The Buddhist population in India is aproximately 8.4 million. It is only 0.8% of 1.32 billion population of India. 87% of them are the converted Buddhists from the Hinduism. This 87% population are mostly concentrated in Maharashtra state. Remaining 13% of Buddhists belong to the different traditional Buddhist communities in Northeast region and northern Himalayan region. Newly converted Buddhists are known as Dalits or untouchable by the opressive Hindu caste system. But now they introduce themselves as Ambedkarites or New Buddhists.
Dr. B. R. Ambedkar (Babasaheb) who is from Mahar community fought against such racial and ethnic inequality and injustice. He understood that Buddhism is the only way to response for such oppressive caste system. He studied all the world’s religions including Islam, Christian, Jainism, Sikhism, Hinduism, Jewism, and other major religions and found only Buddhism is suitable for his oppressed community and liberate them from such oppressive caste system.
Thus, with more than 500,000 Dalits, he renounced Hinduism and converted to Buddhism in 14 October, 1956. Since then, inspired by his struggles and fight for rights, his colleagues had been persuading all the oppressed communities to come out from their misery and embrace Buddhism to feel as a human being once again. He introduced 22 vows (https://www.drambedkar.co.in/22-vows/) for newly converted Buddhists and encouraged them to work for the community and Buddhism.
In Northern part of India, Ladakh is the central hub for Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism.
In Northeast part of India, especially in Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura, Mizoram, Assam are the states where Buddhist communities live. Sikkim follows the same Tibetan Buddhism as Ladakh.
In Arunachal Pradesh, Tibetan Buddhism in Tawang area is the stronghold Buddhist center. Tawang monastery is the famous tourist attraction in entire Northeast India and it’s also the largest Buddhist monastery complex in India. Monpa, Sherdukpen, Khamba, Memba are the tribes who follow Tibetan Buddhism in Arunachal Pradesh. All of these tribes are Tibetan descendants and speak Tiberan dialects and write in Tibetan script.
Chakma tribe who migrated to Arunachal Pradesh and settled by India government in 1964 due to ethnic and religious persecution in Chittagong Hill Tracts, play a huge role for Theravada population along with Khamti and Singpho Buddhist tribes. Khamti and Singpho are related to Shan and Kachin tribes in Myanmar. There are more than 40,000 Khamtis in Arunachal Pradesh and 60,000 in Assam. Also, more than 200,000 in Shan state, Myanmar. Though Singpho might be small number in Arunachal Pradesh, but they are 1 million in Myanmar and 147,828 in China. Indian Singphos are Buddhist but Myanmar Singphos who are known as Kachin are predominantly Christians.
On the other hand, Chakma people had been facing continuous ethnic discrimination and racial hatred in the state due to political movement started by Gegong Apang, a former Chief Minister during 1990s. Nyishi, Adi tribes who are the dominant tribes follow animism or Christianity play big role through student bodies to continue such political and ethnical based movement across the state. Khamti, Singpho, Tikahk Tangsa tribes are the only followers of Theravada Buddhism along with Chakma people in Arunachal Pradesh. Somehow, their students’ organizations directly or indirectly support discrimination and deportation of Chakma Buddhist community from Arunachal Pradesh despite they are the closest neighbor Buddhists that Chakma people live with and had been living with. Though, majority of them might support Chakma Buddhists but they may fear the political power share in future if they are given the rights in the state.
Buddhism in Tripura are practiced by Chakma tribe and Mog tribe. Both tribes follow Theravda Buddhism. Chakma tribe is the largest Buddhist tribe followed by the Mog. And also, small number from Uchai tribe follow Buddhism while most of them follow Christianity.
In Mizoram, Chakma tribe is the only tribe that covers 99% Buddhist population in the state. Though, Mizoram has 87.16% of Christian population from 1.21 million population. so, Buddhist population in Mizoram is around 100,000 which is th same number of total Chakma population in the state. In Mizoram too, Chakma Buddhist people face ethnic and racial discrimimination from Mizos. Sometimes they are treated as second class citizens in the state. All the administrative powers are controled by Mizo government which make other non-Mizos specially Chakma Buddhist people powerless and helpless despite having an Autonomous Dristrict Council in the state.
Beside Chakma tribe, there are other tribes who face similar kind of racial discrimination if not severe. Hajongs, Ahoms, Sonowal Kacharis, Morans, Adivasis, Deoris, Gorkhas, Misings, Karbis..these tribes also chose Arunachal Pradesh as their own state though their names do not come up frequently like the Chakma-Hajong issue in Arunachal Pradesh.
India is a huge country with different laws and regulations. Unlike United States of America, once you are US citizen, you can live and settle anywhere you wish. But India has diffent system. Having birth certificiate, permanent resident certificate of a particualr state, schedule tribal certificate from a particular state, ration card issued from a particular state, voter card issued from a particular state…. are the most important legal document for receiving educatin, applying jobs, purchasing lands, electricity or gas bill etc. Without those documents, you cannot do government job or receive government facility which mean you will remain in poverty and struggle for lifetime until die and your next generation will face the same. Thats’ what happening with Chakmas, Hajongs, gorkhas, and other deprived tribes in Arunachal Pradesh.
Sikkim is the most attracted Buddhist tourist spot beside Tawang of Arunachal Pradesh in Northeast India. Sikkim route is much easier than adventourous Tawang journey. To visit Arunachal Pradesh, outstate residents must have Inner line Permit before entering the state. Sikkim has 27.39% Buddhist population which is aproximately 167,000 population. Lepcha, Bhuita, Gurung, Gorkha and Nepali communities adhere Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism here.
Ladakh, though it is not a part of Northeast India but Northern part, holds strong hub of Tibetan Buddhism. Buddhism is the main support system of lifestyle of Ladakhi people. Ladakh is the only officially recognized Buddhist majority Union Territory in India with 133,000 Buddhist population. Total population in Ladakh is 274,289 and 77% population of total Ladakh population are Buddhists.
In Assam, other Buddhist tribes like Tai communities (Phake, AIton, Khamyang and Turunng), Khamti, Singpho and Chakma tribes are followers of Theravada Buddhism. Assam is the gateway to Northeast India that connect to all the other northeastern states. Assam used to be a Buddhist hub in 7th CE which is confirmed by Chinese travel monk Ven. Xuanzang who visited Kamrup (ancient name of Assam).
In Meghalaya, there are no permanent Buddhist community but those who settled from other state and established Buddhist temples there. The main tribe in Meghalaya is Khasi tribe who predominantly follow Christianity. Most of northeasten states are majority Christians except Manipur, Assam, and Tripura. During British colonization, Christian missionary successfuly converted animistic tribes into Christianity.
When we carefully observe the above, we notice that Chakma tribe plays a significant role for Buddhist population in northeast India. All the Chakma population from all 4 states (Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura, Assam, Mizoram) will be more or less than 300,000 population. Highest will be in Mizoram followed by Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. There is tiny number of Chakmas in West Bengal who settled there from Northeast for job purpose. West Bengal has a significant number of Bengali Buddhist population beside of Northeast India.
Mog Buddhist tribe in Tripura also plays important role for Buddhism in Tripura. Chakma and Mog tribes are always friendly and help each other in difficult time. Sometime monks from Mog tribe serving in a Chakma temple in a village is very common. Mog tribe is known as Marma in Bangladesh. Mog population in Tripura is 37,893 (census 2011) whereas Chakma population is 79,813 (census 2011). Assam has around 30,000 Chakma population whereas Arunachal Pradesh has 40,000 Chakma (census 2011).