Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Forcible Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2002:

Jaya’s Tirade against Dalits and Religious Minorities

Even as the whole of Tamil Nadu is anxiously awaiting d the Cauvery to carry some waters to save the state from an impending agricultural disaster, Jayalalitha has been busy raising PDS prices, hiking power tariff and banning religious conversion. Srilata Swaminathan examines this draconian ordinance in the context of relentless atrocities on dalits. This is followed by excerpts from “Question of Faith” written by Ram Puniyani, which refutes the lies spread by the saffron brigade regarding the allegedly forcible conversion of Hindus to Islam and Christianity. Also reproduced is a statement issued by the Chennai-based Movement for People’s Unity opposing the ordinance.

“The Wretched of the Earth”

— Srilata Swaminathan

On 5th October 2002 the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, J Jayalalithaa got the Governor of the state to promulgate the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Forcible Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2002, an ordinance which has become extremely controversial and is stirring up a great deal of resentment, mainly among Christians and dalits.

The ordinance is a short one and comes into immediate effect. Its main provisions state concisely and bluntly that “No person shall convert or attempt to convert, either directly or otherwise, any person from one religion to another by the use of force or by allurement or by any fraudulent means nor shall any person abet any such conversion.” Its definitions of the words ‘force’, ‘allurement’ and ‘fraudulent means’ are put equally succinctly. The definition of ‘force’ includes a “show of force or a threat of injury of any kind including threat of divine displeasure or social ex-communication”. ‘Allurement’ means offer of any temptation in the form of: “(i) any gift or gratification either in cash or kind; (ii) grant of any material benefit, either monetary or otherwise.” ‘Fraudulent means’ includes misrepresentation or any other fraudulent contrivance. And the punishment for breaking this law is also clearly spelt out - “Whoever contravenes the provisions of …… be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and also be liable to fine which may extend to fifty thousand rupees”!

There has been a lot of speculation as to why the Tamil Nadu act has been suddenly brought out now without any public debate or even the involvement of many government institutions that should have been in on the act. Many think it is just another way in which Amma is trying to get political mileage. She is desperately trying to woo the BJP in order to edge out the DMK and somehow get into the NDA. (Needless to say, the saffron forces have applauded the ordinance.) Others say it is because of recent conversions of dalits to Islam like the case of the defiant dalits of Koothirambakkam where 58 dalit families converted to Islam in August in the face of all opposition. Another reason given is the increasing number of dalit Christians in the last ten years who are trying to get SC reservation privileges by reconverting to Hinduism, a step that Karunanidhi is opposing but the Madras High Court seems to be upholding.

An added complication to the whole question of conversions is the Supreme Court ruling that denies SC (Scheduled Caste) privileges of reservations etc. to those who convert to Christianity and Islam but not to those who convert to Buddhism or Sikhism. While everyone is aware that it is the atrocious treatment meted out to dalits and tribals by Hinduism/Brahmanism, over centuries, which is the root cause of conversions, it is also the Supreme Court’s absurd distinction in withholding reservation benefits to Christian and Muslim converts which has acted as a brake for many who would like to flee the oppressive bonds of a religion based on caste discrimination.

Whatever the arguments there is no questioning the appalling plight of dalit men and women in our country whose suffering continues unabated and who remain subject to the most demeaning humiliation and discrimination, day in and day out.

Secular Indians are still reeling under the horrendous events of a few days ago, in Jhajjar, Haryana, where five innocent dalit youth - Virender Singh, Dayachand, Totaram, Raju and Kailash - were brutally murdered by frenzied Hindutva mobs. Three of them were butchered to death while two were burnt alive. When are we going to eventually uproot the evil of casteism from our society and totally eliminate it? What can be more appalling than the statistics given below which make a total mockery of India’s leading religion, India’s democracy and freedom and our so-called great civilisation and vedic traditions!

Every hour two cases of atrocities on dalits are registered w Every hour two Dalits are assaulted w Every day three Dalit women are raped w Every day two Dalits are murdered w Every day six Dalits are disabled w Every day two Dalit houses are burned in India.