Gujarat orders probe into conversion of Dalits

The Gujarat government has ordered an inquiry into the mass conversion of Dalits to Buddhism at Dungarpur village in Junagadh district on Sunday. Junagadh district collector Alok Pandey told The Indian Express: "I have ordered a probe into the event and asked the Superintendent of Police and sub-divisional magistrate to inquire into the issue and submit a report at the earliest."

Pandey said that though he had prior knowledge about the event, it was mandatory for the organisers to take prior permission on the conversions, under the new anti-conversion law. "The organisers had informed the administration about holding the event. But they went ahead with the programme without obtaining proper permission," Pandey told this newspaper.

He said that the administration had procured videos of the five-hour event and would conduct a thorough probe to see if there was violation of the law.

Under privisions of Section 5 of the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Rules, 2008, a proper and prior permission of the district magistrate was mandatory before any religious conversion. Any violation amounted to an offence and invited action.

Devendra Govindbhai Vanvi of the Baudh Diksha Mahotsava Samiti, an umbrella organisation of Buddhists and Dalits in the state that organised the event, however, claimed that he had secured prior permission. "The village panchayat provided its ground for the event. Mamlatdar and other officials gave us permission for using a microphone, provided us ambulance and other facilities," claimed Vanvi. "Why should the administration allow the event and provide facilities for it if the event was illegal," he stated. Vanvi alleged that a probe into the event seemed to have been ordered under political pressure.

Why did Dalits convert to Buddhism? Vanvi said that Dalits were embracing Buddhism to seek "emancipation" from the Hindu caste system that had virtually made them "social slaves" for centuries. Former minister Dinesh Parmar, who had attended the event, said that large-scale conversions of Dalits to Buddhism were planned to be held at all the district headquarters in the state in days to come.

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