Overcoming police blockades, legal threats, and lashing rain, hundreds of low-caste Hindus (Dalits) converted to Christianity and Buddhism today in the southern Indian city of Chennai.

Police arrested 10 Christian activists and threatened the Dalit pastor who rented his premises for the meeting. Authorities also blocked Dalit Hindus from hundreds of villages in Tamil Nadu state from reaching the venue. Organizers said police blocked or misdirected around 24 trucks, four buses, and seven vans carrying Dalits. In addition, four persons were missing in the melee.

Several Dalit groups organized the public event in part to protest a new Tamil Nadu law outlawing conversions. In October, the state government passed an ordinance that bans conversions by "force, allurement, or fraudulent means." Christian and human rights observers decry the law as a blatant attack by fundamentalists among the Hindu majority on India's constitutionally protected freedom of religion.

In recent years Dalits, known informally as untouchables, have become increasingly vocal about their systemic mistreatment at the hands of high-caste Hindus. In November 2001, 50,000 Dalits renounced their low-caste status within Hinduism and became Buddhists. Police hindered many more from participating in that rally in New Delhi. Still, conversions were evident today.

"I wanted to get out of that nasty life of mine, that is why me and my family chose to become Christians," Valliyamma, a fresh convert, told Christianity Today. "I'm sure we shall attain salvation through Jesus Christ."

M. A. Thomas, the bishop of Believers Church, baptized, washed the feet, and welcomed two Dalits, Dilliyappan and Dayalam, into Christianity. The two represented around 2,000 lower caste Hindus ...

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