Tag Archives: discrimination

Reality of Gudi Padwa, festival of upper castes’ exploitation of lower castes women


On first or second Saturday coming after the Hindu New Years Day (Gudhi padawa), the devadasis, who are mostly dalitbahujans, were openly sexually enjoyed in public, about hundred years ago. This is now replaced by another tradition called “Okali”, which was in vogue till 1987. It is a festival like ‘Rang Panchami’. The young boys from higher castes assemble around a pool of coloured water in front of town temple. Young devadasis in the town stand in front of them in a row, and each receives a sari, a choli and a flower garland. The coloured water is poured over the devadasis who appear virtually naked as the cloths given to them are very thin, scanty, delicate and transparent. The boys play with the bodies of devadasis as they like, doing everything just short of sexual intercourse. All assembled enjoy the scene. This happens in the name of god ‘Bili Kallappa’. [Uttam Kamble, Sugawa, p. 81]

Gudi Padwa

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30th मार्च 2016 – जस्टिस फॉर रोहित वेमुला – मण्डी हाउस से राष्ट्रपति भवन तक रैली


जस्टिस फॉर रोहित वेमुला

हैदराबाद केंद्रीय विश्वविद्यालय में क्रूर राजकीय दमन के विरोध में उठो!

मण्डी हाउस से राष्ट्रपति भवन तक रैली 

30th मार्च 2016, 1 : 00 pm

जॉइंट एक्शन कमिटी फॉर सोशल जस्टिस – दिल्ली

17 जनवरी को हैदराबाद केंद्रीय विश्वविद्यालय के एक छात्र रोहित वेमुला कोप्रशासन की तरफ से लगातार बने हुए भेदभाव और अपमान ने आत्महत्या कीओर धकेल दिया. इस संस्थागत हत्या ने सारे विश्वविद्यालय समुदाय कोझंकझोर कर रख दिया. भारतीय जनता पार्टी के सांसद बंडारू दत्तात्रेय कारोहित वेमुला सहित ४ और दलित छात्र और आंबेडकर स्टूडेंट्स एसोसिएशन केकार्यकर्ताओं पर  ‘देश – द्रोही’ होने का आरोप लगाना, उन छात्रों के निलम्बन के लिए मानव संसाधन मंत्री स्मृति ईरानी का दबाव बनाना, और कुलपति पी.अप्पा राव का इन छात्रों को न केवल निलम्बित करना पर उनका सामाजिकबहिष्कार करना, इन सभी कारणों ने रोहित को अपनी जान लेने पर मजबूर करदिया. आज इन सब मुद्दों को नज़रअंदाज़ करते हुए, पी. अप्पा राव, जो की रोहित की हत्या के लिए साफ़ तौर पर ज़िम्मेदार है, अपनी गद्दी पर वापस लौट आया है. और आते ही उसने विश्वविद्यालय परिसर को एक जंग का मैदान बना  दिया. २२ मार्च २०१५ को जब इस बात का विरोध करने विद्यार्थी इकठ्ठा हुए, तब उन पर तेलंगाना पुलिस, सी.आर.पी.एफ. और आर.ए.एफ. की फ़ोर्स ने बर्बरता से हमला किया. विद्यार्थियों और शिक्षकों पर इस क्रूर और गैर – संवैधानिक हमले ने विश्वविद्यालय परिसर में आपातकाल जैसी स्थिति बना दी. विद्यार्थियों को हथियारबंद फ़ोर्स ने खींचते और खदेड़ते हुए, विश्वविद्यालय के गेट के बाहर कर दिया, उनके साथ लगातार गाली-गलौंच और मार-पीट की, बहुत सारी महिला विद्यार्थियों को बलात्कार की धमकियां दी गई और पुलिस यौन हिंसा पर उतर आई. पुलिस वैन और कस्टडी में भी मार-पीट की गई और प्रशासन ने मेस बंद करवा दी और बिजली और इंटरनेट की सेवाएं रद्द करवा दी.

हैदराबाद केंद्रीय विश्वविद्यालय के प्रशासन, तेलंगाना पुलिस, और भ.ज.पा. के मंत्री-नेताओं की मिली-भगत ये साफ़ तौर पे दर्शाती है  की ब्राह्मणवादी हिंदुत्व फ़ासीवाद किस कदर हमारे समाज में अपनी जड़ें जमा चूका है. एक अन्यायपूर्ण व्यवस्था  के खिलाफ और अपने अधिकारों के लिए आवाज़ उठाने वाले विद्यार्थियों पर ये दमन, एक लोकतंत्र कहलाने वाले  देश में अपना विरोध ज़ाहिर करने के लिए सिकुड़ते स्थानों और संसाधनों की तरफ इशारा करता है.

