Over 100 Dalits to convert to Islam over Govt 'apathy'

TPK general secretary M Ilavenil said the conversions were voluntary and there was no force involved. “The Constitution guarantees freedom for its citizens to practice faith of their choice. Only forced conversion is wrong. Any citizen can convert at his own will,” he said.  

Nearly a month after 17 people from Dalit families were killed when an “untouchability wall” collapsed on their houses in Mettupalayam near Coimbatore, more than 100 members belonging to an organisation that fought for the victims have decided to convert to Islam protesting against government’s apathy towards them.

Tamil Puligal Katchi (TPK), a Dalit organisation, says 100 people, including relatives of those killed in the December 2 wall collapse incident, will convert to Islam in the first phase on January 5. TPK spokesperson M Muthukumar said nearly 3,000 of the 25,000 members of the organisation expressed willingness to convert to Islam during a meeting held recently.

“After the news of people deciding to convert to Islam came in the public domain, police is now convincing people not to do so. But we expect at least 100 people to convert to Islam on January 5. Dalits have been forced to convert to a different religion because of the stigma that is attached with their community,” Muthukumar told DH.

17 people, mostly women and children, were killed when the 15-foot high compound wall that was allegedly constructed by Sivasubramanian, a textile showroom owner, collapsed on adjoining tiled roof houses in Nadur village near Mettupalayam. It is alleged that the wall was constructed to keep the Dalits away from his land.

TPK general secretary M Ilavenil said the conversions were voluntary and there was no force involved. “The Constitution guarantees freedom for its citizens to practice faith of their choice. Only forced conversion is wrong. Any citizen can convert at his own will,” he said.  

Sivasubramanian, who was booked under section 304 A (causing death by negligence) of IPC, was granted bail by the Madras High Court, while members of the TPK, including its president Nagai Thiruvalluvan, who were arrested for protesting against the incident are yet to be released.

“Sivasubramanian should have been booked under the stringent The Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The act is the only powerful tool that is available to the community to protect itself. If the accused cannot be booked under this act, why should we remain Dalits,” Muthukumar asked.

A resident of the Nadur village, who wanted to remain anonymous, said that their converting to Islam would “bring better respect to them.” “Some 40 years back, hundreds of Dalit families converted to Islam in Meenakshipuram in Tirunelveli district. Today they are considered as Muslims and upper caste men break bread in their houses. But they wont enter a Dalit household,” he said.

Villupuram MP D Ravikumar, who took the incident to National Commission for SC\ST, told DH that the Tamil Nadu government should take responsibility for the extreme step by the Dalits. He alleged that the government was “openly discriminating” between the accused and the affected.

“The government should implement the act in letter and spirit. The AIADMK government should realise that atrocities’ against Dalits and honour killings have witnessed an increase during their tenure,” he added.

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