Families from Hisar’s Bhagana village, who have been protesting at Jantar Mantar for the past two years over alleged atrocities and rapes by the upper-caste Jats, claimed to have converted to Islam at Jantar Mantar on Saturday. However, the VHP alleged that the conversion was an instance of “exploitation” of Dalit families and said they were able to “intervene in time” to stop it.
The protesting families had been threatening to convert to Islam for the past week. “We have given up Hinduism. We are tired of waiting. We have met chief ministers and police and all we have received in return are empty promises. Not one person has done anything. What is the point of staying within this community when no one comes to you at the time of your need? We are treated like animals and that has not changed despite our protests,” said Jagdish Kajla, convener of Bhagana Kand Sangharsh Samiti.
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Countering the villagers’ claims, VHP Delhi spokesperson Vinod Bansal said, “Some of our workers reached Jantar Mantar after receiving information that certain individuals were exploiting the helplessness of these people and forcing them to convert to Islam. What is shocking is that this was happening virtually next to the Parliament. When our workers arrived at the spot and called police, they detained the workers. Later, more protesters arrived and we were able to intervene in time and stop the conversion.”
The families explained that in February 2012, members of the Jat community had initially claimed a playground that the Dalit families used. This was followed by a period of routine sexual harassment and molestation. In May, Dalit families began protesting outside the district magistrate’s office in Hisar. In retaliation, the khap panchayat declared a social and economic boycott against the Dalits. On March 23, four girls were allegedly picked up and raped in the village, after which 80 Dalit families fled to the capital.
Their conversion to Islam, the families said, was a mark of their protest. “We have been humiliated and tortured in ways which aren’t human. Our women have been raped and harassed. We no longer want to belong to this community. For two years, we have been waiting for and demanding justice, but to no avail,” said a woman, who claimed to have been molested.
The VHP, however, maintained that the real issue at hand was the continued exploitation of the Dalit families by those who wanted to convert them. “The VHP demands action against the culprits, irrespective of who they are. But the real issue at hand is the fact that the agony of these suffering families is being exploited by those who want to make this a religious issue. The VHP will take action against this and ensure that at least in Delhi, this can’t happen,” said Bansal.
A senior police officer of New Delhi district maintained that the protest was peaceful and no one was detained. “We have deployed adequate police personnel at Jantar Mantar as the organisers of the protest took prior permission. A PCR call was made, but we weren’t able to find anything,” the officer added.