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Indian Bishops defend mass conversion of Dalit to Buddhism

India's Catholic Bishops have issued a statement supporting the conversion of 20,000 Dalits to the Buddhist faith.

The Constitution of India guarantees its citizens the right to assemble, live in freedom and profess and propagate their faith.

The Bishops also rejected any call to ban peaceful rallies organised for for the purpose of conversion.

"While the Catholic Bishops Conference of India is at no stage involved in this event of the reported rally of the Dalits to embrace Buddhism, we fully support their constitutional right to gather and their fundamental right to choose the religion of their conviction", said Archbishop Oswald Gracias of Agra, the Secretary General of CBCI.

For many of the converts it meant freedom from social discrimination. Some of the new converts to Buddhism described Buddhism as the only true religion which would free them from the social evils of the Indian society.

According to the organisers, the number of converts would have been much higher but thousands of them were prevented from participating by police who wanted the ceremony to be held away from New Delhi as they feared that it would provoke religious unrest.

Thousands of low-caste Hindus convert to Buddhism (AP)