From India comes a story that shows the interesting ways in which prosperity helps break down some pernicious forms of social oppression. Earlier today, a group of about 50,000 low-caste "untouchables" converted to Buddhism en masse, and not for doctrinal reasons. Reports Reuters:
About 50,000 Indian low-caste Hindus and nomadic tribespeople converted to Buddhism before a vast crowd on Sunday in the hope of escaping the rigidity of the ancient Hindu caste system and finding a life of dignity... Some of the converts were low-caste Hindus once considered as "untouchables" by the higher castes, but most were members of India's numerous nomadic tribes... These low-caste Hindus, making up about a sixth of India's 1.1 billion people, were once considered "untouchable", performing the most menial and degrading jobs... While the Indian constitution forbids caste discrimination, and spectacular economic success and exposure to Western culture have remoulded many social paradigms, the caste system has persisted, above all in villages.Whether India's new prosperity is what encouraged the villagers to make this bold move only they can say, but it certainly made it more likely. People act in the hopes of achieving a better life when they believe that better life is possible. Of course, this event is likely to be controversial, since it involves religion, but in the long run it should be healthy to the state of religion in India: Faiths become more robust when they must compete for adherents. America is the best example of that.