‘Dalits of Meenakshipuram faring well after conversion’

VCK Leader Thol. Thirumavalavan, who is doing a research in Department of Criminology in Manonmaniam Sundaranar University, sharing the findings of his research at a seminar at Madurai Kamaraj University on Friday here.   | Photo Credit: G_Moorthy

The roughly 150 Dalit families of Meenakshipuram in Tirunelveli district, who converted en masse to Islam in 1981 owing to caste oppression, have been faring well on the socio-economic front after conversion, said VCK leader Thol. Thirumavalavan, who as a research scholar of Manonmaniam Sundaranar University, is on the verge of submitting his thesis on the lives of these families.

Sharing the findings of his research at a seminar on ‘Criminal justice system and victimology’ at Madurai Kamaraj University on Friday here, Mr. Thirumavalavan said that he found the families to have come out of the stigma and discrimination imposed on them by the caste system.

“Instead of the casteist slurs hurled at them, today, men of the converted families are addressed today as ‘bhai’ by others, which gives a sense of equality and dignity for them,” he said.

He also said that the families had also seen considerable improvement on the economic front. “While a majority of them were landless, they have not ventured into small businesses like setting up a petty shop or tea shop because of the social acceptance they have gained through their new identity,” he said.

On criticisms that the Dalits could not get rid of their caste identity since they faced discrimination even within Islam, he said that it was not entirely true. Acknowledging that there could be discrimination in a small level, he said, “In some families, a section of their relatives have converted while others had not. Hence, these families might face some discrimination.”

He stressed that he found the second generation of the converted families to be treated as born Muslims. “None of the families had any regrets for embracing Islam,” he added.

As generally seen with people who embrace a new religion, he said the converted families were found to be staunch followers of Islam.

He said that his research had also shown the allegations that the conversions were foreign-funded and certain religious groups were behind it to be completely baseless.

“The conversions were purely because of the caste discrimination and oppression they faced at all levels. The failure and indifference of the State to protect them from this situation were also equally important reasons,” he said.

“On the other hand, it was organisations like Arya Samaj which played a crucial role post-conversion to bring back a few families to Hinduism,” he said.

When asked whether he thought religious conversions as an efficient strategy to overcome caste discrimination, he said that it had to be analysed in the particular social and political context in which the conversions happen and the religion they choose to embrace.

“Though there are certain drawbacks in conversions like fragmentation of the communities, the benefits have largely outweighed the drawbacks in the case of Meenakshipuram,” he said.

Mr. Thirumavalavan made two presentations on ‘Religion and conversion’ and ‘Victimological perspective of Meenakshipuram conversion.’

Earlier, inaugurating the day-long national-level seminar, P.P. Chellathurai, Vice-Chancellor, Madurai Kamaraj University, stressed the importance of in-depth research and proper understanding of the field of victimology so as to ensure justice to the victims.

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Printable version | Nov 23, 2021 3:32:12 AM |

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