Low-caste Hindus adopt new faith Thousands attended the conversion ceremonies in Nagpur Thousands of people have been attending mass ceremonies in India at which hundreds of low-caste Hindus (Dalits) converted to Buddhism and Christianity. The events in the central city of Nagpur are part of a protest against the injustices of India's caste system. By converting, Dalits - once known as Untouchables - can escape the prejudice and discrimination they normally face. The ceremonies mark the 50th anniversary of the adoption of Buddhism by the scholar Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar. He was the first prominent Dalit to urge low-caste Indians to embrace Buddhism. As the chief architect of India's constitution, he wrote anti-discrimination provisions and quota systems into the country's law. But four-fifths of India's Dalits live in often isolated rural areas, and traditional prejudice has persisted in spite of official laws. 'Cry for dignity' The Dalits arrived by the truckload at a public park in Nagpur for ceremonies, which began with religious leaders giving fiery speeches against the treatment of lower castes. Reuters reported that dozens of riot policemen had turned out at the sprawling park. Udit Raj, a Dalit leader, told the BBC that around 2,500 people converted to Christianity and Buddhism. DALIT FACTS 167m people, 16.2% of India's population Nearly 60% live in Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu states The lowest rank in Hindu society, beneath the traditional caste system Expected to perform the most menial jobs, particularly handling cadavers and human and animal waste Physical contact with a Dalit was traditionally considered ritually polluting for other castes Even converts to Christianity and Islam have encountered discrimination from higher-caste converts Joseph D'Souza, the president of the Dalit Freedom Network and a Christian convert, described the conversions as a "celebratory occasion". "I think it's important to understand that this is a cry for human dignity, it's a cry for human worth," he told the BBC. He said that Dalits could seek dignity by converting to Christianity, Jainism or Sikhism as well as Buddhism. Buddhist convert Dhammachari Manidhamma told the BBC that social equality was impossible within Hinduism. "Buddha's teaching was for the humanity, and Buddha believed in equality. "And Hindu religion, Hindu teaching is nothing but inequality. Laws against conversion Similar mass conversions are taking place this month in many other parts of India. Several states governed by the Hindu nationalist party, the BJP, have introduced laws to make such conversions more difficult. Hundreds of Dalits converted to Christianity and Buddhism The states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu have all passed laws restricting conversions. Gujarat has reclassified Buddhism and Jainism as branches of the Hindu religion, in an attempt to prevent conversions away from Hinduism eroding the BJP's bedrock support. Hinduism teaches that most humans were created from parts of the body of the divinity Purusha. According to which body parts they were created from, humans fall into four basic castes which define their social standing, who they can marry, and what jobs they can do. But Dalits fall outside this system and are traditionally prevented from doing all but the most menial jobs or even drinking from the same water sources as other castes.