"A step taken to protest against Government's apathy towards basic needs of tribal people"
A majority who took the "Deeksha" were tribals and followers of Dalit writer Laxman ManeIt could not be termed a move away from Hinduism
MUMBAI: A place marked by and perhaps limited to the elite and the popular in Mumbai on Sunday witnessed nearly 1 lakh people from tiny pockets of Maharashtra come together for a mass religious conversion rally at the Mahalaxmi Race Course.
Around 4 lakh people attended the rally organised by the Republican Party of India to declare their support for this conversion on the golden jubilee year of Babasaheb Ambedkar's conversion to Buddhism (Bauddha Dhamma Deeksha).
However, while mass support was more than obvious, the guests mentioned on the invitation card Dalai Lama and Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh did not attend citing different reasons.
A majority of the people who took the "Deeksha" were tribals and followers of Sahitya Akademi winner and Dalit writer Laxman Mane, who has been touring the State after converting to Buddhism in October 2006.
Laxman Mane said: "Thousands of people from 42 different nomadic tribes have embraced Buddhism." He said tribals did not follow Hinduism and so it could not be termed a move away from Hinduism.
However, he said it was a step taken to protest against the apathy of the Government towards the basic needs of these people.
Several monks were present on the dais to offer prayers and "Deeksha" for the thousands who converted. Buddhism does not believe in the Hindu gods, hierarchy and idol worship. Republican Party of India President Ramdas Athawale, who was chairman of the organising committee, informed people about the rules and regulations of the new religion.
People came in vans, buses, and cycles, on foot from all over Maharashtra. They were chanting "buddham sharnam gacchami," "dhammam sharnam gacchami," and other slogans in praise of Dr. Ambedkar and Gautam Buddha. The entire area was dotted with colourful flags.
Suresh Alavane said: "We are bauddhas. We have to come to see Laxman Mane and to attend this function from Pune. Dr. Ambedkar wanted this function on December 16 in 1956 on the same venue but unfortunately he passed away just 10 days before that. Now his dream has come true."
Followers of Dr. Ambedkar kept streaming in from gate no.1 at the racecourse from early afternoon till late in the evening. Police presence was minimal and the organisers kept announcing directions for the thousands of children, women and men to follow.
No untoward incident
People sat on the ground when the seating space was fully occupied. There was no untoward incident.
There were hardly any facilities such as public conveniences, food or water stalls. There were several stalls selling and distributing literature about Buddhism, Dr. Ambedkar, and the struggle of the Dalits and the minorities.