DALITS = COMMUNITYTue, 02/13/2007 - 22:44
Interestingly, Buddhism had virtually disappeared in India, swallowed up by Hinduism, who simply renamed Buddha another god in its vast pantheon, discarding the essence of the Buddhists teaching - that all humans are equal, that every individual can awaken, not just those of the Brahman class. Dalits often refer to Hinduism as ‘Brahimism', a system of power over, far from the truth that God is Love. Ambedkar, the great Dalit leader, a contemporary of Gandhis, was one of the first to reject Hinduism, and become a Buddhist. He was a key figure in the birth of the independent India, the one who study the constitutions of the world, and helped to draft Indias new constitution, working tirelessly for the rights of all the oppressed of India - Dalits, tribals, and women.
Leela greets us with smiles and handshakes and leads us out to her car - a classic white ‘Ambasador', a gift to her from a foreign supporter who saw that she needed transportation to get her important social activist work done. She has designed a densely packed program for our two days in the state.
First stop is our rooms in the guesthouse where Leela has arranged for us, to drop off our stuff. We're exhausted, as we left Delhi at 3 am but there's no time to sleep - breakfast has been arranged at a local center of Dalit activism. And so begins our "program" arranged by Leela - packed to the rafters, a three day tour through the heart of Dalit country.
Breakfast was a feast of dosas (like pancakes) curries, eggs, and chai. Eight people gathered around the desk in the office and we engaged in a conversation about Dalit philosophy and beliefs. There were a number of different belief systems represented in that room - a Buddhist, a Christian, a Hindu, an atheist - all united as Dalits, all working together for the upliftment of their people. The Christian and the Buddhist in particular had an ongoing debate about their beliefs. The Christian Dalit believed that the one truth is to be found in the bible, the word of god. The Buddhist thought this was poppycock, and they were soon engaged in their ongoing debate. Interestingly, the Christian had been an atheist for years and had only recently converted. In fact, he was more interested in scriptural references that the religion itself.
"Perhaps you should call yourself a ‘Biblist" instead of a Christian?" I suggested. The Buddhist loved this.
"Perfect, that's what he is - a Biblist!" He then turned his attention to me. "So what do you think? Is the way of the bible the one truth?"
"I do find it hard to believe that there can only be one path to truth - buts that's as much as I'll say. I don't want to get in the middle of your debate!"
After breakfast, Leela presented us with presents. I received a ceremonial Longi, like a skirt, worn by the Dalit men traditionally. Mine was quite elaborate, beautifully done up, and came with a gold sash to wear around my neck and a sleevless white t-shirt. Leelas quiet husband showed my how to wear it, and the family gathered around me for photographs. Then they presented Claudia with a glittering blue and green Sari, and festooned her wrists with blue bangles, and placed two necklaces around her neck. Again the family gathered around her for photographs. Then Leela gave me two sets of bangles - red and purple - and said, "these are for you to give to another woman in your life."