Spiritual guru and founder of The Art of Living Foundation Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has initiated a process to bring about a reconciliation between the Dalits and caste Hindus.
As part of the initiative, The Art of Living is hosting a conference in Delhi where, for the first time, leaders from both communities will come together to reiterate their commitment towards ending social discrimination. Named 'Truth and Reconciliation', the conference will be held on March 9 at Pragati Maidan, New Delhi.
The conference will see the adoption of a seven-point action plan that aims at spreading the spirit of reconciliation to every corner of India. The action plan will focus on ensuring temple entry for Dalits, organising collective celebrations including community feasts, abolition of the practice of keeping separate utensils for Dalits, empowerment of women from economically weaker sections, providing educational facilities especially to weaker sections, providing spiritual and religious education to Dalit children and ensuring equality and justice for all.
Several organisations and individuals have come forward to support this initiative. They include the Akhil Bharatiya Bhumihar Brahman Samaj, National Valmiki Veer Dal, All India Vaish Federation, Sulabh International, Akhil Bharatiya Brahmin Mahasabha, Akhila Bharatiya Kshatriya Samaja Trust, Arya Vaish Sabha, BRP Bahujan Mahasangh, Karnataka Dalit Progressive Organisations Federation, Karnataka Dalit Sangarsh Samiti, Sarvadeshik Arya Pratinidhi Sabha, Akhil Bhartiya Gujjar Sanskriti Shodh Sansthan, Bandhua Mukti Morcha, Indian Justice Party, Parayar Peravai, Dalit Vidutalai Katchi, Vanniar Sangam, Akhil Bharatiya Koli Maharashtra, Bairwa Mahasabha and Guru Ravidas Committee. Over 5,000 people from at least 25 communities are likely to attend the conference.
Explaining his vision for a casteless India, Ravi Shankar said, "Historically, Dalits were on par with caste Hindus. We need to make the present generation aware of this truth. The only solution to the problem of social discrimination is to educate people and make them realise that caste by birth is not sanctioned by religion."
"The current generation of castes is not exposed to the enormous contribution of the Dalits to Hindu religious literature. The conference will go a long way in clearing many misunderstandings between the communities," he said.
Reiterating his call for an end to the practices that prevent Dalits from entering temples, he said, "Nobody has the right to bar people from entering the House of God."
A special exhibition is also being organised to bring to light many lesser known facts about the caste system in ancient India and showcase social and religious reforms that have taken place in the country. It will also highlight the contributions of the Dalit Maharishis in Hindu literature. Notable examples would be of two epics that are revered by all - the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, which were written by the Dalit Maharishis Vyas and Valmiki respectively.