the administration which has to give the green signal for such a ceremony,” said an official.

Although Gujarat has passed an Act banning conversions, the Sangh benefited on two counts. First, though the Act has been passed, its rules have not yet been notified. Second, the VHP has always said Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains belong to the Hindu fold and would be regarded as Hindus.

Last week, VHP leader Giriraj Kishore said in Ahmedabad that the parishad was not against the conversions as long as no “anti-Hindu’’ remarks were made during the ceremony. If there was any hesitation, it was on the part of the Narendra Modi government.

The Sangh had announced that the mass June 16 conversion in Vadodara was to be the first in a series of protests by Dalits against VHP double standards and continuing discrimination by upper-caste Hindus.

The organisation said: “After Hindu outfits used Dalits to further rioting and looting in the aftermath of the Godhra carnage, they were left undefended and helpless.’’

The general secretary said while the VHP bailed out and extended legal help to upper-caste Hindus caught rioting, Dalits had been ignored. “Now the conversion will be held on October 20, which is Vijay Dashami. It will be a very symbolic gesture of protest,’’ he said.

The Sangh said beginning next Friday, its members would fan out to hundreds of talukas in Gujarat to spread the protest message. “We will convert around 200 to 300 people every day from June 20 onwards,’’ Sangpriya said. “We will not wait for a public show,” he added.

Asked if they had to postpone the conversions because of VHP threats, the general secretary said: “The danger of violence and disruption was always there and that is why we had approached police for protection. But the police commissioner today told us that we could call them if there is any violence. This has been the government’s attitude towards us.’’

The Sangh now says it will target each Dalit slum, school and college and aims to convert 1,00,000 people by October 20. “This postponement also gives us more time to articulate our anxiety and formulate a better strategy,’’ Sangpriya said. “Dalits will be afraid no more. It is time this message went out,’’ he added.

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