Around 200 Dalit families in Pazhangkallimedu village of Tamil Nadu’s Nagapattinam district threatened to convert to Islam protesting against the discrimination and inequality meted out to them.
They have also expressed strong disappointment for being barred from entering the Mahasakhthi Amman temple in their locality. Reports state that six Dalit Hindus from the village have already embraced Islam.
Conversion to Islam in contemporary India is seen as a form of protest and rebellion pursued by the lower castes against the oppression of the higher castes. The conversion threat is used as bargaining chip, a tactic to demand enforcement of constitutionally mandated rights, or extract concessions from the powerful.
Demands are articulated and deadlines set for their acceptance, failing which those voicing them declare they will convert.
These types of conversion calls consequently reinforce the Hindutva imagining of Islam as “the other”. Dalit communities convert to Islam when the discrimination they are routinely subjected to eventually leads to the perpetration of ineffable atrocities on them.
Converting to Islam enables the Dalits to mingle in an existing numerous Muslim community, shed their Dalit-ness to an extent, and get a relatively better access to the public space. Media stories on Meenakshipuram do indeed show that the children of those who converted to Islam in 1981 have a better social status than those Dalits who remained in the fold of Hinduism.