Ambedkar Jayanti celebrations in Mumbai in 2021. | Naresh Fernandes

As Hindutva supporters claim that growing numbers of Hindus are adopting Islam and Christianity, several states have in recent months criminalised forcible conversions – though there is little evidence that this is happening on a large scale.

But it is not just Christians and Muslims who are alarmed by these new laws: Ambedkarites view the provisions in some statutes banning mass conversions as an attempt to suppress the practice of Dalits converting to Buddhism to protest against caste oppression.

“Hindus don’t convert to Islam or other religions en masse,” said Satish Prakash, a Dalit rights activist from Meerut, Uttar Pradesh. “But only Dalits are inclined to leave Hinduism en masse, and are willing to say so publicly.”

Sushil Gautam, president of the Blue Panthers – an organisation that works for the welfare of the Dalit community – said these laws “are an attempt to scare and discourage Dalits from converting away from Hinduism”.

Anti-conversion laws have long been on the books in Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, and Rajasthan. But since Uttar Pradesh moved its Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion Ordinance in 2020, even more states have introduced similar laws or amended existing ones to purportedly prevent “love jihad”.

“Love jihad” is a conspiracy theory spread by Hindutva workers claiming that Muslim men are marrying Hindu women solely to convert them to Islam.

This year, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka and Uttarakhand have passed or amended anti-conversion laws to criminalise mass conversions. Madhya Pradesh enacted a similar law last year.

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