Tuesday, October 15, 2002

Dalits' conversion threat to test TN ordinance

G.C. Shekhar

Just a few weeks after the Tamil Nadu ordinance against religious conversion came into effect, the new law would be put to test as Dalits of a village were ready for conversion.

Victims of social outcast for decades, over 50 Dalit families of Koothirambakkam village near Kancheepuram are ready to brave the new law to embrace Islam. "What we need is human dignity and if becoming a Muslim would give us this dignity then we would convert even if we are thrown into jail," said Ezhumalai a Dalit youth.

Recently, the local police foiled a conversion function at the village. It remained to be seen if Moulvis would be prepared to convert as the new law could send them to jail if they do not inform the district authorities about it.

"The Dalits and the Moulvis could also be prosecuted under the 'inducement' clause of the ordinance just to prevent other Dalits from resorting to conversion as a social protest. The mandatory registration of conversion would be a further deterrent against even genuine conversion," argued People Union for Civil Liberties activist and lawyer S. Suresh.

The immediate provocation for the Dalits has been the refusal of the Vanniyars to bring the deity from the Amman temple to their area.

"The Dalits were compelled to donate money to renovate the temple and for the festival but now they cannot even have the deity pass through our streets.

Similarly, a few years back the Dalits were denied access to the village pond, attached to the temple," explained Dalit Panthers leader M. Thirumavalavan.

Even attempts by the Jana Kalyan volunteers of the Kanchi Mut to persuade the Vanniyars to relent have proved futile. Tamil Nadu has had a history of Dalits embracing Islam to escape torment from powerful backward classes. In 1980, all the Dalits of Meenakshipuram village in Tiruneveli district became Muslims to escape ill-treatment by the Thevars.

Source: Hindustan Times, October 15, 2002

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