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Low caste Hindus to convert to Islam
By Zafarul-Islam Khan

New Delhi : At least 400 members of the low caste (Dalit) community in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, say they are planning to convert to Islam, because of what they describe as "persistent unfair treatment by their higher caste Hindu neighbours. This was reported by the BBC on October 20 but blacked out in India.

In the latest incident, Dalit leaders are angry that higher caste Hindus in their village, near Kanchipuram in south India, have refused to allow a religious procession to pass through the streets where they live. 

Dalits, or the so-called "untouchables," have attained political rights in independent India but their social rehabilitation is still a far dream. Higher caste Hindus consider them worse than animals and do not socialise with them or allow them into their temples.

The Dalit community says they are not being coerced into converting to Islam, but they want to because in Islam everyone is treated equally. 

This move comes in the backdrop of the Tamil Nadu state government's ordinance issued on October 5 this year banning conversions which are basically from low caste Hindus to Christianity and Islam which offer these victims equal social status with other citizens. 

Muslim and Christian as well as secular organisations have strongly protested against this ordinance which is seen as a ploy by the state chief minister Ms Jayalalitha to ingratiate herself with the central government which is headed by the Hindu nationalist BJP. Jayalaitha is embroiled in a number of corruption cases and a helping hand from the federal authorities will go a long way to alleviate her troubles.

The Association of Muslim Colleges of Tamil Nadu (AMCTN) closed down higher educational institutions affiliated to it on October 24 protesting the ordinance banning religious conversions. 

The association, with 30 arts and science colleges and 37,000 students, supported the views of other minority communities.

On forming a common front to fight the ordinance, Association secretary AMM Khaleel said that there was a possibility of one such front, consisting of all minority communities. 

On the other hand the loudest voice of Hindu extremism in the country these days, VHP's International General Secretary Dr Praveen Togadia on October 21 said "conversion would destroy Hindu society and the Indian nation." 

Togadia described conversions as a "political activity and not a religious one." No society would allow itself to be destroyed "by giving a free hand to Christians to carry out conversions," he said in the southern city of Madurai.

The Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) had on October 10 described the anti-conversion ordinance as "mischievous". IUML is a political party with influence in south India, especially in the state of Kerala.

"It is shocking that the Tamil Nadu Government is a victim of the misleading propaganda of Sangh Parivar as regards religious conversions or is attempting to appease the Parivar," IUML President and member of Parliament GM Banatwala said. He alleged that in the garb of prohibiting forced religious conversions, the ordinance was a serious assault on the right to profess, practice and propagate one's religion guaranteed by the Constitution. 

RSS chief KS Sudarshan had on October 2 declared that "conversion to Islam and Christianity is the biggest source of conflict in the country." RSS is the mother of all fanatic Hindu outfits in India.

Sudarshan recalled that Pope John Paul II during his last visit to India had spoken about converting Asia into Christianity in the third millennium after converting Europe and Africa in the first and second.

Hindu organisations, especially the VHP, have been busy converting Chrisitans and Muslims to Hinduism. VHP has claimed to have "reconverted" thousands of Muslims in Rajasthan to Hinduism over the last two decades.

This very same VHP had said on August 28 this year that "the inaction of politicians and bureaucrats on the alleged conversion of Hindus to Christianity may lead to a civil war in the country." The organisation's National General Secretary Ram Phal told reporters in Allahabad that "if conversions were not stopped and the attitude of the politicians did not change, a civil war might break out in the country."

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