The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Conversion plea

Chennai, May 19: The National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes plans to involve all members of Parliament to press for Dalits’ right to religious conversion.

“We would suggest to the MPs that the constitutional special provision under Article 14(4) should be implemented with regard to all fundamental rights, including the right to conversion” provided for the SC/STs, commission chairman Bizay Sonkar Shastri said today.

He regretted that the provision was applied only with regard to property and land transactions.

Speaking here after a meeting with state government officials on a tribal sub-plan and a special component plan for the year, Shastri was responding to a question on the implications of Tamil Nadu banning forcible religious conversions.

Dalits in the state resent the law and say it denies their fundamental right.

The commission chairman said he did not want to go into the merits of the state’s anti-conversion Act, but questioned the need for a “special law”.

According to the Constitution, forced religious conversions are already prohibited, Shastri said.

The right to convert on one’s own volition is fundamental though Article 14(4) is being implemented in a restricted sense only, he added.

Shastri expressed satisfaction at the development programmes for Dalits and tribals implemented by the Jayalalithaa government in the state. However, he added that despite good schemes on the table, political leaders were divided across the spectrum.

It does not augur well for the development of the Dalits and tribals, Shastri pointed out. “There is a big gap and only a positive effort can bridge this.”

On atrocities against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, the commission chairman said Rajasthan topped the chart with 30 per cent of the crimes committed in the state, followed by Uttar Pradesh with 28 per cent. Comparisons, however, should be made carefully, Shastri added, as Rajasthan has a population of 6 crore and Uttar Pradesh more than 11 crore.

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