3,000 Dalits threaten to convert to Islam in protest against untouchability in Tamil Nadu

3,000 Dalits threaten to convert to Islam in protest against untouchability in Tamil Nadu
Locals speak to DMK leader Stalin after 17 Dalits were killed in a wall collapse at Nadur village in Mettupalayam of Coimbatore district on December 2. Photo: PTI

Beginning January 5, Tamil Puligal Katchi, a Dalit outfit in Tamil Nadu, will convert nearly 3,000 Dalits to Islam in Coimbatore district.

The trigger for this mass conversion drive was the death of 17 Dalits in Nadur village in Mettupalayam in Coimbatore district on December 2 due to a wall collapse.

The families of the deceased had alleged that the wall was built to segregate them from Mudaliyar community.

“Dalits will embrace Islam to protest the untouchability against Dalits,” said M Ilavenil, General Secretary, Tamil Puligal Katchi. “When the government and police are on the side of those who practice untouchability, what are we expected to do? Dalits are not treated equal in the Hindu religion,” he said.

The Tamil Puligal Katchi (TPK) has least 5,000 members in Coimbatore district. It has 30,000 members all over Tamil Nadu. “Only those who have volunteered to convert will be participating in the event,” said the party's spokesperson Muthukumar.

Police have beefed up security in and around Mettupalayam taluk, following the announcement.

Mass religious conversion is not new in Tamil Nadu.

On February 19, 1981, at least 200 Dalit families of Meenakshipuram village near Tenkasi in Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu, embraced Islam to protest the practice of untouchability.

Police action

Rescue work being carried out at the site of the wall collapse in Nadur village of Mettupalayam taluk, near Coimbatore. Photo: PTI

After the wall collapse, the police arrested textile trader S Sivasubramaniam, who built the compound wall, for offences culpable homicide not amounting to murder (under Section 304 (ii) of the Indian Penal Code) and for Section 4 of the Tamil Nadu Property (Prevention of Damage and Loss) Act. The families of the deceased, however, have been demanding he should be booked under Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes Prevention of Atrocities Act. But the police did not heed the demand and the accused has been released on bail.

The police also arrested nearly 25 Dalit activists, including Tamil Puligal Katchi President Nagai Thiruvalluvan, for protests. They were charged with various sections of Indian Penal Code for wrongful restrain, assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty and criminal intimidation. He is still languishing in prison.

“The accused is on bail and the protesters are still in jail. This shows the police's allegiance. The police have curtailed our right by not registering the complaint under SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act,” said Muthukumar.

(S Senthalir is an independent journalist based in Tamil Nadu.)

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