Tuesday, September 24, 2002

Dalits seek conversion escape route

Vijay Thakur in Jaipur

Sept. 23. Over 100 Bairwa families in Chakwara have decided to convert but are not sure about their new religion. The reason: They don't want to be treated as "untouchables". This comes a day after the Vishwa Hindu Parishad claimed that over 100 Muslim families in Beawar, Ajmer, had converted to Hinduism.

Bairwas (Dalits of the cobbler caste) are living in terror after upper caste villagers clashed with police in Phagi on Saturday to stop a Dalit yatra against untouchability. "Please do not ask about details ... we will decide in two or three days ... we want to save ourselves from upper-caste violence," said Mr Hari S Bairwa. Others refused comment out of fear. "You will publish our names ... then they will target us," said a villager. Bairwa families have been completely boycotted by the upper caste. But the Dalits have no option but to depend on them for their needs. To avoid being targeted, they are huddled at one place and are cooking their meals at a community kitchen.

VHP general secretary Mr Praveen Togadia, who was in Beawar for the conversion of 100 Muslim families, has refused to visit Chakwara because "there may be a law and order problem". There are some evils in our religion and we should fight them." He said caste tension had surfaced because of "designs of the Church": "The Church is instigating people of a certain caste to resort to violence, divide Hindus and facilitate conversions."

Source: The Statesman, September 24, 2002


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