Lucknow: The ‘re-conversion’ efforts of the Hindutva groups may have gone on the low burn in the last few weeks, but the controversy over it has ignited ideas among several Dalit groups. In a new phenomenon, deprived sections of the Hindu community have been threatening to quit Hinduism and embrace other religions if their demands, which are secular in character, were not met.
Recent incidents in Agra and Meerut suggest that Dalits, Valmikis and others have found a new weapon to get their social or development demands addressed by the political dispensation.
In Jamalpur Goma village of Baghpat in Meerut district, dozens of members of ten Dalit families had demanded that they should be allowed to worship at a famous Valmiki temple at Balaini, otherwise they would embrace Islam. They have even given a deadline till January 26 for such permission to be given, and the local administration is on its toes to contain the situation.
A section of locals attribute this development to the alleged control of land adjoining the temple by the temple priest. “We just want to take out a shobha yatra from the Lav Kush Dwar to the temple, and the temple priest is not even allowing this,” said Shyam Singh Valmiki of the Jamalpur Goma village. He has alleged that the local administration was also acting under pressure from the priest.
The temple priest Mahant Lakhyadevanand has also been quoted as saying that there is no dispute over worshipping within the temple. However, there is no clarity on allowing the shobha yatra to be taken out over a stretch of land leading to the temple. Meanwhile, the representatives of the Valmiki families are adamant that if permission for the yatra and worship is not given to them till January 26 they will collectively embrace Islam. The district administration and police have been trying to defuse the situation as the local leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad have also jumped into the fray.
“The issue might seem trivial, but it indicates the social divisions over which opposing sections of society take a tough stand, leading to unrest or violence,” says Dr Rahul Shukla, a professor of Indian history at a Lucknow University college.
In a similar incident in Agra in January, a section of Hindus belonging to Sikandarpur in New Agra area threatened to hold a panchayat on Sunday January 11 to take a decision on quitting the Hindu fold if their long-pending demands were not met. However, the panchayat was put off following an assurance by the representative of the Babu Lal Choudhary, the BJP MP from Fatehpur Sikri.
“We have assured the villagers that their demands pertaining to some facilities in the area and their dispute with another religious group will be sorted out soon,” according to Mohan Singh, a local BJP leader.
“There have also been instances where young people have opted for conversion simply to get married to someone belonging to a different faith,” according to Dr Rahul Shukla. But, he said, the recent Allahabad High Court judgment holding such conversions as ‘void’ puts things in a clearer perspective. “Opting for religious conversion simply for marriage or achieving some narrow personal end is improper and should never be supported, and the court ruling validates it,” he said.
Incidentally, instances of Dalits embracing Buddhism have been very frequent across Uttar Pradesh especially during the regime of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). “Our leader Mayawati has always fought against the oppressive caste system in Hindu society and victims of this oppression are always welcome to become Buddhists, a path shown by Dr Ambedkar,” says a BSP leader.
But Acharya Ramapati Shastri, a Sanskrit scholar and expert in Vedic religious rituals, says that the Dalits have always been at the forefront of protecting Hindu faith and places of worship, and now there is no bar on them to worship in temples. “They are even becoming priests in many temples across India,” he said.
Acharya Shastri also wondered why the Dalits would be raising such demands when they enjoyed the fruits of reservation in educational institutions and government jobs, and their representatives have been in the government. “Why should they leave the blessings of Dr Ambedkar and join any other faith?” he asked.
Another scholar traces a link to the much-publicised incident in Agra on December 8 last, where it had been alleged that the promoters of a re-conversion ritual had offered a BPL ration card and a plot of land to those who agreed to convert to Hinduism. The matter had become more complicated when it came to light that the participants in the ritual could have been illegal Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh.
“If turning into a Hindu could bring with itself the perks of legitimate Indian citizenship, then demanding certain concessions or facilities to remain a Hindu could not be far away,” said Athar Husain, an expert from the Centre for Objective Research and Development, Lucknow. “A recent report from Rajasthan in which residents of a village in Hanumangarh district had threatened to embrace Islam if illegal encroachments were not removed from their village is such an example,” he said.
A leader of the Hindu Mahasabha, however, says that instances of mischief-makers inciting sections of Hindus could not be ruled out since “huge amounts of money are spent to seek conversions of Hindus.”