Accepted paper:

Beyond conversion: a comparative study of political experiences of Dalits in India and Burakumin in Japan


Aya Ikegame

Paper short abstract:

Discrimination based on the idea of untouchability is found both amongst Hindus in India and Buddhists in Japan. This paper compares the experiences of Indian Dalits and Japanese Burakumin by looking at how discrimination was perceived within their liberation movements.

Paper long abstract:

Just as thousands of followers of B. R. Ambedkar converted to Buddhism in order to escape the discrimination against them nurtured within Hindu culture, Japanese Burakumins have tried to tackle similar discrimination within their Buddhist traditions. This paper is an attempt to compare the experiences of ex-untouchable communities: Dalits in India and Burakumins in Japan. One of the difficulties of liberation movements in both communities has been how to maintain assertive self-identity and at the same time deny the untouchability attached to their identity. Religious conversion, especially into Buddhism and Christianity in the case of Dalits, did not entirely solve this dilemma. In the case of Burakumins in Japan, they did not opt for identity politics but concentrated on achieving material benefits from the state. Liberation movements in both countries are now facing the challenge of how to redefine themselves whilst maintaining an autonomous voice within society. This paper looks at two movements: a new Dalit spiritual movement let by activist M. C. Raj and community building in a former Burakumin area of Kyoto, Japan.

panel P71
Anthropologies of Buddhism and Hinduism