Valjibhai Rathod, 43, and his family are bracing up to convert to Buddhism, and so are the Sumras and Parmars of Thangadh town of Gujarat’s Surendranagar district. And they are not the only ones. Many more Dalits from their town will join them. Three Dalit boys were killed in police firing in this town in September 2012. Fighting a hopeless and losing battle for justice, Valjibhai and others, who had been demanding a memorial at the place where the three boys were killed, built a Baudh Vihar (Buddha temple) there with their own efforts in 2016—just two months after the Una horror in July, when a video of four young Dalit men being flogged and beaten by cow vigilantes in Una went viral, causing outrage across the country.
“The memory of the cold-blooded killing of my son was yet to fade when the Una incident happened,” says Valjibhai, who lost his son 15-year-old son Mehul in the 2012 firing. “We were shocked by the flogging of the four young men and realised there was no point expecting to be treated like Hindus. We have no entry into temples, barbers will not cut our hair, we cannot participate in garba festivals, nobody wants to touch us. The Una attack was the last straw. When we are not considered Hindus and are being attacked for that reason, why should we stay in their fold? We decided to construct a Baudh Vihar with our own resources in Thangadh, at the same place where our sons were shot dead, so that we get a temple of our own and a memorial too. Embracing Buddhism is only a formality now and we will do it soon.”