Not for Ram or Buddha But for Man: Kancha Illaiah at JLF
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Coming down heavily on the caste structure in Hindu religion, author Kancha Ilaiah today advocated adopting the Buddha's ideology as a way to achieve secularism in the country, generating a lively debate among the fellow panelists at the Jaipur Literature Festival here. 

He outlined his vision for India saying that, "What I want is neither a Ram Rajya or a Buddha Rajya, but in fact a Lok Rajya."

Religious conversion, caste structure within religions and position of dalits after conversion were the main talking points of the session titled "God as a Political Philospoher: Dalit Perspectives on Buddhism," where Ilaiah engaged with author Ajay Navaria and poet Nirupama Dutt.

"A dalit who converts to Christianity can become a pastor or be an equal in the mosque or can touch the Guru Granth Sahib. But he can do none of this in Hinduism. He cannot become anything," Ilaiah said.

"No dalit can become a priest in a Hindu temple," said the author of "Why I am not a Hindu" who also pointed out that Buddhism has always advocated the ideas of equality, abolition of caste structure, notion of justice and women's rights.

However, fellow author and panelist Ajay Navaria, whose collection of stories "Unclaimed Terrain" translated into English has recently been published, disagreed over the issue of the benefits accruing to dalits from conversion and the adoption of Buddhism as the main religion.

"Conversion does not solve any problem. In fact, there is a category in administration of a 'New Buddhist' where a person's original caste is mentioned in brackets even after adopting another religion," he argued, questioning then the purpose of going through conversion.

"I am not here to advocate Hinduism. But the dalits can go into any religion but their identity is that of an untouchable. They are not liberated even there," Navaria said, adding "Religion cannot solve the problem."

Furthering his argument, poet Nirupama Dutt highlighted the problem of caste structures within religions. Dutt, who hails from Punjab, drew attention to the phenomenon of Gurudwaras being based on caste.

"Today one can find separate Gurudwaras for Sikh Jats, Kabir panthis and the tanners," she said.

"While Sikhism does not recognize caste, just like in the case of Islam, the situation of the ground is very different from the one visualised in scriptures," added Dutt.

Drawing attention to the ground realities in countries where religion forms the basis of law, Navaria said the country would not become secular and discrimination-free just by adopting Buddhism. "I don't like religion based systems because they end liberty...No religion is detached from caste," he added.

Even as the panelists disagreed on various issues, they did agree on one thing, that the aim should be that of a caste-free society. "I don't agree that caste cannot be abolished or that equality cannot come to India," Ilaiah said.

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Daily Mail

Jan 31, 2013
09:54 AM

What this has to do with literature ? This JLF is freaking turning into a political platform for these hatemongers to spew their venom.

Maha, NJ
Jan 31, 2013
07:53 AM

 So when news about muslim disrupting release of Viswarupam movie came than this Javed Akhtar become ''atheist ''???? When Shiv Sena protest about Pakistan acts in border he become ''global citizen ''. When NDTV host anti-hindutava debates he became ''secular'' . When Gujrat riots debate arose he became'' humanitarian and judge '' .And when some one ask about kashmiri pandits treatment by muslims than he isolate himself in his Mumbai cubhole and became ''non-political indifferent person ''.

The irony is that Buddhism is a religion (rather way of life) in which, there is no concept of God; the Creator, Preserver or Destroyer. In that sense it is as close to the position of the atheists as a religion can be.
With regard to women, Buddhism is also not prescriptive of a paternalistic society as Brahminism is.

Kancha Illaiah should have known that.

Shyamal Barua, Kolkata
Jan 26, 2013
06:59 AM

 The previous link seems not to work. Hope this one is better.

Dear Believer

Bonita, Chennai
Jan 26, 2013
06:57 AM

 Coincidence or something more? I was sent this video and watched it just after reading this article. It is worth watching and thinking about.

Dear Believer

Bonita, Chennai
Jan 26, 2013
04:46 AM

A row over religion broke out between Bollywood lyricist and scriptwriter Javed Akhtar and Dalit activist and writer Kancha Illaiah at the Jaipur Literature Festival on Friday.

The tiff erupted after Akhtar, who was in the audience at a packed venue, interjected during a session on God and Buddhism, saying he was an atheist and no religion gave equality to women and weaker sections.

"Discussing religion was like discussing which cave will be better to live. If you want to follow a religion, follow any religion. It does not matter. If you have decided to commit suicide, does it matter how you do it?" Akhtar said, triggering applause. (TOI)

Anwaar, Dallas
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