FTII से लेकर JNU तक सारे उच्च शिक्षा संस्थानों पर ये हमले, सत्ताधारी सरकार की प्रतिरोध की आवाज़ों को दबाने की एक सोची समझी साज़िश है. लेकिन, HCU के उदाहरण से ये साफ़ है की जब ये प्रतिरोध की आवाज़ें दलित-बहुजन और अल्पसंख्यक समुदायों से आये विद्यार्थियों की होती हैं, तो राज्य का दमन और भी तीव्र और बर्बर होता है.

हम सभी रोहित के साथ और HCU के संघर्षरत विद्यार्थियों और शिक्षकों केसाथ उनकी लड़ाई में एक जुट खड़े हैं. रोहित वेमुला की हत्या के बाद जिससंरचनात्मक अन्याय का पर्दा फाश हुआ है, उसके जवाब में देश भर में जॉइंटएक्शन कमिटी फॉर सोशल जस्टिस का गठन हुआ. रोहित की हत्या के बाद से ही, मानव संसाधन मंत्रालय का रवैय्या और  मीडिया की रिपोर्टिंग ने उच्चशिक्षा संस्थानों में जातिगत उत्पीड़न और विद्यार्थियों के अधिकारों से  ध्यानभटकाने की तमाम कोशिशें  की, लेकिन हम रोहित की आवाज़ को दबने नहींदेंगे. आइये और इस लड़ाई में शामिल हों.

30 मार्च को एक बजे से मंडी हाउस से राष्ट्रपति भवन के मार्च में शामिल होकर,एकजुटता से ये मांगें हम  रखेंगे:

  •  हैदराबाद केंद्रीय विश्वविद्यालय के कुलपति पी. अप्पा राव को हटायाजाये.
  •  ‘रोहित एक्ट’ लागू करो.
  • मानव संसाधन मंत्री स्मृति ईरानी और  भारतीय जनता पार्टी के सांसदबंडारू दत्तात्रेय का इस्तीफ़ा.
  • सभी विद्यार्थियों और शिक्षकों पर लगी सारी धाराओं को बिना किसीशर्त के और तुरंत हटाया जाये
  • गच्चीबोली पुलिस थाने में एस.सी./एस.टी. एट्रोसिटीज क़ानून केअंतर्गत दर्ज किये गए सारे अपराधियों की गिरफ्तारी.
  • जिन पुलिस कर्मियों और फोर्सेज ने विद्यार्थियों और शिक्षकों पर हमलेकिये, उन सभी के खिलाफ कानूनी कार्यवाही.
  • हैदराबाद केंद्रीय विश्वविद्यालय के परिसर से पुलिस और फोर्सेज कोतुरंत हटाया जाये!
  • विश्वविद्यालयों की स्वायत्ता.
  • रोहित के परिवार को कंपनसेशन की न्यूनतम रकम, ५० लाख रुपये,दिए जाएं और साथ ही उसके परिवार के व्यक्ति को HCU में नौकरी दीजाये.
  • रोहित के केस में एक सार्वजनिक अभियोक्ता की नियुक्ति.
  • सारे उच्च शिक्षा संस्थानों  में दलित – बहुजन, आदिवासी, औरअल्पसंख्यक विद्यार्थियों के साथ होने वाले  भेद -भाव और अत्याचारके खिलाफ एक  कमिटी का गठन हो, जिसमे मानव संसाधन मंत्रलायके अधकारी न हों.
  • सारे उच्च शिक्षा संस्थानों में, सरकारी या निजी, समाजिक न्याय कीनीतियों को लागू किया जाये.
  • Justice for Rohith Vemula

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We did not go on to the stage, Neither were we called.


We did not go on to the stage,
Neither were we called.
We were shown our places,
told to sit.
But they, sitting on the stage,
went on telling us of our sorrows,
our sorrows remained ours, they never became theirs.

— Waharu Sonawane, A tribal poet.

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Caste Discrimination in Punjab


Total Dalit population in Punjab – 32%.
Total cultivable land with the panchayats across the state -168910 acres.
Land reserved for Dalits 56303 acres, i.e. around 33%
BUT
In reality, less than 4300 acres is given to Dalits in Punjab, i.e. around 2.54% only.
Govt. deliberately keeps the auction price high so that Dalits don’t bid for it and if Dalits join hands and decide to put up a fight, they do face social boycott.

