If you want to achieve power, change your religion. If you want equality, change your religion. If you want independence, change your religion. If you want to make this world happy in which you live, change your religion.” On 14th October, 1956 after converting to Buddhism at Nagpur Dr. Ambedkar remarked,” Today I have got a new birth.”
Now let us see as to what extent the objectives and gains of Buddhist conversion as outlined by Dr. Ambedkar have been achieved or have accrued to the new converts known as Buddhists.
First of all it will be proper to see the strength of the Buddhists gained so far. As per the figures of 2001 census report the total population of Buddhists in India stands at 79.55 lacs which is 0.8 percent of the total population of India. It includes a small number of traditional Buddhists. Maharashtra state has the largest Buddhist population of 58.38 lacs followed by Karnatka (3.93 lacs) and Uttar Pardesh (3.02 lacs).
The rate of growth of Buddhist population during 1991-2001has been 24.56 percent which can be said to be quite encouraging. These statistics also show that Buddhist population has surpassed the Jain population.
Now when we look into the qualitative changes in the lives of Buddhists vis-à-vis the Hindu Dalits we find that they are far ahead on many scores. As per 2001 census repot comparison of Buddhists and Hindu Dalits on the following scores indicates a significant improvement in the lives of Buddhist:-
1. Sex Ratio: The sex ratio of female and male among Buddhists is 953 per thousand as compared with 936 of Hindu Dalits. It indicates that the position of women in Buddhist families is far better than that of Hindu Dalits. It is quite in accordance with the high status of women in Buddhist society. This ratio is higher than Hindus (931), Muslims (936), Sikhs (893) and Jains (940).
2. Sex Ratio of Children (0-6 years): According to 2001 census report the sex ratio of girls and boys among Buddhists is 942 as compared with 938 of Hindu Dalits. This sex ratio is much higher than Hindus (925), Sikhs (786), and Jains (870). It shows that girls enjoy better care and protection among Buddhists as compared with Hindu Dalit families.
3. Literacy Rate: Literacy rate of Buddhists is 72.7 percent which is much higher than that of Hindu Dalits (54.70 percent). This rate is also much higher than that of Hindus (65.1), Muslims (59.1) and Sikhs (69.4).It shows that Buddhists are more literate than Hindu Dalits.
4. Literacy RateFemale : The literacy rate of Buddhist women is 61.7 percent as compared with 41.9 percent of Hindu Dalit women. This rate is also higher than that of Hindus (53.2) and Muslims (50.1). It is in accordance with the status of women in Buddhist society. It shows that females among Buddhists are getting more educated than Hindu Dalit females.
5. Work Participation Rate: This rate for Buddhists is 40.6 percent which is higher than 40.4 percent for Hindu Dalits. This rate is also higher than that of Hindus (40.4), Muslims (31.3) Christians (39.3), Sikhs (31.7), and Jains (32.7).It indicates that Buddhists are more employed than Hindu Dalits.
The above comparative study of the status and conditions of Buddhists indicates that they are far ahead of Hindu Dalits on various parameters e.g. sex ratio, girl and boy (0-6 years) sex ratio, literacy, women literacy and work participation rate. It is definitely the result of change of religion which has liberated them from the bondage of caste and inferiority complex.
Apart from the above various studies have also shown that Dalits who have followed Dr. Ambedkar and got converted to Buddhism have progressed in all the fields of life as compared with Hindu Dalits. Buddhists have changed their occupations by leaving low paid and dirty professions. Better education has opened for them new opportunities for advancement. They give more importance to the education of their children resulting in higher rate of literacy.
They are more self respecting and assertive in their rights. They have become self makers, self dependent and competitive. They have grown intellectually. Their women and children enjoy better status in family and society. They have become enlightened and are saved from religious exploitation and bigotry. Thus Buddhism has definitely liberated them spiritually and materially.
This study shows that Buddhism is really a liberating philosophy for Dalits. The Buddhists have made more progress than Hindu Dalits. They should become good Buddhists and should become role models for Hindu Dalits.