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Even as the Madras High Court ordered a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) earlier this week into the death of a student over alleged conversion, Tamil Nadu reported another instance of religious conversion. Forty people belonging to eight Dalit families have reportedly converted to Islam in Tamil Nadu’s Theni district.

Those converting to Islam alleged that they were forced to convert due to harassment by dominant caste people in their village. The reported religious conversion happened in Dombucheri village near Bodinayakanur town in Theni.

Veeralakshmi, who took the name of Rahima after converting to Islam, blamed it on the dominant caste people of her village. She said her husband was attacked by dominant caste members during Diwali.

“On November 4, my husband was attacked by dominant caste members. They questioned him for owning a bike. I have seen them tease our girls as they go to school, calling us by the caste name. This is the reason we became Muslims. I have changed my name from Veeralakshmi to Rahima,” she said.

Her husband Kalaikannan, now Mohamed Ismail, said he was born Hindu but faced caste-related atrocities since his childhood. “I was not allowed inside a temple of the dominant caste people and was not considered to be an equal by them. In 2009, I remember a dead body procession not allowed to be taken through the roads of the residence, and they attacked us, badly injuring many,” he said.

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“Till now, nothing has changed even after society has progressed so much. I decided to convert to Islam only after the Diwali incident where dominant caste men attacked us and I was caught in the middle. I was shocked after a group of men saw me riding a bike saying how can a person of Chakliya caste own a bike,” stated Mohamed Ismail.

Nagaraj, who is now Mustafa, alleged that Dalit community members were targeted in periodic “riots” by the dominant caste people of the village.

He said, “At least once in six months, there is a riot here where dominant caste men attack us and damage our belongings. Why do we have to face this?”

“We decided to convert to Islam after discussing within ourselves. Here, we are seen as equal. I have seen my father and grandfather being disrespected even though we were Hindus, and I don’t want that to continue,” he said.

Tamil Puligal party’s North Theni secretary Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who was known as Vairamuthu before he converted to Islam, blamed religious conversion of Dalit Hindus on “caste atrocities”.

He said, “The reason for conversion is nothing but caste atrocities in the region. Fifteen years ago, even though we were Hindus, we were not allowed to walk on the same road used by the dominant castes.”

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“The two cups system was practiced. Even now barbers who cut dominant caste men’s hair will not touch ours. We have to go to nearby villages to get haircut. Dalits never had self-respect here,” he alleged.

The allegations of caste atrocities were denied by Hindu Munnani, a pro-Hindu organisation, leader Arjun Sampath, who said religious conversion of Dalits was the handiwork of outfits such as the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), Popular Front of India (PFI) and Christian organisations.

Sampath said, “Whenever we are informed of such issues, we reach out immediately and solve the problem. We will communicate with Dombucheri people soon.”

Theni’s religious conversion incident came at a time when the issue of the alleged forced conversion of a girl studying in a Christian missionary school took a political turn.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) sent a central delegation on a fact-finding mission after the minor killed herself in Thanjavur on January 19, alleging that she was forced to clean rooms and do menial work.

The minor, in her dying statement, reportedly said that school authorities asked her parents whether they could convert the child to Christianity.
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