Scheduled Castes workforce in the state during the SAD-BJP rule has decreased by 7,572 employees from 2007 to 2013. As per a government report, in 2007, the strength of SC employees in government departments was 73,557; in 2008 it increased marginally to 74,333. Since then, the graph is on the decline — 69,686 (2009), 71,539 (2010), 66,834 (2011) and 65,985 (2012, till March 31, 2013).

Stop Discrimination Now

It must also be remembered here that BJP and Akali Dal are ruling together in Punjab from last 10 years and in that period Punjab has drowned into drugs and alcohol. BTW, when RSS, VHP & BJP people have hijacked Punjab Govt. what else we can expect other than molestation, rapes & violence in Punjab? From TV channels to transport, in Punjab everything is under control of these people. Further, few years back Mr. Badal was busy installing cow memorials & cow commission. As if Holy cow is his mother and as if Sikhism worship cow! Badal is RSS agent. SIkhism was once one of the best religions in the world but people like Badal & Co have ruined it and they have polluted it to the extent that caste discrimination can be observed openly now. Lastly, Harsimrat Kaur Badal is a sister of drug king-pin – Majithia.

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Basis and Significance of Reservation


In the recent debates on reservation some people have suggested that let us now give reservation to so-called upper castes according to percentage of their population. I do not agree with this argument. I think those who are mooting this idea are doing in frustration or out of their ignorance about the logic and basis of reservation. By even mooting this idea we dilute the principles of reservation and spread the idea that reservation can be granted to anyone. One should not forget and misunderstand the logic of reservation. There are very significant, fundamental and structural principles on the basis of which this reservation was conceded to SC, STs and to some OBCs after intense debates in the constituent assembly and centuries of movements by SCs, STs, and OBCs. Few of them were:

  1. They have faced thousands of years of exclusion and discrimination and were not accepted as even human beings.

  2. This exclusion and discrimination of thousands of years was cumulative in nature, that is, it was not in one aspect of life but it was in most of the spheres, for instance in social, economic, political, educational, religious, residential, occupational, etc.

  3. The founding fathers of the Indian nation thought that even after these people were accorded human rights enshrined in the democratic constitution of India and there will be penal provisions according to Indian Penal Code one will not be able to obliterate this exclusion and discrimination against these people and there should be some special provisions for them in the realm of Politics, Bureaucracy, and Education.

  4. There is an element of social justice in the reservation of SCs, STs, and OBCs. It involves historical corrective of injustices done to SCs and STS.

  5. There was no time limit fixed for reservation for SC and STs in Bureaucratic Jobs and in Educational Institutions. Only political reservation under article 330 and 332 of Indian Constitution, which reserves seats in Lok Sabha and in Vidhan Sabhas of different States were for 10 years. However, these reservations have been given new life with different amendments.

  6. The most important point is ‘Reservation for SCs and STs’ is directly connected with the issue of representation. It was because they did not have any representation in any sphere of life, that is, in social, economic, political, educational, etc. sphere for thousands of years and therefore they were supposed to get representation in these Institutions.

  7. Therefore, reservation is not poverty alleviation programme. The founding fathers of nation did not think to remove poverty of scheduled caste persons through reservations. In fact there are so many poverty alleviation programmes begin run in India. One such programme is MNREGA, the other is Prime Minister’s Rojgar Yojna etc. They always thought to grant SCs and STs Self-representation through reservation.

In the light of the above we cannot concede reservation to Upper Castes. Second we cannot concede reservations on economic basis.

By – Prof. Vivek Kumar, JNU

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RESERVATION – 10 Questions and Answers


Q 1: What is reservation?

The word reservation is a misnomer. The appropriate word for it used in the Indian Constitution is Representation. It is not given to anyone in his individual capacity. It is given to individual as a representative of the underprivileged community. The beneficiaries of reservations are in turn expected to help their communities to come up.

Q 2: Why reservation?

The policy of reservations is being used as a strategy to overcome discrimination and act as a compensatory exercise. A large section of the society was historically denied right to property, education, business and civil rights because of the practice of untouchability. In order to compensate for the historical denial and have safeguards against discrimination, we have the reservation policy.

Q 3: Were Reservations incorporated by the founding fathers of the constitution only for first 10 years?

Only the political reservations (seats reserved in Loksabha, Vidhansabha, etc) were to be reserved for 10 years and the policy review was to be made after that. That is why after every 10 years the parliament extends political reservations.

The 10 year limit for reservations is not true for the reservations in education and employment. The reservations in educational institutions and in employment are never given extension as it is given for the political reservations.

