Conversion boosted social mobility of Dalits: Thirumavalavan
For Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) leader Thol Thirumavalavan, pursuing an academic goal serves a political purpose. He is doing his PhD that relates directly to his politics. The field work and the data he collected for his doctoral thesis, “Analysis of conversion in Meenakshipuram — A micro-level case study”, show that conversion to Islam had boosted the social mobility of Dalits in that village
Mr. Thirumavalavan has concluded that economic empowerment alone was not the incentive for Dalits in Meenakshipuram, Tirunelveli, to embrace Islam in the early eighties. Caste discrimination followed by State oppression in the form of police high-handedness and harassment was the trigger, he told The Hindu.
“Dalits in other parts of the country have experienced economic empowerment. Though they face discrimination on a regular basis, many do not nurture the idea of conversion. That is why I have come to the conclusion that State oppression was the major factor that drove Meenakshipuram conversions,” he said.
Mr. Thirumavalavan, a postgraduate in Criminology who worked in the state Forensic Department, registered for PhD under K. Chockalingam, an eminent criminologist and former Vice-Chancellor of Manonmaniam Sundaranar University. “The Dalits there take pride in being called bhai by other communities including caste Hindus. Omar Sherif is able to construct a big shopping complex in Panpozhil, where all communities live. It would not have been possible before conversion. Seventy-five-year old Fathima, who never attended school, is able to cite relevant Quran verses during conversation, ” he said, rejecting the allegation that money from Gulf countries and Kerala played a major role in luring the Dalits towards Islam.
“Of course, 80% of the houses in Meenakshipuram have become concrete structures. There are also people like Amir Ali who told me that if he had received money he would not be eking out a living today as a daily wager,” said Mr. Thirumavalavan, who interviewed more than 150 persons in Meenakshipuram and Merkarai, a nearby settlement, for the PhD work.
Political leaders including the then Chief Minister M.G.Ramachandran, former Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, who visited Meenakshipuram, and organisations like Arya Samaj had alleged that money was used to convert the Dalits into Islam.
Mr. Thirumavalavan, however, said though there was tension between Dalits and other communities for many years, the murder of two caste Hindu security guards in Merkarai and the subsequent police action resulted in the conversion in 1981. “The State is the only resort for victims. But, in Tamil Nadu, the government not only remained indifferent, but also let loose violence on Dalits. It drew the nation’s attention in a big way just like the mass conversion organised by Dr. Ambedkar in Nagpur,” he said.
Mr. Thirumavalavan explained that some 20 families reconverted to Hinduism and the relationship between the converts and others remained cordial. “Muslims continue to pay the money for the annual festival at the Amman temple and Hindus offer donations to the Jamaat. Marriages between them are also common and marriages between converts and traditional Muslims have become possible. Conversion has not restricted the freedom of women as far as Meenakshipuram is concerned. They continue to work in the estate and the only change you notice is that they cover their heads,” he said.