Allegations that the BJP was showing apathy toward Dalits in the country came back to haunt the BJP on Monday, June 4, when it emerged that 120 of them had converted to Buddhism in Haryana – a state ruled by the saffron party – after protesting for nearly four months.

The BJP has been under fire for the treatment meted out to Dalits in states ruled by it since it came to power in the Centre in 2014.

And the attacks have continued till recent times. One of the latest incidents was when a man in Gujarat tied up a Dalit and beat him to death with a stick.

Mass conversion in Haryana

Buddhism – more specifically neo-Buddhism – has been a refuge for many Dalits across India. That was the case with these 120 Dalits who had been protesting for nearly four months in Jind in Haryana.

Their demands included action on the Supreme Court ruling on the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, which they felt diluted the act in favour of higher castes. The Dalits were also demanding a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation into the Jind gang-rape and murder case in January.

The case – which was compared to the December 2012 gang-rape and murder in Delhi – had seen the body of a 15-year-old Dalit girl being found in a semi-naked state, with some brutal injuries on her body. They had even petitioned Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar over this.

Dinesh Khapad, who was at the forefront of these protests, was quoted by CNN News18 as saying: "We have been sitting on a dharna since February 9. Our representatives met the chief minister, who accepted our demands. However, no action has been taken yet."

Buddhist monk
120 dalits in Haryana have converted to Buddhism [Representational image]Creative Commons

He added: "We declared on May 20 that we would change our religion if our demands were not met. We tried meeting Khattar when he was in Jind on May 26 and 27, but he did not spare time for us. Later, we walked to Delhi and converted to Buddhism on May 31."

BJP's Dalit problem

The political rivals of the BJP can easily be expected to play up this mass conversion of Dalits to Buddhism as yet another "betrayal" by the saffron party of its Hindu voter base.

Interestingly, Dalits have been receiving the short end of the stick in states not ruled by the BJP as well. One of the most notable of these cases is the murder of a Dalit Christian in Kerala.

The reason why this case is notable is Dalits often convert to other religions to escape the caste system of Hinduism that sees them treated as the downtrodden. However, in this case, this Dalit Christian was allegedly killed because he "dared" to marry a girl from an "upper-class" Christian family.