10/16/2006, 00.00
INDIA
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Thousands of Dalits leave Hinduism

In a great mass conversion ceremony held in Nagpur, Hindu untouchables convert to Buddhism and Christianity, defying state governments' restrictions on religious freedom. Copies of anti-conversion laws are burnt in public. "We want to become Christians because of Jesus Christ's message of equality".

Nagpur (AsiaNews) – Thousands of Indian untouchables, also known as Dalit, have left Hinduism and adopted Buddhism and Christianity in a mass conversion ceremony that took place in Nagpur last Saturday.

The event was organised by the All India Conference of SC/ST Organisation and the India Christian Council to mark World Religious Freedom Day, a day designed to protest against caste-based discrimination and anti-conversion laws that limit religious freedom adopted in some Indian states ruled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). As a sign of protest, participants burnt copies of the laws in question.

The date itself was no accident. October 14 marks the 50th anniversary of the conversion from Hinduism to Buddhism of Baba Ambedlar, the charismatic "Father of the Constitution" of India and first justice minister of the newly independent country.

The ceremony began with fiery speeches by religious leaders describing the miserable living conditions of India's lowest castes. It continued with the conversions.

A large group from Gujarat was baptised. Rev Moses Parmar loudly asked them if they were becoming Christians because of money or other allurement, coercion, or their own free will. All answered saying they were accepting the "Christian faith because of the equality and justice taught by Jesus Christ and his promise of eternal salvation."

A group of activists burnt copies of Gujarat's anti-conversion law, which was recently amended to include Jainism and Buddhism as "Hindu sects".

Demonstrators tried to burn Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi in effigy but were prevented by police.

A number of international observers were present to verify that conversions were done freely without any coercion.

Currently, anti-conversion laws are in place in Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, and Rajasthan. (NC)

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