Despite opposition from government authorities and high-caste Hindu radicals, 50,000 low-caste Hindus, or Dalits, renounced Hinduism at a rally in New Delhi. While the Dalits turned to Buddhism to escape the long-standing oppression of the caste system, Christian leaders were present to offer support and an open door.

Thousands of Dalits, carrying flags and shouting slogans against upper-caste oppression, marched at the rally. Police, who said only 8,000 people showed up, blocked the event from occurring at its original venue, the Ram Rila Grounds. Organizers then moved the event to the B.R. Ambedkar Bhawan, named after the Dalit leader who framed the Indian Constitution and led over half a million Dalits to renounce Hinduism in 1956. The building was full, and Dalit crowds flowed onto nearby roofs in sweltering heat to witness the historic rally.

Calling the authorities' attitude a "murder of democracy," rally organizers claimed that more than 1 million Dalits had attempted to attend. Organizers said police detained thousands of Dalits at the Delhi border and sent thousands back on the pretext that the rally had been canceled. The aim of the rally was the conversion of 1 million Dalits to Buddhism, which Dalit leaders said was a way to free themselves from the caste system.

Satish Ranjan, 26, from Uttar Pradesh state, attended with a group of 4,000 Dalits. "I am here to get out of [the] caste system," Ranjan said. "Changing religion is the only way. For how long will we suffer the stigma of being untouchables and the hell of disgrace?"

Chander Has, a 22- year-old Dalit from Rajasthan state, condemned the authorities and upper-caste Hindus. "They are angry because they are ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.