Dalits Convert to Christianity, Islam in Protest to Hindu Caste System

June 19, 2004

Source: Frontline


On June 19, 2004 Frontline reported, "Ever since Dr. B.R. Ambedkar embraced Buddhism along with about five lakh Dalits in 1956, mass conversion has become a form of collective protest for Dalits across the country, a willing abandonment of what they consider an oppressive hierarchical social system. The rejection of a system as a form of protest gets reinforced by necessarily choosing one of the available alternative systems...In Tamil Nadu, the conversion of about 200 Dalit families to Islam at Meenakshipuram in Tirunelveli district in the early 1980s drew nationwide attention. Although all sorts of ulterior motives were attributed to their conversion, the converts remain loyal Muslims and claim that they now live with 'greater social respect' than before, which they were yearning for. Yet no mass conversion has taken place since then. Hindutva forces, however, have often raised the bogey of attempts by Muslims and Christians to convert Hindus on a large scale through pressure, force or allurement and demanded a ban on conversions. Although these forces could not use their influence with the State governments run by the Bharatiya Janata Party, they mounted pressure on the Jayalalithaa government in Tamil Nadu to enact a law banning conversions. This was when a section of Dalits in Coimbatore district, frustrated that their decades-old efforts to get access to the village temples were of no avail, unfolded their plan to convert to Christianity. The State government responded with adding a new law to the statute book, the Tamil Nadu Prevention of Forcible Conversion Act, 2002. It met with all-round protest, but the government did not yield. However, after the election verdict went against the ruling party, Jayalalithaa announced that the Act would be repealed. Understandably, the announcement drew protests from Hindu Munnani and Vishwa Hindu Parishad leaders."