Q 4: Why give reservations on basis of caste?

To answer this question we must first understand why the need for the reservations has arisen. The cause for the various types of disabilities that the underprivileged castes in India face / have faced, is the systemic historical subjugation of a massive magnitude based on caste system having a religious sanction. Therefore if the caste system was the prime cause of all the disabilities, injustice and inequalities that the Dalit-Bahujans suffered, then to overcome these disabilities the solution has to be designed on basis of caste only.

Q 5: Why not on basis of economic criterion?

Reservations should never be based on economic status for various reasons as follows:

1. The poverty prevailing among the Dalit-Bahujans has its genesis in the social-religious deprivations based on caste system. Therefore poverty is an effect and caste system a cause. The solution should strike at the cause and not the effect
2. An individual’s Economic status can change. Low income may be taken to mean poverty. But the purchasing value of money, in India, depends upon caste. For example a Dalit can not buy a cup of tea even in some places.

3. Practical difficulties in proving economic status of individual to the state machinery are many. The weak may suffer.

4. In caste ridden India infested with rampant corruption, even for an unchangeable status like caste, the false “Caste Certificate” can be purchased. How much easier will it be to purchase a false “Income Certificate”? So income based reservation is impractical. It is no use arguing when both certificates can be bought, why caste only should form basis of reservation. It is certainly more difficult to buy a false caste certificate than a false income certificate.

5. Reservation is not an end in itself. It is a means to an end. The main aim is to achieve the active participation and sharing by the “socially excluded” humanity in all the fields of the affairs of the society. It is not panacea for all ills, neither it is permanent. It would be a temporary measure till such time the matrimonial advertisements in newspaper columns continue to contain the mention of caste.

Q 6: Should there be a creamy layer criterion or not?

The demand from anti-reservationists for introduction of creamy layer is ploy to scuttle the whole effectiveness of reservations. Even now out of all seats meant for SC/STs in IITs , 25-40 % seats remain vacant because it seems IITs do not find suitable candidates. Just imagine what would happen if by applying creamy layer criterion the SC/ST middle class, lower middle class people who are in position to take decent education are excluded from reservations benefit ! Will the poor among SC/STs be able to compete with these ‘privileged ‘students’ trained under Ramaiah and at various IIT-JEE training centers at Kota ?
Of course Not.
This will lead to 100 % seats in IITs for SC/STs going vacant.

Q 7: How long should the reservations continue?

The answer to this question lies with the anti-reservationists. It depends on how sincerely and effectively the policy makers which constitute “privileged castes” people in executive, judiciary and legislature, implement the reservations policy.
Is it just on part of “privileged castes” people who have enjoyed undeclared exclusive reservations for past 3000 years and continue to enjoy the same even in 21st century in all religious institutions and places of worship, to ask for the timelines for reservations policy?
Why do not they ask, how long the exclusive reservations for particular community in the religious institutions and places of worship are going to continue?
The people who have acquired disabilities due to inhuman subjugation for 3000 years will need substantial time to come over those disabilities. 50 years of affirmative action is nothing as compared to 3000 years of subjugation.

Q 8: Will not the reservations based on castes lead to divisions in the society?

There are apprehensions that reservations will lead to the divisions in the society. These apprehensions are totally irrational. The society is already divided into different castes. On the contrary reservations will help in annihilating the caste system. There are around 5000 castes among the SC/ST and OBCs. By grouping these various castes under 3 broad categories of SC, ST and OBC, the differences among 5000 separate castes can be abridged. This is a best way of annihilation of castes. Therefore rather than making rhetoric about reservations leading to divisions in the society the anti-reservationists should make honest and sincere efforts to annihilate castes. Have these people made any efforts towards this direction? In most of the cases the answer is NO. The people making these anti-reservations rhetoric, all this time have been enjoying all the privileges that the Indian caste system offers to the “Privileged Castes”. As long as they enjoy the privileges of the caste system they do not have any qualms regarding it. But when it comes to making castes as basis for achieving social equality by providing representations these same people make noises. These are the double standards of highest order practiced by the ‘privileged’ people.

Q 9: Will not reservations affect the Merit?

As regards to how Merit is defined in a very narrow sense and what it actually means, following is the quote from an article by Prof Rahul Barman of IIT Kanpur.

