By Sinduja Jane  |

CHENNAI: Casteist discrimination is not new for them, having faced and resisted it all throughout their lives to become successful doctors, some serving in government service. But if a patient is hesitant to approach a doctor because he is a Dalit, that is a sign of malaise and ther is no cure for it.
Unwilling to believe in a religion that has always discriminated against them, a group, including 47 doctors, converted to Buddhism at a function organised in Chennai by Makkal Medical Team to commemorate the 60th anniversary of B R Ambedkar’s mass conversion in Nagpur. Explaining the discrimination they faced while in service across the state, especially the rural heartland of Tamil Nadu where caste is still an important factor, doctors recounted the difficulties they faced to get a house on rent, avail the services of helps and drivers, or while buying property.

Dalits convert to Buddhism to escape discrimination,
at an event by Makkal Medical Team in Chennai

“I was willing to pay `2.50 crore for a piece of land in Trichy. But the owner wanted to know my caste. I had to hide my caste to purchase the land,” said Dr G Govindaraj. He has now adopted the name GG Buddh Raj. “Now I need not bother about my caste,” he added.
That episode is relatively minor when compared to Dr MV Thambiah’s story. “Even patients check our caste before undergoing treatment. It is not done openly, but subtly. They simply say ‘we will go to the doctor we know for further treatment’,” he said wryly. “In one instance,” he added, “a patient scheduled for surgery asked if he can get blood of the upper caste donor. I was shocked to hear this, but these things we face on a daily basis.” Dr N Periyasamy of Government Tiruchy Medical College said, “Dalits were historically Buddhists. But after CE 2, they were ostracised and treated as untouchables. So we don’t call it as conversion, but a reversion.”
After being discriminated for centuries, many communities are seeking Buddhism as it preaches equality, fundamental rights and freedom. “Educated people who are aware of their rights are now opting for Buddhism,” said Dhammanag, a monk from the UK who attended the event.