Buddhist group plans mass conversion in India's Gujarat state

Posted: Friday, August 01, 2003

AHMADABAD, India (AP) An Indian Buddhist group plans a mass conversion of lower-caste Hindus into Buddhism in Gujarat state, saying the Hindus were manipulated by their leaders to attack Muslims last year.

About 1,000 people died in the riots that began with a Muslim mob attack on a train carrying Hindu nationalist activists.

''These poor people were used extensively during the communal riot last year to attack the minority Muslims across the state,'' said Priya Rahul, president of the World Buddhist Council. ''Now the Hindus have started washing their hands of the accusations of the violence and pushing the poor people as accused persons before the law.''

The Buddhist Council has conducted such ceremonies elsewhere, contending the lives of lower-caste people will be improved by leaving Hinduism. The converts will lose the status that binds them to certain jobs and that leads others to shun them, the council said.

The prospective converts ''have realized that only Buddhism can teach them about real nonviolence and they can live their lives peacefully once they are converted,'' Rahul said.

The ceremony is set for Oct. 5. The council said it expects 10,000 people to participate, but turnout has been lower at similar events they have organized in the past.

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