Buddhist, only because they are afraid of losing their legal status of SC. It might be an inducement for Dalits to profess Hinduism. A Dalit family in Alappuzha, Kerala, has said in so many words that they “converted for quota benefits”. Everyone should be free to profess any religion of his or her choice without fear or inducement. Instead of creating a controversy over a new anti-conversion law, the government must make an urgent assessment of the implicit inducement and systemic discrimination caused by the Constitution Order.
The usage of “conversion” is discursive, vague and misleading. It assumes a prior religious denomination. For example, my father did not “convert” to Buddhism because there was nothing to convert from. He never formally professed any religion, apart from occasional celebration of the popular Hindu festival Diwali. “Conversion” undermines the agency of so-called converts to choose their religion. A more suitable word would be profess or embrace. The alternative usage of ghar wapsi (homecoming) is similarly presumptuous and wrong. If there was ever any ghar (home), the Hindu caste order and the practice of “untouchability” never allowed Dalits in it. Ghar wapsi is paradoxical and offensive because “untouchable” Dalits are intentionally, systematically, violently and forcefully kept outside the so-called ghar.
In a homecoming of my own, I return to my personal decision on whether to get an SC certificate or not. While I am pleased to know that I can avail SC quotas, I am doubtful of the Constitution Order that favours me over other non-Hindus. I smell a rat. Am I being assimilated into Hinduism? I begin to understand the powerful inducement of this Constitution Order. I am tempted, but I choose to resist. A legal provision that discriminates blatantly on the grounds of religion cannot be right. I refuse to identify with Hinduism through a caste status and certification that was rejected by my parents. I understand and respect their decision and accept it as my own. I stand in solidarity with those Muslims and Christians who are legally denied their SC status. The Constitution Order is discriminatory and divisive of religious minorities. I choose not to avail SC quotas and reservations that are unavailable to others who deserve them.
I do not position myself as a model Dalit. Nor do I endorse this position to other Dalits. I just wish religious practice and beliefs would not be held hostage to or compromised by discriminatory laws. The law must recognise the SC status of all those who are not Hindu.
The writer is at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law