Reservations of more than 60 % have existed in the 4 states of southern India and around 40 % in Maharashtra since last 50 years. On other hand in the north Indian states the 15 % ‘privileged castes’ have been enjoying 77 % of the seats in educational institutions and in employment (assuming that 23 % reservations for SC/STs are totally filled, which is not the case). The World Bank study has found that all the 4 south Indian states are much ahead of north Indian states in terms of their human development index. It is a common knowledge that all the southern states and Maharashtra are much ahead in fields of education, health, industrial development, in implementing poverty alleviation schemes, etc. than the north Indian states. This shows that reservations have indeed helped the southern Indian states in making progress on various fronts. Whereas lack of adequate reservations is responsible for the lack of development in most of the north Indian states.

Q 10: Have existing reservations for SC/STs been effective or not?

The reservation policy in the public sector has benefited a lot of people. The Central government alone has 14 lakh employees. The proportion of Scheduled castes in class III and IV is well above the quota of 16 per cent and in class I and II, the proportion is around 8–12 per cent. So, the middle and the lower middle class that we see today from the Dalit community is because of reservation.

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Caste Discrimination in Australia


Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar had rightly said that wherever these upper caste hindus will go they will bring caste system and discrimination with themselves.

It’s a prejudice that’s been outlawed in India. But now it seems caste discrimination could be creeping into daily life in Australia.

Mitra and Rita Pariyar came to Australia three years ago, believing they would leave behind the prejudice they faced in Nepal. They were wrong.

A recent lunch in Sydney revealed how deeply ingrained the couple’s caste status is — even among friends.

“The only burgers left were beef burgers and what my friends told me was that it was alright for me to pick up the beef because I was an untouchable and therefore I shouldn’t really mind about it,” Mitra says.

“But I felt offended about it because I consider myself as much a Hindu as they are.”

Mitra and Rita are Damais — members of one of Nepal’s lowest Hindu castes, otherwise known as untouchables.

Mitra says they’re frequently the targets of jokes by other members of the Australia’s Nepalese community.

“It’s almost a part of their lingo that they use these derogatory terms. You are damai, you are as black as a kami, these comments are common. So the upper caste people might not feel it, they might use it as a form a joke, but it badly hurts us.”

Employment discrimination

Two weeks ago, Rita was interviewed for a job. She says the interview was going well — then the Nepalese interviewer learned her surname.

A week later, Rita called the manager to confirm her start date.

“She said No. And I said why? And she said no reason, I am going overseas, like that. And I feel that I am low caste, and that’s why.”

But the discrimination extends beyond employment prospects.

Mitra says their low caste identity also isolates him socially within the Nepalese community.

“The discrimination or the exclusion is more subtle – they won’t say ‘you are low caste, get away,’ but it’s more likely that I am not included in family events, and functions and festivals. There is more open and more formal sort of segregation as well, that’s because caste associations are creeping in in the country.”

“They use these derogatory terms, ‘You are damai, you are as black as a kami’ – these comments are common. So the upper caste people might use it as a joke, but it badly hurts us.”

Raj Azad agrees caste discrimination is happening in Australia.

He is a Dalit — a caste so low in India that it is not recognised officially in the country’s social hierarchy — and has found the discrimination he faced in India had followed him to university in Melbourne.

“In my class I found two boys arguing with each other and they were using different caste names to abuse each other.”

“Indians are really good at identifying the castes of each other.  They microscopically peel it layer by layer and then they come to know and that is what hurts me.”

Monash University researcher Lavanya Raj says when Indian Australians realise she’s a Dalit — also known as an untouchable — they change the way they behave towards her.

Her flatmate was from the highest caste, Brahmin, and when he found out her caste their once friendly relationship turned sour.

“Once we were just having a discussion and I was supposed to give him some money – some money that we use for the house to buy stuff,” she says.

“When I gave it to him, he put his hands out as if he was going to take it but then something told him in his mind that probably he should not touch me, and he withdrew his hand and asked me to keep the money on the table.”

“I was extremely angry and I threw the money, not exactly on him but somewhere near him and I walked off.”

A widespread problem

Many South Asian countries have outlawed caste-based discrimination, while in Britain, caste is recognised as a form of discrimination under its equality act.

John Kennedy is president of the United India Association, a group representing many Indian-Australian associations in Sydney.

He acknowledges caste is increasingly creeping into Indian-Australian communities, but he rejects the practice.

“Casteism, yes I can see that certain communities have started their own caste-based associations in Australia, and I can see that it is being practised in Australia,” he says.

“But as an Australian citizen I don’t want this to happen.”

“If racism is not allowed in this country, why should casteism?”

There are around 100 Australian-based Hindu temples and their priests all belong to the Brahmin caste.

