For 10 years, 29-year-old Ram Pal was a practicing Christian, but three days ago he converted and become a Hindu. The change in faith, however, has not tangibly altered his life as the struggle to make ends meet and the worry about the future of his children continue unabated.
Despite converting to Christianity in 2001, seven Valmiki families in Asroi village were not accorded minority status. Instead, the village register – maintained by the district administration – continued to identify them as Scheduled Caste. This continued for over a decade, but Ram Pal said that over the past few years, this ambiguous identity of being neither a Christian nor a Dalit was becoming increasingly difficult.
Ram Pal, who like others in his community raises pigs, said, “We still used our SC identity to get our children admission in schools and avail to various government schemes. We celebrated Holi and Diwali along with Christimas. But people were asking questions. If you’re a Christian, how can you be a Dalit?”
Another such Dalit, 44-year-old Ram Chandra, said, “Our children go to school, on the basis of their SC certificates. But most drop out in their teens and look for work in Hathras and Aligarh. Now that we’re Hindu, at least no can doubt that we’re Dalits.”
On Wednesday, a church belonging to the 7th Day Adventists that functioned from a small room in the village was “converted” into a temple through a “shuddhikaran” (purification) ceremony that saw the “ghar wapsi” (reconversion) of 72 Dalit Valmikis in the seven families by various Hindu groups, including the RSS, VHP, Bajrang Dal and Arya Samaj, said villagers.
Ram Pal said that the Dalit community did not want the puja to take place within the church. “But, they said it was the only way for us to become Hindus again,” he said.
Meanwhile, Khem Chandra, the Sangh pracharak and pramukh of Dharam Jagaran Vivad in Aligarh asserted that the conversion was a “conscious choice made by the Dalit Valimiki community”. However, the news of the appropriation of the church spread tension in the area.
Fearing an outbreak of violence, the district administration locked the room on Thursday. The Shiva poster, which was put up in the place where a framed-photograph of Jesus Christ used to hang, has been taken off “and kept in a safe place”.
The belongings of the church – a cupboard, Christmas-lights and a single copy of the Bible – has also been kept in a locker.
The Christian community has alleged that such conversions were a part of an RSS conspiracy, aimed at reaping electoral benefit. Seeking immediate action against the perpetrators, civil rights activist John Dayal said, “It is the right of an individual to convert to any religion of his choice. But continued…