Sumit Ratan is a Buddhist monk who heads the âShraman Sanskriti Raksha Sanghâ, a social organization that aims to spread Buddhism and work for the welfare of the Bahujan community. Since June 24, the Shraman Sanskriti Raksha Sangh has organized Bahujan Maitri Sammelans â Bahujan Friendship Conventions â in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Bihar and Uttarakhand. According to Ratan, these conventions were organized with the help of local social organizations in each region. The conventions aim to promote the adoption of Buddhism, disseminate information on the need for a movement to safeguard the Constitution and the need for the Bahujan community to unite as a bloc against the ruling Bharatiya Janata party.
In an interview this month, Ratan told Sunil Kashyap, a reporter from Caravan, on Buddhism in India, its support for demonstrations against Agricultural Laws 2020 and his opinion on the various political actors of Uttar Pradesh. The following is a translated and edited version of the interview:
Sunil Kashyap: What is Shraman Sanskriti Raksha Sangh and the need for a movement to safeguard the Constitution?
Sumit Ratan: Bahujan Maitri Sammelans is a gathering of those people who have been turned back by conspiracy: the poor, oppressed and weak of our country. [Shraman] literally means a person who makes a living by working hard and believes in equality. All these people together form a “shraman Sanskrit“-culture.
As for the movement to safeguard the Constitution: if Christians and Muslims live with the same respect in this country, it is because of the Constitution. Women obtain their rights through the Constitution. If it had not been for the Constitution, the situation would have been much worse than it is now. If the Constitution disappears, then there will be a monarchy and only this one will reign with the [Brahminical scripture] Manusmriti. The rights that were given by this Constitution, all will disappear. That is why we are leading a movement to save the Constitution.
Kashyap: What are Bahujan Maitri Sammelans, what happens in them and why are they needed?
Ratan: The word âBahujanâ was given by Buddha 2,500 years ago. He had said that a huge group of more people who have a similar ideology and share the same problem – these are Bahujans. The [Brahmin] the people who created caste categories in India are having fun now. The people to which India belongs, the people who made this country, they are completely marginalized. And those who have not made India at all, who have made no contribution, they profit from it. We explain this conspiracy to the people [in the Bahujan Maitri Sammelans].
We tell people that the person is not important, the organization is not important. It’s ideology. First, we were divided into castes. Now we are divided into several organizations.
Babasaheb [Ambedkar] asked you to stay organized. You have started to form thousands of organizations. At present, thousands of organizations are present in the country on behalf of Babasaheb. And there are just as many with the names of other great men. There are many Bahujans, but they are also divided into many organizations. This is why they are plundered, their rights are taken from them.
Those who are powerless and weak, the destitute, the Bahujans, it is an effort to make them socially, politically, religiously and economically strong, by uniting them. We want to go to all districts of India, even if it takes two years. The conventions were held in 45 districts, including those in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. Currently we are working in the districts of Uttar Pradesh.
Kashyap: After Ambedkar, how do you see Buddhism in India and the Dalits adopting religion?
Ratan: Babasaheb gave an international identity to people living in bad conditions by adopting Buddhism. Caste is widespread in our country – other countries have different religions, not castes like us.
There was never a caste among the [Indian] Buddhists. There is no discrimination between high and low castes. Whereas in the Brahmin religion there is caste. Babasaheb had taken over Buddhist philosophy.
But those who started to have clean water because of Babasaheb, got rich because of Babasaheb, got educated and got rights because of Babasaheb, became village chiefs and prime ministers – they became proven incompetent. These people did not listen to Babasaheb. They did not accept Buddhism. If they were grateful, they would have followed him. Half of India’s population is said to have been Buddhist today. Neither a Dalit man will be beaten nor his wife will be raped. No one could have taken away the rights of Dalits.
Kashyap: What are the challenges of Buddhism under the current government?
Ratan: The struggle for Buddhism to gain a different recognition and identity in India is on. Manmohan Singh’s government passed the Anand Marriage Law. We do not have a Buddhist law on marriage. We must get married only under the Hindu Marriage Law. We have no personal law. We are fighting for it. We were kept in the minority category. But we have no rights, no comfort, no facility. We don’t even have equal status.
That’s why I say they practice untouchability. Nobody has any roti-beti ka rishta [family ties] with us. Nobody allows us to keep a mustache, to build a house. This is why I say that I do not want to live with the Brahmin religion. People of the Brahmin religion believe that Jains, Sikhs and Buddhists are their branches.
Buddha challenges them because he talks about equality. They talk about inequality. Buddha doesn’t even differentiate between people.
