New Delhi: Former Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar lamented on Friday that caste discrimination exists even in 21st-century India, saying there are two kinds of Hindus in the country, those who can enter a temple and those who cannot.
Presiding over a function here, Kumar, a former diplomat who belongs to the Dalit community, also shared that many people had told her father, Babu Jagjivan Ram, to ”leave Hinduism” as he was facing discrimination because of his caste, but ”my father had said that he would not and fight against this system from his existing position”.
She said her father used to ask ”whether changing a religion could change one’s caste”.
Kumar was speaking at an event held at the Rajendra Bhawan after Rajya Sabha member of Congress Jairam Ramesh delivered a lecture on his new book, titled ”The Light of Asia: The Poem that Defined Buddha”.
Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah gives ministers target of winning 20 seats in Lok Sabha elections
Lotus motif for RS, peacock for LS: 900 artisans from UP weaved carpet for new Parliament building
Census unlikely before Lok Sabha polls; citizens to be asked about smartphones, Internet, cereals
Chikkamagaluru: Complaint filed against Sri Ramasena Leader for derogatory post about Assembly speaker
”The Light of Asia” is a book written by Sir Edwin Arnold, which was first published in 1879. The book describes the life of Budhha in the form of a narrative poem. Ramesh said his book is a biography of the poem and in a way, also of the man who looked at the ”humanity side” and not the ”divinity side of Buddha”. He said his book was an emphasis on that aspect of Buddha too.
”My book also talks of the resolution that was achieved in the Hindu-Buddhist conflict as far as the management of the Mahabodhi Temple in Bihar’s Bodh Gaya is concerned. One of the reasons behind writing this book was also to understand the resolution of a conflict between two religions in the context of Ayodhya,” he said.
Ramesh said many Ambedkarite Buddhists, who are not clergymen but activists, have been saying that if ”100 percent control can be given to Hindus in the Ramjanmabhoomi case, why can’t 100 percent control be given to Buddhists when it comes to the karmabhoomi of Lord Buddha”.
He said according to a resolution arrived at in the 1950s, it was decided to have equal representation from both the religious communities in the governing body of the Mahabodhi temple, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Later, in response to a question, Ramesh said there is a school of thought that suggests that Saketa, a Buddhist area, existed in and around present-day Ayodhya and a lot of scholarly debate is going on in this connection, ”but I have not delved into it in my book”.
The event coincided with Constitution Day and all the speakers made a reference to the influence of Buddha’s teachings and philosophy on Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar, who had renounced Hinduism and adopted Buddhism.
Ramesh said ”Buddha, the human”, had challenged the ”Brahminical orthodoxy” and many leaders and social reformers saw that side of Buddha, which was of a revolutionary”, while another school of thought saw just his ”spiritual side”. He alleged that Hindus had ”appropriated” Buddha for their own interest.
Kumar thanked Ramesh for writing the book, which she said ”has helped open a close door” of the societal system that has been ”suffocating people”.
”We live in the 21st century, have shiny roads, but many people who ride on it are still influenced by the caste system. When will our mind shine? When will we relinquish these caste-driven thoughts… I tell you, there are two kinds of Hindus, ones who can enter a temple, and those like me who cannot,” she said in an impassioned speech at the event.
”Priests have often asked me about my ‘gotra’ and I have told them that I come from a group that is rejecting casteism. We must understand that ours is a syncretic culture. All of us have imbibed the best from different religions in our life philosophy, that is our legacy,” Kumar said.
The former Lok Sabha speaker asserted that ”all of us must be fellow travelers on the road to modernity and be world citizens”.
Rajya Sabha member Manoj Kumar Jha recalled Ambedkar’s contributions as the architect of the Constitution and said, ”Buddha’s philosophy of compassion is present in it.”