1981 Meenakshipuram conversion

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The 1981 Meenakshipuram conversion was a mass religious conversion that took place in the Indian village of Meenakshipuram, in which hundreds of low caste Hindus converted to Islam. This incident sparked debate over freedom of religion in India and the government decided to introduce anti-conversion legislation.[1] Later, many converts converted back to Hinduism, citing the lack of fulfillment of promises made during the conversions.


Meenakshipuram is a village in the Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu, India. The scheduled caste members in the village were segregated by the caste, who referred to them as untouchables on the basis of the Indian caste system.[2] The district had a long history of caste-related violence.[3] An estimated of 1,100 scheduled caste members from the village had converted to Islam.[4] Though originally 220 families were registered for conversions, about 40 of them changed their mind and 180 families attended the ceremony held on February 19, 1981.[5]


After the incident, the Tamil Nadu government set up an inquiry commission to investigate the conversion. The commission in its report suggested an anti-conversion bill to be passed by the state government, but government put it on hold.[6]

Media reported that the conversion took place by force using foreign funding.[7][8][9] While some converts denied the allegations,[10] others said that they had been bribed. Ayyappan, a resident of Meenakshipuram, said that he had declined an offer of Rs. 500 in cash to convince him to renounce his faith.[11] One news paper had also printed a photo of a currency note from a Gulf country.[8]

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was reportedly unhappy, and Home Minister Zail Singh questioned if "a conspiracy or political motivation" was involved in these conversions.[8] A number of press reporters and politicians such as Atal Bihari Vajpayee,[12] and Yogendra Makwana[13] visited the village.

Many of the converts left Islam later on.[14] By July 1981, some of the converts returned to Hinduism.[15] In 1991, a decade later, 900 out of 1,100 converts returned to Hinduism, citing the lack of fulfillment of promises made during the conversions.[16]


  1. ^ "Sudden spurt in conversions of Harijans to Islam forces govt to study the 'issue'". India Today. 11 November 2013. Retrieved 25 December 2014.
  2. ^ Akshayakumar Ramanlal Desai (1 January 1991). Violation of Democratic Rights in India. Popular Prakashan. pp. 12–13. ISBN 978-81-7154-529-2.
  3. ^ Manjari Katju (1 January 2003). Vishva Hindu Parishad and Indian Politics. Orient Blackswan. pp. 32–. ISBN 978-81-250-2476-7. Retrieved 24 December 2014.
  4. ^ Oldenburg, Philip (1991). India Briefind, 1991. p. 119.
  5. ^ Averting the Apocalypse: Social Movements in India Today. Duke University Press. 1990. p. 346.
  6. ^ "Jayalalithaa's anti-conversion law causes political polarisation in Tamil Nadu". India Today. 18 November 2002. Retrieved 24 December 2014.
  7. ^ Jan N. Bremmer; Wout Jac. van Bekkum; Arie L. Molendijk. Cultures of Conversions. Peeters Publishers.
  8. ^ a b c Averting the Apocalypse: Social Movements in India Today. Duke University Press. 1990. p. 347.
  9. ^ Jaffrelot, Christophe. Religion, Caste, and Politics in India. Primus Books. p. 162.
  10. ^ "Ayodhya, the Battle for India's Soul: Chapter Three". WSJ. 5 December 2012. Retrieved 24 December 2014.
  11. ^ Swarup, Devendra (1986). Politics of Conversion. Deendayal Research Institute. p. 30.
  12. ^ Mumtaz Ali Khan (1983). Mass-conversions of Meenakshipuram: a sociological enquiry. Christian Literature Society. p. 49.
  13. ^ MGR: A Life. Penguin Random House India. 2017. p. 276.
  14. ^ "Meenakshipuram: Keeping the faith". 1983.
  15. ^ The Demolition: India at the Crossroads. p. 129. Meenakshipuram. In July 1981, some of the converts to Islam had re-converted to Hinduism.
  16. ^ "Meenakshipuram Harijans flip-flop between Islam and Hinduism". 1991.