TN Conversion Law Will Hit The Poor

Chennai: | Updated: Oct 28 2002, 05:30am hrs
The Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Forcible Conversion of Religion Ordinance, promulgated by the state government on October 5, has stirred a hornets nest. While the political and religious implications of the ordinance are debatable, what the observers are overlooking is its socio-economic fallout. The ordinance, slated to come up for discussion during the current session of the state assembly, seeks to ban any religious conversion by force, allurement or fraudulent means.

Chief minister J Jayalalithaa has said the ordinance is not aimed at any particular community. According to her, even fundamentalist Hindus will be covered by it. Sangh parivar outfits, like Hindu Munnaani, VHP and RSS, have welcomed the Ordinance as a very bold and timely move. However, the minority communities are peeved and closed their educational institutions for a day in protest. The state government, in turn, has slapped show-cause notices on these institutions.

Many observers feel that the Ordinance will have a far-reaching impact on the social and economic security of the people in Tamil Nadu. Almost over 30 per cent of the people in the state live in abject poverty and are illiterate. They depend a lot on charitable educational and health care institutions run by the minority communities.

State Congress committee president S Balakrishnan, who is opposing the Ordinance, says it will prove detrimental to the interests of economically-backward Hindus as they are the major beneficiaries of service organisations run by the minorities. According to him, over 70 per cent of Hindus are economically poor and depend on charitable institutions run by the minority communities for their livelihood.

Leaders of the Left parties and the DMK, like Mr Balakrishnan, feel that the penal provisions in the Ordinance would make these organisations wary of helping the needy.

Father V Joseph Xavier, principal of Loyola College, Chennai, says: We run colleges not to convert or even preach Christianity but to inculcate human values. He said the new Ordinance will persecute Christians whose only interest is to serve the society in general and the oppressed in particular. The new law will make Christian social service a criminal offence, he feels.

The major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church, an Indian constituent of the Catholic church based in Kerala, Varkey Vithayathil, says: This controversial Ordinance is an uncalled for legislation directed against the minorities. Why should there be such a legislation now What has prompted this action after 50 years of Independence This phenomenon of intolerance is of recent origin.

The dalits consider the new law as an affront on their integrity, and see it as the closure of an escape route. In Tamil Nadu, conversion to another religion, Islam or Christianity, is a potent socio-political weapon for dalits to attract political attention to end age-old deprivation of drinking water or connecting roads or bridges. When they are denied these basic human rights, when their complaints to the police or political authorities fall on deaf ears, some of them threaten to convert.