Co-founder of Sydney’s Helensburgh Hindu temple, Natarajan Iyer, says currently there’s no need to appoint priests from lower castes.

“99 per cent of them will be Brahmins.  If there is a need we may consider it.  Right now, we are not in that sort of a situation.”

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The law in other countries

Caste discrimination is outlawed in many South Asian countries, including India and Nepal. Other countries affected are taking steps to address the issue.

Britain’s House of Lords adopted an amendment outlawing caste discrimination in 2013.

So far, a caste discrimination case has not reached the Australian courts.

Race Discrimination Commissioner Dr Tim Soutphommasane says there is no legal mechanism to address complaints for caste discrimination in Australia.

“If racism is not allowed in this country, why should casteism?”

“If there is discrimination that involved caste alone, then it’s by no means clear that we would accept the complaint. Caste is not specifically covered under the discrimination law that we have at the federal level.”

Professor Simon Rice from the Australian National University College of Law says caste-specific laws are not needed in Australia, as it is covered by other legal mechanisms.

“I don’t know that we need to legislate specifically for caste. Race covers a whole range of characteristics- skin colour, for example, nationality, ethnic origin, caste will just be another one in the list.”

But Mitra says specific recognition of caste-based discrimination in Australia would help to stop its spread.

He says it would also help vindicate those members of the community experiencing caste discrimination.

“If racism is not allowed in this country, why should casteism?”

With Raymond Selvaraj and Kulasegaram Sanchayan from SBS Radio Tamil

Source – SBS

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Filed under Caste Discrimination, Casteism, Dr B R Ambedkar, Latest

Japan-born Buddhist monk battling the caste dragon


The room goes silent, and when I look up from my recording equipment, an otherworldly figure has entered the room. Its eyes sit deep in their sockets underneath a wrinkled forehead. A strong jaw completes the image of a figure imbued with an iron will. Its clean-shaven head drops in a bow, its thin, stone-like lips open and an old man’s coarse voice emerges from somewhere deep inside: “Konnichi wa.

The man standing in front of me, holding a staff and wearing a simple robe, is Surai Sasai, a Japanese Buddhist monk on a lifelong quest for justice in India. In a few moments he will address a large audience about his mission in the South Asian nation, where he has spent most of his adult life. I hear the murmur from the audience waiting in the adjacent lecture hall. The meeting, on a fine June day, is hosted by the famous Shingon sect of esoteric Buddhism, at the sect’s headquarters on Mount Koya in Wakayama Prefecture. Sasai sits down, and I feel a pang of insecurity. Can I ask a man like this anything, without the risk of offending him?

“He’s got the kind of face I’d never seen before,” says Mitabi Kobayashi, 43, in an interview some days later. Kobayashi is a filmmaker who has been following Sasai for the past 10 years. “I first saw it in a magazine in 1997,” he continues. “Thinking it must be a photograph from sometime just before the war, maybe a little later, I was stunned when I learned the picture was only 8 years old. When I learned later about his life’s mission, I knew I had to do a documentary on him.”


In a Kobayashi film from 2009, we see Sasai on stage back in India, speaking to hundreds of Indians in orange robes, preparing them for a mass conversion to Buddhism.

“You are about to make some severe vows!” he shouts, holding a microphone. “From now there will be no drinking, no sleeping with women!” The mass of shaved, dark-skinned men in orange seems undeterred and listen calmly.

Sasai’s quest in India has many elements of the classic “Hero’s Journey” monomyth: There is the search for the boon (justice and equality), the battle with the dragon (the caste system), the great sacrifice (giving up a comfortable life in Japan) and the sharing of the treasure with the community. Sasai is building his community among the Dalits, a people who have endured unrelenting discrimination for having been born into India’s “untouchable” caste. He claims to have converted 2 million Dalits, giving them a new chance in life. This has made him famous in Indian Buddhist circles.

“The Shudra [low-caste] people were not treated as human beings, and conversion was their way out,” says Rakesh Sade, an Indian Buddhist and admirer who has come to listen to Sasai. “Religion should be for human beings, not the other way around. If it does not give us the right to live as humans, it is better to leave. Not even our children got decent treatment. They couldn’t sit in the classroom with the other pupils, but had to stay outside.”

The ill treatment of children is but one of endless examples of routine discrimination against the Dalits. To them, Sasai is a hero.


Born in 1935 in the village of Sugao in present-day Niimi, Okayama Prefecture, Sasai had difficulty settling into an ordinary lifestyle.

