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Tamil Nadu: Teenager’s Death Revives Clamour for Anti-Conversion Law

Sruti MD |
The recent suicide of a young girl allegedly after ‘forced conversion’ and the consequent reaction from right-wing affiliates draws one back to past attempts to bring anti-conversion law in the state.
Tamil Nadu: Teenager’s Death Revives Clamour for Anti-Conversion Law

Image Courtesy: The Indian Express

Chennai: Tamil Nadu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders are holding a hunger strike in Valluvar Kottam, Chennai since 25 January morning alleging that the 17-year-old girl who died by suicide in Tanjore on January 19 was forced to convert to Christianity.

The girl allegedly consumed poison on January 9 and died ten days later. A day after her death, a 44-second video of the girl circulated on social media wherein she is heard accusing the school of forced conversion and mistreatment.

The BJP and other right-wing outfits have since then held protests demanding justice for Lavanya stating that the juvenile took her own life due to forced conversion.

On January 24, Tamil Nadu School Education Minister Anbil Mahesh Poyyamozhi categorically said that a probe conducted by the education department has made it clear that “forced conversion” as being alleged by BJP is not the reason for the suicide of a 17-year-old student.

Although the State government assured that an unbiased probe could be conducted against those responsible for the girl’s suicide, the BJP is demanding that the case be transferred to the CBI. Simultaneously they are demanding an anti-conversion law in the state like those passed in many of the BJP ruled states.

However, Tamil Nadu already had an anti-conversion law that was repealed because it went against the interests of the minorities and the marginalised communities. A law against religious conversion through force or allurement was enacted in 2002 during the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) regime under late Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa and it was withdrawn in 2006 following stiff opposition.


Way back in 1981, in Meenakshipuram village in Tirunelveli district, 180 Dalit families shunned Hinduism to embrace Islam. An estimated 1,100 Scheduled Caste members converted to Islam and the educated youth from the ex-untouchable Pallar community initiated the conversion.

Within days, national-level leaders of various Hindu outfits, including former BJP leaders Atal Bihari Vajpayee, LK Advani and several Sangh Parivar outfits, descended to Meenakshipuram offering incentives to the villagers to re-convert to Hinduism. Some converted back to avail themselves of the houses and other benefits promised by the leaders.

Tamil Nadu set up an inquiry commission headed by Justice Venugopal to look into the Meenakshipuram conversions. In 1986 the commission recommended that the state pass a law that banned forcible conversion.

Those who opposed the recommendation argued that conversions like that in Meenakshipuram happen because Dalits are being tortured by upper-caste Hindus and a ban is not a solution.

Studies conducted several decades later showed that the second generation Meenakshipuram converts, who grew up in the new faith, feel emancipated from the clutches of caste oppression. It showcases a lesson that conversion is mostly a form of protest and sometimes a solution and not necessarily forced.


Much later in 2002 the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Forcible Conversion of Religion Act, the brainchild of Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, was passed in the Tamil Nadu Assembly.

Jayalalithaa categorically said this legislation is not aimed at any particular religion, that it applies to everyone and that it will only deal with forcible conversions. But leaders of minority groups stated that Jayalalithaa was playing to the Sangh Parivar galleries and this law could be misused to torture the minorities.

Dalit groups, Christian minority groups and political parties, barring the BJP and the AIADMK, were stiffly against the law.

Given the backlash and strong opposition to the law, the AIADMK government decided to repeal the law and an Ordinance was promulgated in May 2004, the law was repealed in 2006 during the next regime.


Within days after the Tamil Nadu Assembly passed the anti-conversion law, a row in Madipakkam, Chennai resulted in the burning down of a thatched hut church and the priest John Jebaraj was threatened by the Hindu Munnani.

The Hindu Munnani filed a complaint with the police charging the church with forced conversion of a Hindu. However, the person in question, Arochkiadas Dhanasekhar, had converted to Christianity six years earlier, and the Hindu Munnani was pressurising Dhanasekhar and his family to convert back to Hinduism.

The Hindu Munnani continues to forcefully ‘re-convert’ people who drift away from Hinduism out of choice. The outfit’s argument is that people are brainwashed and converted to Islam and Christianity.

In 2015 the members of the Hindu Munnani claimed that they had in the recent past re-converted 50 people back to their religions. However, the narrative of the Tamil Nadu police was different, members of the outfit were held by the police for forcefully preventing conversions.

The outfit claims that it would continue such activities until an anti-conversion law is passed in the state.

The Hindu Munnani has even protested against a Christian missionary group that has been trying to convert a residential house into a Prayer Hall in Kanyakumari.

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