One of the most surprising groups in western Buddhism are the Roma (‘gypsy’) Buddhists of Hungary. The link is Dr Ambedkar, the leader who inspired tens of millions of India’s dalits to adopt Buddhism. A group of Romas locate their community’ s origins in the Indian dalit population. The two groups are both outsiders and victims of age-old discrimination.
IN 2005, two prominent Romas, Derdák Tibor and Orsós János learned of Dr Ambedkar and visited India to see the Buddhist movement at first hand. They became Buddhists and formed the Jai Bhim Network. A little later Subhuti, a member of the Triratna Buddhist Order, who is very active in India, learned of them and offered to meet them and see how he might help. The Jai Bhim network later affiliated to Triratna, and links have developed especially between Hungary and India. According to the most recent census 500 Romas have become Buddhists via the Jai Bhim Network.
The Network has grown rapidly, running Buddhist events such as meditation camps and starting six schools including the Dr Ambedkar High School in an effort to overcome institutionalised discrimination in mainstream schools. According to The Hindu:
The foremost hurdle in the education of Romas in Hungary is the segregation of Roma children, who are forced to sit in separate classes. They attend different schools/classes in dilapidated buildings without basic amenities, whereas Hungarian children attend regular, fully equipped schools. Tibor says there were separate cups and plates for Roma students till 10 years ago. Roma children grow up constantly dehumanised, humiliated, persecuted and rejected. They are declared ‘mentally challenged’ and are sent to special schools; so much that about 90 per cent of special school students in Hungary are said to be from this community. Segregation is not limited to schools. In 2003, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) conducted field research in Hungary and documented 44 cases of so-called “Gypsy rooms” —segregated maternity wards.
Now the fledgling movement is suffering along with other Hungarian minority religious groups the effects of a new Church Law passed in August by Hungary’s far-right government. According to this law recognised religious organisations must have more than 1,000 members and be more than 20 years old to get funds from the state and other government agencies. Only 14 religious organisations out of 358 fulfil the criteria and excluded groups will automatically lose their registration status on January 1, 2012, thereby losing financial support, state subsidies and tax relief.
Read more about the challenges the new law poses on the Jai Bhim blog.
According to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe
There have been widespread protests against the law, and legal challenges, but it may go ahead all the same. At such times, international pressure can have an effect.
You can sign a petition to register your opposition to the law
If you can help more directly, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Here’s a video of Subhuti’s last visit to Hungary to meet the Romas from the Jai Bhim network