Madurai: About 30 families belonging to a lower-caste Hindu community in Tamil Nadu’s Madurai district are facing ostracisation for having converted to Christianity over a decade ago, a reflection of how little things have changed in a land that prides itself for leading a number of anti-caste movements.
Not allowed to use public wells or any other public amenities, these families, originally belonging the Kattu Naicker community, had taken up the matter with the village chief, who asked them categorically to seek legal means.
The local administration then made it clear that the state would arbitrate and till then, asked the aggrieved villagers to keep off each other. Even as restive peace prevailed in the village, the outcasts struggled to lead a normal life.
In a video that has been doing the rounds for some time, the converts are seen raising a complaint with the all-powerful panchayat chief, NS Mani, about acts of intimidation. When one of them talks about being stopped from putting up a banner, Mani says they were not ought to go to the town in the first place.
As more arguments ensue, the chief says, “You are free to go to police or even courts. No one is stopping you”. When a member calls it oppression, the chief retorts, “What oppression?”
However, the village head Azhagar Pandy said there was no harassment. “We go to their place of worship and eat. Will they come to our temple and have our prasadh? They say our gods are mere stones and theirs is the real one. Conversion is humiliation, but returning to Hinduism is self-pride. Neither are we forcing them to come back nor harassing them,” Pandy told News18.
Peter Krishnan, who had embraced Christianity in 1984 as a student and heads the converted villagers’ group, said things were fine till 2018.
According to him, the harassment started after a Hindu fringe group opened its office around that time. Krishnan said the outfit stopped them from conducting prayer meetings, penalised for using public services and women were being forced to wear bindis.
Over a period of 35 years, about 60 families in the area had converted to Christianity. Some of them allege that about 30 families reconverted due to coercion.
“About 70 to 80 families had converted. Now 30 families moved back to the area after they were threatened. We, who didn’t, are unable to lead a normal life since the last one year. They impose a fine of Rs 5,000 if we use public amenities. We are not even able to sleep peacefully or step out of our homes,” said Mani, a local convert.
This ostracisation is not just practised by fellow villagers, but family members as well. Victor Raj whose family members didn’t take his path said, “My son and wife don’t even talk to me. I have to take care of myself. I am not even allowed to buy from shops nearby. Whenever I visit my family in the area, they don’t even look at me and say they are ashamed of me.”
Due to the prevailing tension, the regional district officer visited the village and asked the villagers to not talk to each other till a peace meeting is held by officials concerned. The officer has also imposed Section 107 in the area after receiving several complaints from both communities.
(WIth inputs from Stalin Navaneetha Krishnan)