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Amid reports of brutalised Dalits converting to Buddhism en masse in Gujarat’s Una district, came news of Rajputs in Uttar Pradesh’s Badayun flogging a Dalit labourer for not obeying their orders to come immediately for harvesting their wheat crop.

Sitaram, a Dalit agricultural labourer in Azampur Bisoria village in Badayun district, was tied to a tree, flogged badly and his moustache ripped out by the village thakurs. Media reports said the thakurs had asked him to cut the standing wheat crop in their fields. Sitaram reportedly told them he could come only after two days.

This infuriated the thakurs. They dragged him to the village square, tied him to a tree and thrashed him. Still not satisfied, they pulled out his moustache, said media reports.

The incident occurred on April 23 but the local police registered a case only a week later after the intervention of Superintendent of Police Jitendra Kumar Srivastav, said media reports.

UP Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Commission has taken cognisance of the incident. The UP SC ST Commission chairman Brijlal directed ADG Police (Bareilly zone) to proceed to the spot, take stern action against the culprits and ensure security of the victim of the assault. He has also sought a report on alleged police negligence and the action taken against the officers responsible.

The news comes at a time when hundreds of Dalits in Una, Gujarat converted to Buddhism on Sunday, a day before Buddha Jayanti, in reaction to the injustices meted out to them and the oppression of caste-based atrocities and discrimination.

Reacting to the development on Monday, April 30, BJP MP Udit Raj cited “social injustice” as the reason behind the move and called it “a dangerous situation”. ANI quoted him as saying:  “Dalits are beaten up for even having a moustache. I don’t know what alternative they have.”

Pradip Parmar, the BJP MLA from Asarva who was present at the conversion, told the gathering, “I congratulate those who are set to take diksha… I am a BJP worker and the party gave me a ticket, but had Babasaheb not given the Constitution and the provision of reservation, I would not have become an MLA.”

The conversion ceremony was held at the village Mota Samadhiyala, 15 km from Una in the Saurashtra region of the State where four persons were flogged in 2016 for skinning a dead cow in village near Una.

Those who converted to Buddhism included the four and 45 members of their family.

Vahsram, Ramesh, Ashok and Bechar had been allegedly beaten up by ‘cow vigilantes’ while skinning the carcass of a cow in Mota Samadhiyala village on July 11, 2016. The assailants had accused the Dalits of slaughtering the cow. Balu and Kunvar, who rushed to the spot to rescue the four, and Devashi Babariya and Arjan, who tried to intervene, had also been beaten up. Later, the accused had taken Vashram, Ramesh, Ashok and Bechar to Una town, tied them to a vehicle and publicly flogged them. Videos of the incident had gone viral, leading to an outcry.

Police investigation later determined that the cow had been killed by a lion.

Balu Sarvaiya, one of the converts, said, “We are embracing Buddhism today. There is no point being in a religion in which you are treated as second class,” reported The Indian Express (IE).

He said that even two years after the incident, the State government had hardly done anything for the victims, who were mercilessly flogged, tied onto an open jeep and paraded on the streets.

“It has been more than two years that our sons were flogged. The state government hasn’t given us any help so far. We haven’t got justice yet and all the accused are out on bail,” Balu Sarvaiya, the victims’ father, told TOI over the phone.

“After the incident, there was Dalit uprising. But we continued to face discrimination. Even our own community members told us not to adhere to a religion after tolerating humiliations. Even today, we shudder to see the flogging video,” Sarvaiya added.

In all, said a IE report, more than a thousand Dalits, including the family allegedly flogged by cow vigilantes in July 2016, converted to Buddhism at an event organised in Mota Samadhiyala village near Gujarat’s Una district.

Not believing in Hindu gods and goddesses was among the 22 resolutions that the converts made. The conversion will be recognised only when registered with the district collector, as per the Gujarat Freedom of Religion law.

Speaking to The Indian Express after the conversion ceremony, Balu said, “I feel relieved and empowered today. Today I junked blind faith forever. This is so liberating. After I was assaulted and humiliated, I realised that these things were burdening me. Now that I have thrown them out of the window, there will be a revolution. Now no god or goddess will prevent us from doing what we want to do. We shall study, educate ourselves and choose suitable professions.”

Ramesh told the media, “We followed Hinduism for thousands of years, but were never treated as a fellow Hindu by other faithful. We were not allowed to enter temples and were treated as untouchables. When we went to work on someone’s farm, we were asked to bring our own utensils for meals. Fed up of all these prejudices, we converted to Buddhism.”

This was the second major conversion event held in Saurashtra after one in Junagadh in late 2013.

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