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A Hindu Double Standard for India ’s Untouchables

Untouchables Can Convert to Buddhism but Not Christianity

2/20/07 India (ICC) – A leader of a mainstream Hindu nationalist party has lodged a police complaint against a Christian leader for suggesting that conversion to Christianity is a way out of the Hindu caste-system. This despite the fact that one of the chief architects of the Indian Constitution, a man well-respected by Hindus, made the same suggestion but advocated turning to Buddhism rather than Christianity.

The two men in the dispute, Laxman Yadav and Dr. Sam Paul, both spoke at a meeting in the Ramayapet area of Andhra Pradesh’s Medak district on January 29. Both Yadav and Paul, among others, shared their views on India ’s Dalits (formerly known as “untouchables”).

Dr. Paul talked about conversion being a way for Dalits to get out of the caste-system (caste hierarchy) in Hinduism, as Dr. B.R. Ambedkar had suggested. Ambedkar, known as the chief architect of the Indian Constitution, was a former Dalit leader who converted to Buddhism along with thousands of his followers before his death in 1956.

Jeremy Sewall, ICC’s Policy Analyst for South Asia, said, “This incident shows that India has a double standard when dealing with Christians. Apparently it is ok to convert to Buddhism to get out of the caste system, but converting to Christianity to get out of the caste system is just not allowed. Fair-minded Indians ought to see the disparity here, but Hindu radicals try to cover up the truth.”

The BJP and its parent organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) vehemently oppose conversion of Dalits to Christianity. They allege that Dalits convert because they are offered financial benefits by missionaries to do so – an allegation that both Dalit Christians and missionaries deny.

It is estimated that more than 60 percent of Indian Christians are from Dalit backgrounds.

The Constitution grants a certain number of government jobs and positions in educational institutions to Dalits to encourage their upward social mobility. However, a Dalit loses these benefits if he or she converts to Christianity. The Supreme Court of India has yet to pass judgment in a petition seeking restoration of these special privileges to Dalit Christians. About 17 percent of the more than one billion population of India is Dalit, according to government figures.