Ambedkar's Buddha and his Dhamma in 2022: Undefined and evolving

A religious group that didn’t exist until 66 years ago is today 87% of the Buddhist population in India. It is remarkable what Ambedkarite Buddhism has grown into if you consider that it is as yet undefined and evolving.
Ambedkar's Buddha and his Dhamma in 2022: Undefined and evolving
Ambedkar's Buddha and his Dhamma in 2022: Undefined and evolving
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A neo-Buddhist group from Tamil Nadu called The Buddhist Fraternity Movement is on a mission to unite Ambedkarite Buddhists in India under one umbrella organisation. Like Protestant Christians who are administered by the Church of North India (CNI) and Church of South India (CSI), they are trying to create a new administrative network: Buddhist Viharas of North India and Buddhist Viharas of South India. It is still an idea, and the name will be finalised if and when.

Bharathi Prabhu, the leader of the Buddhist Fraternity Movement, has spent several years leading the Revolutionary Students Front (RSF). It’s the students wing of Thol Thirumavalavan’s Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) which is in alliance with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) government in Tamil Nadu. At the peak of the Rohith Vemula agitations in 2016, Bharathi was part of an unsuccessful attempt by leaders of various Ambedkarite students organisations to form a national federation. Although he is still the general secretary of the RSF on paper, the once powerful organisation has mostly disappeared from campuses even as its parent body shed radicalism for statecraft.

The rough and tumble of nearly two decades of agitations and Dalit activism, Bharathi said, has taught him that the Ambedkarite Buddhist movement is the only way forward in the anti-caste struggle. “The time has come to take Ambedkar’s Buddhism to the next level. For this, there has to be coordination between the north and the south,” he said when we met at Nanded in May this year on the sidelines of the historic conference between the Black Panthers of America and the Dalit Panthers of India.

The Nanded conference was Bharathi’s first visit to Maharashtra and he was instantly struck by the power of the Ambedkarite Buddhist movement there. By the time we met again in Chennai in August, he had made two more visits during which he had managed to organise a national-level Ambedkarite artists workshop at Aurangabad by bringing together talent from across Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu.

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