The four castes consist of the Brahmins, (priestly and scholarly caste, designed to provide for the intellectual and spiritual needs of a community), Kshatriyas, (rulers and warrior caste, designed to rule and protect others), Vaishyas, (merchants and landowners designed to look after commerce and agriculture), and Shudras, (manual labourers and service providers).
A fifth group was formed more recently for those carrying out very menial and polluting work to do with bodily decay and dirt. This group is outside of the caste system and its members are labelled as 'Outcasts' - cast out from the caste system so to speak. Dalits fall into this category and are excluded from mainstream society, they are considered worthless and spiritually unclean.
At Vishal Hadmatiya village in Bhesan taluka, 21 km from Junagadh, a statue of Dr B R Ambedkar greets visitors. It's been a week since all the 60 families in this Dalit neighbourhood 'converted' to Buddhism at an event in Junagadh. The organisers of the event have claimed that a total of 60,000 Dalits converted to Buddhism.
Caste, which was a matter of vital importance to the brahmins of India, was one of utter indifference to the Buddha, who strongly condemned the debasing caste system. The Buddha freely admitted into the Order people from all castes and classes when he knew that they were fit to live the holy life, and some of them later distinguished themselves in the Order. The Buddha was the only contemporary teacher who endeavoured to blend in mutual tolerance and concord those who hitherto had been rent asunder by differences of caste and class.
B. R. Ambedkar was an Indian jurist, politician, philosopher, anthropologist, historian and economist. A revivalist for Buddhism in India, he inspired the Modern Buddhist movement. As independent India's first law minister, he was principal architect of the Indian Constitution.
Born into a poor Mahar family, Ambedkar campaigned against social discrimination, the Hindu caste system. He converted to Buddhism and is also credited with providing a spark for the conversion of hundreds of thousands of lower caste Indians to Theravada Buddhism. The Triratna Buddhist Community - formerly known as the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (FWBO) which was co-founded by Ambedkar and Sangharakshita continues to support and promote the Dalit Buddhist community in India.
Gujarat state officials have announced an investigation into the conversions, which took place in Junagadh district, as potential violations of the state’s Freedom of Religion rules passed in 2008 to restrict conversion.
Under the rules, prospective converts must obtain permission from district authorities before changing their religion. Any violation of the rules could invite legal action against the convert and anyone involved in the conversion. The right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which runs the Gujarat government, is investigating whether the Dalits petitioned for such permission.
District Collector Alok Pandey, Junagadh’s highest government official, told local media that the organizers of the conversion event – Baudh Diksha Mahotsava Samiti – had not obtained “proper permission”.
It is also interesting how the Indian press put the word convert in quotes when reporting this story................................