For some two years now there have been growing links between the FWBO and the Romany gypsies in Hungary. This began when they discovered Dr. Ambedkar and became inspired by him and his followers in India. Roma gypsies in Eastern Europe live lives of extreme poverty and discrimination similar to the conditions experienced by Indian Dalits about 75 years ago, indeed, they describe themselves as the ‘untouchables’ of Europe. They realised Dr Ambedkar’s ‘Dhamma Revolution’(in which in 1956 millions of his followers renounced the Hindu social order based on caste discrimination and inequality and became Buddhist) was relevant to them too.
By the time they contacted the FWBO they had already opened the Little Tiger Grammar School in Alsoszentmarton in south Hungary. The name comes indirectly from Dr. Ambedkar, who referred to education as ‘tiger’s milk’. More than that, they realised Buddhist ethical practice helped to develop confidence and self-respect, and that Buddhist conversion opened the door to social, economic, and personal development – thus, that Buddhism could be directly relevant to their problems. In addition to their feeling for Dr. Ambedkar, East European Roma/Gypsies are deeply conscious of their roots in India and many identify strongly with what happens there.
Since the initial contact there have been several exchange visits to Hungary, mostly by students of the Dharmapala College, Birmingham. Mostly recently Manidhamma, an Indian Order Member, visited, together with Ashwin Gunaratna, an Indian mitra from Nagpur. Reports of some of thier previous visits can be found on the Dharmadhuta blog.
One of the important events during this visit was the formation of the Jaibhim Community. This is an initiative by Janos Orsos and Derdak Tibor, two mitras from the gypsy community (there are now four in total). It will provide the organisational framework for Buddhist activities and the communication of Dr Ambedkar’s vision in Hungary. The Jaibhim Community is linked to the FWBO/TBMSG and has adopted a modified version of Ambedkar’s 22 Vows in its constitution. These are, in essence, a set of vows to practice Buddhism, to spread Dr Ambedkar’s message and to reconstruct society to one based on Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. Manidhamma and Janos together collected the registration document from the Charity Commissions’ office in Pecs. The website contains several videos of their activities and Dalit programs in India – even a ‘Jai Bhim’ ringtone!
Manidhamma and Ashwin were able to visit the Little Tiger School and meet students and staff. Manidhamma gave a talk on Dr Ambedkar’s emphasis on self-help and his threefold injunction to his followers to ‘Educate, Agitate, and Organise’. The school is very successful and has been taken as a model by the Hungarian government. A new similar school is being set up in northern Hungary at Tomor in association with the ‘Bhim Rao Association’.
Manidhamma also led a 3-day retreat at Uszo, a beautiful place in North Hungary, which 30 young men and women attended from different parts of Hungary. There were talks about Dr Ambedkar, Buddhism in India, meditation and discussion about the five precepts and vegetarianism. Ashwin and Manidhamma cooked delicious Indian vegetarian food and distributed gifts – Dr Ambedkar’s photos, books, CDs, Indian saris, dhotis and cloths, Buddhist images, ‘Jai Bhim’ head-bands (as seen in the photo), necklaces, lockets, rosaries and vegetarian food-spices and sweets. They travelled visiting Romas/Gypsies in Budapest, Pecs, Komlo, Baksa, Manfa, Hidas, Harkany, Sayokaza and Ozd. The response was warm and welcoming and our connection with them seems set to grow.
We are currently looking for English teachers able to go to Hungary and teach English to the gypsy community for four or five months at a time, if anyone is interested please contact