Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Parliament Voting on "Untouchables"

Today the House of Commons is set to vote on a controversial amendment as a part of the Equality Act 2010, which could offer lower-caste Hindus a legal safeguard against caste discrimination. Hindu groups here are divided on its impact on the diaspora, according to the 2011 census, there are 816,633 Hindus based in the UK.

While campaign group 'Caste Watch UK' plans to rally hundreds of its supporters in Parliament Square today to urge MPs to introduce legal protection for those from traditionally lower-caste backgrounds, other groups such as Alliance of Hindu Organisations UK (AHO) claims the legislation will label the entire Hindu community as being "institutionally discriminatory" and have called a boycott of the amendment.

So, what's the Buddhist connection? Dr. B. R. Ambedkar was an Indian jurist, political leader, philosopher, anthropologist, historian, orator, economist, teacher, editor, prolific writer, revolutionary and a revivalist for Buddhism in India. He was also the chief architect of the Indian Constitution. Born an "untouchable", he converted to Buddhism and is credited with providing the inspiration for the conversion of hundreds of thousands of Dalits or untouchables to Theravada Buddhism. In August 1947, the new Congress-led government invited Ambedkar to serve as the nation's first law minister. The constitution that he drafted provided constitutional guarantees and protections for a wide range of civil liberties for individual citizens, including freedom of religion, the abolition of untouchability and the outlawing of all forms of discrimination.

One of the Buddhist groups inspired by Dr. Ambedkar, was Triratna Bauddha Mahāsaṅgha. It is the Indian wing of the UK-based Triratna Buddhist Community founded by Sangharakshita. Its roots lie in the scattered contacts that Sangharakshita had in the 1950s with Dr. Ambedkar. Sangharakshita, then still a bhikshu, participated in the conversion movement from 1956 until his departure to the UK in 1963 where he founded the FWBO recently renamed Triratna.

A little known fact is that Roma gypsies trace their origins to the Dalits of India and several have followed the lead of their Indian compatriots and converted to Buddhism, often as a response to discrimination. There is a sizeable Gypsy Buddhist community in Hungary, they take their inspiration from Dr. Ambedka and are officially affiliated to the Triratna Buddhist Community.

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