While Ambedkar embraced Neo Buddhism in an attempt to bring dalits 'complete freedom', over 60 years later, dalits in Tamil Nadu who converted to Buddhism say they have, on the contrary, been denied any benefits under the Scheduled Caste category.
The 'Buddhist Adi Dravidar' does not find place in the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Orders (Amendment) Act 1976. This has left the 20,000 Buddhist dalits in the State struggling to receive community certificates.
Said K Kalamani, who along with his family, converted to Buddhism in 2010, " We initially decided to convert to Buddhism to gain social status. But my daughter and granddaughter have been deprived of any benefits under the Scheduled Caste category after that."
"It is true that we had converted from Hinduism to Buddhism but it is also true that we are no different from other dalits who, for years, have been subjected to economic and social oppression. Reservation is our birthright," he added.
In 1990, an amendment was made in the Government of India (Scheduled Castes) Order of 1936 to include neo-Buddhists into the SC category but Tamil Nadu is yet to issue a Government order to implement the amendment.
"During the time I had applied a community certificate, it was fine because the process was manual so there was provision to make changes. Now that the process has gone digital, there is no way that allows our grandchildren to register themselves as scheduled caste," said P Mathivanan from Chennai.
This would mean that although Neo Buddhists and their forefathers have been dalits, they do not get reservations in schools, colleges or places of work.
Kalamani had approached the National Human Rights Commission during its open hearing that was conducted in the city last week, seeking the State to issue a Government order to implement the 1990 amendment.
"The Director of Adi Dravidar and Tribal Welfare has assured the commission that the order would be issued in a week's time," Kalamani said after the hearing.