The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Gujarat ignores conversion

Ahmedabad, June 1: A mass religious conversion programme scheduled for June 15 has failed to raise eyebrows in the state government which had enacted the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, 2003, banning such conversions.

About 1,00,000 Dalits from across the state are likely to embrace Buddhism at the programme organised by the Vishwa Boudh Sangh in Vadodara.

The mass conversion, touted to be the biggest in the state’s cultural capital, appears not to have unsettled the state BJP government. The reason is simple: the government does not consider Dalits’ conversion to Buddhism an act of defiance.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the most vocal opponent of religious conversion, has gone a step further and welcomed the move.

The Boudh Sangh is clearly puzzled by the apparent lack of opposition. “I do not know what the VHP is up to,’’ said Bhante Sangh Priya, Boudh Sangh national general secretary.

“On the one hand, their state and national leaders claim the VHP is not against Dalits embracing Buddhism. On the other, their local activists are threatening us with dire consequences if we go ahead with our programme of mass conversion,’’ Sangh Priya said over phone from Vadodara.

He has been camping there for the last three weeks to organise the conversion programme.

State VHP joint general secretary Kaushik Mehta and vice-president Jotirkar have dissociated themselves from Anant Anand, a Vadodara leader of the outfit, who disrupted the Boudh Sangh’s news conference last week threatening to stall the conversion.

VHP international general secretary Praveen Togadia clarified the outfit’s stand: “We have no objection if Dalits convert to Buddhism, which is part of Hindu society.’’

A wary Boudh Sangh, however, is not taking any chances. Sangh Priya met Vadodara police commissioner D.D. Tuteja yesterday, seeking police protection. Tuteja has assured protection until the conversion programme gets over.

Jotirkar, a practising Buddhist and president of the All India Buddhist Society, equated the proposed conversion with Dalit liberation.

The VHP, he said, supports Dalits who want to become Buddhists. “As for me, I will dance with joy. I will celebrate. It will be a great moment. I would like to be in Vadodara on that day.”

Mehta, however, was quick to add that if some Dalits decide to embrace Christianity, “then we will oppose it”.

“The change of religion — from Hinduism to Christianity or Islam — amounts to changing one’s nationality and national loyalty. It is dangerous. We have seen what happened in some of the Christian-dominated states in the Northeast,” he said.

According to political analyst Prakash Shah, the VHP is not opposing the programme because conversion to Buddhism would be convenient for the outfit as the Dalits would still remain within the broad Hindu fold.

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