“Sasai likes to tell a story from the first days after the war,” says Kobayashi. “He was still a child, but he just couldn’t come to terms with what he saw as the ultimate stupidity and waste of the war effort. To make a point, he scribbled ‘Serves you right!’ on the walls of houses in his village, and he was rewarded with a good beating by the villagers.”

After high school, Sasai started to work as a salesman, selling medicine. “He was what we’d call a furiitā (part-timer) in Japan today,” says Kobayashi.

I ask Sasai how he views his life: “It was an existence of struggling in the mud, of inflicting wounds on myself again and again,” he replies in his weathered voice. “Today I can only say I am grateful for how life turned out.”

It is a gracious reply to a polite question. But Sasai was not born a saint, and perhaps that is what gives him his humanity. In fact, he has all the hallmarks of a maverick.

I see this side to him in a film clip from an earlier visit, when he gets hold of a wooden training sword and starts swinging wildly, in all directions, until he falls over, ending up a kimono-clad heap of laughter on the ground. Or, when we join him in prayer outside the lecture hall, and he all of a sudden starts some sort of cheer-leading, slogan-shouting thing, and all the Indians in hats gathered around him raise their fists in the air and shout back in unison — what exactly, I have no idea, but it sounds like a war cry. Or, when one of his disciples gets too excited and Sasai lashes out at him, in front of us all, “You need to learn how to use Buddha’s language properly!” addressing the poor man as omae, a rather rude form of “you” in Japanese.


Sasai has hundreds of thousands of disciples in India, where he started his missionary work in 1967. But that success did not come easily.

“India is not an easy land to live in, in one sense,” he says. “There are simple things you have to put up with, such as the food: chapati, day in and day out — chapati and dal (a stew of lentils or peas, etc.). But that is a small sacrifice. Most of all I have suffered because of my naivete. Men like me get taken advantage of, sometimes even by people they trust. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been fooled.”

Still, there is no bitterness in his voice as he continues: “But who can blame these people? They think completely differently about these things. They even laugh when they themselves are fooled.”

If Sasai has felt betrayed, there is also room in his heart for sympathy.

“This is a people that cannot live without religion,” he says. “Good religion or bad, they must have it! India is the land of religion. And I think one reason may be that they were not isolated in an island nation like us Japanese, but were exposed to all kinds of influences on a dynamic continent. That’s probably why they listen to and respect us monks, and I love that.”

But in spite of this openness, there are also conservative forces at play in India, and the odds against Buddhism breaking the caste system seem formidable. If the original teachings of Buddhism are really more about political reform than religion, as some argue, serious conflict may be brewing.

The Buddha himself is said to have been opposed to the caste system, and there is good evidence that in the third century, Emperor Ashoka followed in his footsteps. Ashoka, regarded as one of the greatest of India’s rulers, united the country under Buddhist edicts.

“Ashoka was anti-Brahmin and anti-Hindu,” according to Richard Gombrich, emeritus professor of Sanskrit at the University of Oxford, referring to the traditional caste of clerics and teachers. “This is why Indian school books never mention his opposition to the caste system and to blood sacrifices. They are, quite correctly, considered to be antithetical to Hinduism. So the Brahmins, very cleverly, totally forgot him and totally buried him.”

Will they also bury Sasai? In fact, they have already tried. In India, it appears his political clout is a double-edged sword.

“In Nagpur, everyone knows Sasai for his religious leadership. But he is also known in the rest of India for his influence on powerful politicians,” says Kobayashi. “Hindu opposition is a constant. There has been harassment of aspiring Buddhist converts, and even assassination attempts on Sasai himself.”


Although the Dalits have historically suffered terrible discrimination, some have managed to escaped their predicament. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, popularly known as Babasaheb, was one of them. An influential social reformer, he became independent India’s first justice minister, helped draft its first constitution and sought to eradicate the injustices of the caste system. Shortly before his death in 1956 he converted to Buddhism and initiated a mass conversion of Dalits to unshackle them from what he saw as Hindu discrimination. This re-energized Buddhism in India after centuries on the brink of extinction.

The year after Ambedkar’s mass conversion, Sasai, struggling to find direction, met a Buddhist priest in Yamanashi Prefecture and decided to enter the monkhood. Eventually he was sent to study in Thailand, where further challenges presented themselves — in the form of two women he became infatuated with. Ashamed of his failure, Sasai decided he could not return home, and instead traveled to India in 1967 to seek the right path.

The trip did not go well, and a year later Sasai was ready to give up on India. But then, one night, a man appeared to him in a dream, introducing himself to Sasai as Nagarjuna, an ancient Buddhist philosopher. The man gave him directions to find the Steel Stupa, a sacred site in Buddhism, which seemed to point to the vicinity of the central Indian city of Nagpur.

