28/07/2016 8:49 AM IST | Updated 28/07/2016 8:59 AM IST

Denied Right To Worship At Temples, 250 Dalit Families Want To Convert To Islam

A Dalit built one of the temples.

Danish Siddiqui / Reuters
People attend a protest against what they say are attacks on India's low-caste Dalit community in Mumbai, India, July 27, 2016.My parents and grandparents were slaves. I wish my generation does not have to face untouchability and insults

The villages of Pazhangkallimedu and Nagapallin in Tamil Nadu have become hot beds of Dalit resistance. Fed up with years of marginalisation, 250 Dalit families from the two villages have decided to convert to Islam. The immediate trigger for the decision is allegedly the refusal by upper caste Hindus to give them rights to worship at temples, one of which was in fact built and run by Dalits themselves.

The Indian Express reported that at Pazhangkallimedu village, 180 Dalit families have claimed that upper caste Hindus are denying them the right to lead rituals on even one of a five-day annual festival at the Bhadra Kaliamman temple.

"My parents and grandparents were slaves. I wish my generation does not have to face untouchability and insults. Conversion may be the only option for us," Dalit rights activist Senthil Kumar told Express. According to the report, the local Tamil Nadu Towheed Jamaat (TNTJ) has distributed copies of the Quran in the village while a Christian missionary has also contacted them.

My parents and grandparents were slaves. I wish my generation does not have to face untouchability and insults.

The story is same in Nagapallin village. A Dalit president of the temple trust in the village, P Vetrivel, told the paper that his father built the temple seven years ago but after his death, "Hindu families who returned from Sri Lanka have been denying us entry and trying to occupy the temple".

The 2011 census showed that there are at least 200 million Dalits in India - excluding Muslim and Christian Dalits, and they have been marginalised for centuries in a country divided by caste and birth. Called untouchables, Dalits were subjected to atrocities until the Parliament passed the Untouchability (offences) Act in 1955, further amended and renamed in 1976 as Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955.

Meanwhile, the Una flogging of Dalits have prompted at least 1,000 people from the community in Banaskantha district to express their desire to convert to Buddhism, PTI reported.

These Dalit community members have even filled up the forms giving their consent for the religious conversion, which will soon be submitted to the government authorities.

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Dalits sit during a mass conversion to Buddhism ceremony in Mumbai, 27 May 2007. AFP PHOTO/ Sajjad HUSSAIN

Meanwhile, various dalit rights organisations have announced to organise a mass gathering of the community here on July 31 to decide the road map of their movement.

"Dalits across the state are deeply pained by the recent incident in Una. It shows that we are still subjected to discrimination and various atrocities in the name of caste, religion and profession. Thus, several dalits from Banaskantha have expressed their desire to covert to Buddhism," local dalit leader and BDS secretary Dinesh Makwana said.

Reuters Photographer / Reuters
Buddhist monks attend a gathering in New Delhi, November 4, 2001, where thousands of Dalits embraced Buddhism during a mass conversion.

"In the last three days, thousands of dalits took part in the protest rallies here. During our meetings, we came to the conclusion that there is no meaning in practicing Hinduism if we are not treated as equal. Thus, we have distributed forms among dalits, who wish to convert. So far, around 1,000 such forms have been submitted back to us," Makwana said.

Conversion in Gujarat is governed by the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, which came into force in 2008. According to the Act, it is mandatory for a person, who wants to convert, to take permission from the district collector by submitting an application with a prescribed form.

According to Makwana, these forms, given to BDS by around 1,000 dalits, will be submitted to the Collector soon.

"We expect that some more dalits will join our movement and fill up their forms for conversion. After collecting all such forms, we will decide a date to submit it to the Collector," added Makwana.

On July 11, some Dalit youths from Mota Samadhiyala village in Una taluka of Gir-Somnath district were flogged by cow protection vigilantes when these dalits were skinning a dead cow. The accused thrashed them alleging that they had killed the cow. After a video of the incident went viral, it sparked off violent protests across Gujarat.

(With PTI inputs)