Thursday, October 05, 2006

Dispatches from India: history in the making - and an appeal for help...

FWBO News is pleased to publish the follow open letter from Vishvapani, an Order Member currently in India and witnessing the celebrations surrounding the 50th anniversary of Dr. Ambekdar's conversion to Budhdism. As you will see, it is also an appeal for help...

Dear friends

I’m currently in India, staying in Nagpur, on assignment from Tricyle to cover events around the 50th anniversary of Dr Ambedkar’s conversion and the foundation of the Ambedkarite Buddhist movement. As well as this there is huge second wave of conversions underway.

Until now the Ambedkarites Buddhists have largely been from Dr Ambedkar’s own community: the ‘Mahar’ sub-caste of Maharashtra. The movement is now expanding dramatically to include other communities in Maharashtra, notably the Matungs – a second group of ex-‘untouchables’ – and the ‘criminal and nomadic tribes’. On Monday I was at Diksabhumi, the conversion ground in Nagpur where Dr Ambedkars own conversion took place. I have never seen so many people gathered together before: 1-2 million people, including many becoming Buddhists for the first time and leaders of communities which will be becoming Buddhist en masse over the next few weeks.

Buddhism is also being adopted by groups in many other Indian states. On October 14th I will be in Hydrabad in Andra Pradesh, where 2-400,000 will become Buddhists. On the same day and on other significant dates in the next two months there will be large ceremonies in Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Punjab, and many other states, in which I think it is reasonable to say that millions of people will become Buddhists for the first time.

A common response to such news is skepticism: how can mass conversion be meaningful, and is this not just politics masquerading as Buddhism. I can only say in response that my impressions of Ambedkarite Buddhists in Maharashtra are that they are sincere, many are practicing effectively and the movement has considerable depth –compared with its origins in the 1950s, the community has come a long way both spiritually and materially.

Seeing what is happening here in India I feel I am watching history in the making. These are huge events, and yet they are unknown in the West and almost entirely unreported. If you type any conversion of conversions, India, diksabhumi, Buddhist and so on into google, you will find almost no coverage in either the Western or the Indian media. It is a deafening silence.

I am writing to appeal for your help in telling the world what is happening. These people are among the most disadvantaged in the world, and their choice to seek a new identity in a path that offers non-violence and spiritual depth is truly significant. It is also an important episode in the history of India and of Buddhism as a whole. When there is so much meaningless reportage in the world, it seems important that events like these, which are genuinely significant and a cause for optimism are going unreported. And these events are the best opportunity to get coverage in the mainstream media that we will find for many years.

To address the lack of information I have started a blog: Each day I am writing a full article including interviews, personal accounts, news, information, background and accounts of the progress the Buddhist movement has made so far. Because I am working for Tricycle and also doing some work for the BBC world service I have access to major figures in this movement, and through my Buddhist friends in India I have opportunities to travel and meet people in many situations here: I will be visiting remote untouchable villages, traveling to Hydrabad and Tamil Nadu, and meeting community leaders. Here are some suggestions for how you might help:

Read the blog to find out more about what is happening. You can also post comments.

Pass on this email to others who may be interested and ask them to do the same

Feel free to copy or reprint any of my articles online or in print magazines: I am an experienced writer and they are produced to a publishable standard.. I would only ask that you credit me as author and include a link to the blog site. I am not asking for any payment, though donations to help me cover my costs are welcome.

Make a link to my blog from any websites you yourself run.

Follow up any contacts in the mainstream media who might cover the story themselves (or ask me or someone else here to do so).

If you have reliable news of events in India over the coming weeks, or contacts who could help me to gather that, please let me know.

You can contact me at



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