We also do not want to live with the Brahmin religion because the ancestors of the different Bahujan castes were Buddhists. So we are not changing anyone’s religion, we are working on “ghar waapsi” [bringing them back home.]
Kashyap: The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh says that Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism are all branches of Hinduism. How do you see their ideology?
Ratna: There is no word called Hindu in the ancient texts. There is the âVedicâ religion, there is the âSanatan Dharmaâ. Not the Hindu religion. The original culture of India is secular. This country is a country of different languages, foods and cultures. Some people want to paint it in one color. They are altering the nature of this country. They want to increase their numbers by calling other religions their own branches. But when we don’t believe them, then what does it matter.
India has thousands of places where Buddha’s legacy is buried in the ground. The Archaeological Survey of India is active because of Buddha. All that comes out of the basement are the things of Buddha.
Kashyap: RSS works among Bahujan youth. You also work among them. But some young people are often quickly associated with RSS. How do you see it?
Ratan: The people who created RSS are people who spread misconceptions. The [upper castes] are few. Those whose number is less, they remain more united, alert. They stay strong. They use programmed castes, other backward classes as slaves. They have been doing this for 90 years. I know hundreds of people who left the RSS and returned to the path of Buddha.
There are two types of people in India, one unites and the other divides. Those [RSS members] are those who divide.
Kashyap: How do you see the backward castes’ engagement with Buddhism today?
Ratan: Lalu Prasad Yadav, Mayawati, Mulayam Singh Yadav – they built forts from a [particular] caste. There are also other names. Whatever the size of the caste forts, in front of the feudatories and the Manuvad, their forts do not stand up. We say make a fort for the underprivileged. Manuvad will never be able to bring it down.
Even though they are Ambedkarites, they are Buddhists – the virus of Brahmanism, Castism and Manuvaad is also in them. An Ambedkarite and a Buddhist will not marry either. These people are also completely absorbed into the Brahmin system.
Kashyap: You met Akhilesh Yadav in 2019. What do you think of his politics?
Ratan: We want Akhilesh Yadav to be secular. Our Constitution and the nature of the country are secular. We said you should love us as much as you love Hindus. Love a Sikh as much as you love a Muslim. If you also discriminate, there is no difference between you and the BJP. This is the BJP’s strategy: to love Hindus and no one else. The purpose of his meeting was only to communicate that the movement of Buddha is a great movement. The movement of some castes is a small movement.
Kashyap: How do you see the Bahujan movement of Kanshi Ram and Mayawati?
Ratan: Manyavar’s movement was similar to that of Buddha. He fought for the rights of disadvantaged and helpless people. Votes are precious in this democracy. He understood it very well and brought together scattered sections. [Their rallies] there were slogans back then that said selling a vote was like selling a girl. It increased self-respect among people. But they didn’t know his successor would come out like this.
This inconvenience arose from the cult of heroes. Dr Ambedkar has a quote that says if a person is worshiped by a hero, he too will become a dictator. And his fall is also certain. Members of the Bahujan community have also become hero worshipers.
Kashyap: The BJP also launched a Buddhist yatra from Banaras in 2016. What do you think?
Ratan: There was a conference in Vietnam, [the vice president of India] Venkaiah Naidu had been there. He was trying to say, âWe take care of the Sanskriti of Buddha. These people have two faces. Modi will say something in India, and something else abroad. Here, it will be “Hindu-Hindu”, outside it will take the statue of Buddha.
But we slowly leave them, expressing our thoughts. We expose their lies to the people.
Kashyap: a statue of Buddha was vandalized in the Kannauj district of Uttar Pradesh in August.
Ratan: There is a place in Kannauj called Chhibramau. This whole region has Buddhist followers. After getting permission from the panchayat, the locals erected the Buddha statue there. Those who removed the statue said that if a Buddha statue can be erected, why can’t it [the Rajput King] The statue of Maharana Pratap will also be erected. This whole incident was linked to caste.
They are opposed to Buddha because he talks about equality, not inequality, he does not believe in caste. With the thought of Buddha, the Brahmins will close shop.
Kashyap: How did you experience your participation in the Ghazipur sit-in against agricultural laws, on the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border?
Ratan: When the police beat farmers, fired tear gas canisters, I was moved to see that injustice was being done against India’s food suppliers. Who does it and at whose request?
This government is led by industrialists. And after that, the RSS leads this government. Justice is expected of those who have some righteousness in their character. They don’t have such a character. So, I am with the farmers’ movement.