Days after a Tamil outfit claimed 3,000 Dalits would embrace Islam in Mettupalayam to protest the deaths of 17 individuals of the community in a wall collapse, residents of the village have denied the claim.
Relatives and neighbours of those who died after the compound wall collapsed in Nadur village said no Muslim groups had approached them, and that they were devotees of Hindu deities, especially Ram.
The Tamil Puligal Katchi, the local outfit that had made the announcement, changed its stance on Sunday, and said that the Dalits who had decided to embrace Islam belong to Tirupur, Coimbatore and other places.
The outfit had earlier said that the mass conversion would be a protest against the indifference of the state government that had failed to act against a 20-foot high “caste wall” built illegally by a “caste Hindu”. The wall had collapsed on a row of Dalit houses in Nadur near Mettupalayam town on December 2.
Tamil Nadu has a history of en masse protest conversions — in Meenakshipuram in 1981, a large number of Scheduled Caste individuals had embraced Islam.
M Ilavenil of the Tamil Puligal Katchi told The Indian Express on Sunday: “This is a mass protest, at least 3,000 Dalits from the area will convert to Islam. The government did not act against the caste wall. Conversion is the solution against this discrimination.”
However, when told that several residents of the Mettupalayam village had said that they would not convert, he said: “Yes yes, we do not have access to the village now due to police. They may be embracing Islam later. On January 5, at least 300 Dalits will embrace Islam at Mettupalayam.”
Asked who these (3,000 or 300) Dalits who would convert next week were, Ilavenil said: “They are people from Tirupur, Coimbatore, and nearby areas.” They had taken the decision to convert after the wall collapse, he said.
At Nadur Adi Dravida village, M Subramanian, a 70-year-old daily wager, said there was no reason for him to convert to Islam. “All religions are good. Islam is good for them, Hinduism is good for us. Why should we convert? After the accident, many organisations visited us. We thank them. But they shouldn’t use us for politics,” he said.
Kali, a 50-year-old farm labourer, said: “We are all Hindus, we have no plans to convert. We don’t know who spread this news.”
K Eswaran, a 50-year-old carpenter who lost his wife Thilagavathy in the tragedy, said families of all victims in the area have decided to file a police complaint against those who spread the news of the conversion.
“It was a caste wall, it was illegally built to keep a private property away from the vicinity of this SC colony. When we approached him (the owner of the private property) twice to reduce the height of the wall, he said we could approach police or take legal action. That was his arrogance. Finally this accident happened. But why should we convert to Islam?” he said.
Maniyamma said a majority of the residents were devotees of Ram. “We do not even eat meat during this Margazhi month. Not a single Muslim family is here, no one has approached us. These are all lies,” she said.
D Ravikumar, MP and general secretary of the state’s most powerful Dalit party, Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), said it was the failure of the state government in handling a major accident that led to such events.
“I demanded that the government should send the Scheduled Castes Commission for an inquiry after the accident. The commission visited and stated that it was a caste wall, and that a case should be registered under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. But the police did not do that. Members of some Dalit groups who protested are still in prison, while the man who built the wall secured bail from Madras High Court as the government did not oppose it. This indifference is leading to such announcements of conversion, even if there was little truth in it,” he said.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines