Dalits, India’s outcast group who are often socially and economically discriminated, are rising to reform the caste system. Some Dalits are converting from Hinduism to Buddhism to escape the inequality that is engraved within the caste system.
The caste system is an archaic hierarchal social structure where Hindus belong to one of the four categories depending on the caste they were born to. Brahmans are placed at the top of the caste system meanwhile Dalits are entirely outcasts. The caste system benefits those belonging to the top of the pyramid because they are seen to have come from Brahma’s head, the God of creation. Thus they are respected and accepted within the society and they hold authoritative jobs and are better well off than the castes below them.
Meanwhile, Dalits are viewed as dirty and filthy by the upper castes and thus are subjected to jobs that no one else wants such as skinning animals and cleaning human waste. According to The Conversation, on July of 2016, a group of upper caste vigilantes attacked some Dalits for skinning a sacred dead cow. This incident sparked a social movement.
Thousands of Dalits in Gujarat are fighting for a reformation of the caste system with an unprecedented aim to attract 166 million Dalits all around India to join them in this revolution. Others are opting to drop out of the system by converting to Buddhism. However, even this step has resulted to attacks and scrutiny from other castes. Whether converting to Buddhism will help the Dalits claim their right to social and economic liberty is a question only time will tell.
As of March 15th, 2017, the corporate media has not covered the story of religious conversions. However, various independent media outlets have reported this story.
Aljazeera News. “India’s Dalit Revolution” Aljazeera, March 3, 2017, http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/101east/2017/03/india-dalit-revolution-170303090712700.html
Aljazeera News. “The Dalits of India” The Conversation, August 17, 2016, http://theconversation.com/the-dalits-of-india-are-finding-new-ways-to-fight-the-caste-system-63894
BBC News. “What is India’s caste system” BBC News, February 25, 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-35650616
Student Researcher: Madina Azizi (University of Regina)
Faculty Evaluator: Patricia Elliott (University of Regina)