On arrival in Nagpur, Sasai met a man who had organized Ambedkar’s mass conversion ceremony in the city in 1956. Shown a photo of Ambedkar, Sasai became convinced that it was the Dalit intellectual who appeared in the dream in disguise. But somehow, the image of Nagarjuna would not leave him.


If you walk through the immense burial grounds on Mount Koya past centuries-old crumbling graves slumbering in the shade of huge, ancient cedar trees, you will end up at a memorial hall called Oku-no-in, one of Japan’s most intensely spiritual places. There, entombed in the basement, is the mummified body of Kukai, the founder of the Shingon sect. Followers believe he has been in a state of unconscious deep hibernation since 835, waiting for the arrival of the next Buddha.

Kukai journeyed to China to bring home a scripture that is at the very core of esoteric Shingon Buddhism — the Mahavairocana Sutra. The sutra had traveled all the way from India, where, according to Shingon teachings, it was received by Nagarjuna several centuries earlier in the Steel Stupa. Kukai, it turns out, was the last in a lineage of eight masters of the sutra across the world.

And now, Sasai is here at Mount Koya to talk about the sutra’s place of origin — the Steel Stupa — which he claims he has found at the Mansell ruins, 14 km outside Nagpur. However, Sasai’s claims have had a mixed reception among Japanese scholars so far.

“They don’t seem to be too interested,” says Kobayashi. “Some came to investigate, but the research results often conflict with their own, so Sasai is stepping on their turf.”

Japan-born monk Surai Sasai leads a prayer ceremony at the headquarters of the Shingon Buddhist sect on Mount Koya, Wakayama Prefecture, on June 14. The portraits depict Buddha and Dalit social reformer Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar. | CHRISTINA SJOGREN

Japan-born monk Surai Sasai leads a prayer ceremony at the headquarters of the Shingon Buddhist sect on Mount Koya, Wakayama Prefecture, on June 14. The portraits depict Buddha and Dalit social reformer Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar. | CHRISTINA SJOGREN


In spite of his success as a religious leader in India, there has been surprisingly little interest in Japan in Sasai’s approach to Buddhism. But why is this?

One scene in Kobayashi’s film about Sasai’s 2009 visit to Japan is quite revealing. In the documentary, there is a Buddhist meeting, and the monks are gathered to dine, filling the room with cigarette smoke, drinking generously from beer bottles. Apparently unable to accept this behavior, Sasai is eating alone in an adjacent room.

Attitudes toward wealth are another source of contention.

“I feel Buddhism in Japan is basically dead,” says Sono Kumar, an Indian Buddhist who took part in the June event at Mount Koya. “As a monk, you should not marry, have sexual relations or crave for money. Here they wear a robe to the temple and jeans at home. I feel they use their religion for business. I ask people about this but they never have any good answers.”

What does money mean to Sasai? During his 2009 visit, Kobayashi’s camera gives us a glimpse of a man both happy to see the progress of his homeland and alienated by it.

“In Japan, you need money to live,” he says, looking out at the landscape whizzing by outside through the shinkansen window. “But in India, it’s not all that important. After all, you can basically lay down and sleep wherever you like.”

At this point, I thought I could trace a hint of sadness in his stony face.

The Indians I spoke to stressed that education is central to the task of making people appreciate the deeper values of Buddhism. Sasai agrees.

“It is extremely hard to get people among the older generations to open up to new thinking,” he says. “A grandmother or grandfather may convert on paper, but it will take three generations before you can talk about ‘Buddhists’ in the true meaning of the word. The young are freed from the Hindu view of the world. They haven’t studied the Hindu scriptures. So you must be patient and wait for real change.”

Educated Indians have been coming to Buddhism in significant numbers recently, but many apparently prefer “lighter” forms of it, and use it chiefly as a means of stress relief. Sasai is confident, however, that his grass-roots movement will make a difference:

“India’s history is about to change,” he enthuses. “Buddhism is truly coming back in earnest. It’s nothing less than a revolution! And it’s all thanks to one man — Ambedkar.

“I am just a clown, someone who dragged himself out of the p—- and crap and was lucky enough to find meaning in India. But consider Ambedkar’s contributions to the constitution, to equality, to bringing back into the limelight the worldview of the Buddha. Finally, many of the underprivileged in India can live a decent life.

“And it may take another 100 years or more before it happens, but one day India will wake up and and once again find itself a Buddhist nation.”

Source – Japantimes

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