The 57 Muslim families, who were “converted” to Hinduism in a Bajrang Dal exercise in Agra, said Tuesday they were misled into believing that the programme was for registering them as BPL families, and not for religious conversion. While the families admitted that they had told “pujaris” at the conversion programme Monday that they were “changing their religion” of their own volition, they said they did so out of fear of violence.
Representatives of the Bajrang Dal however said the conversion programme had happened “out in the open”, and the families had changed tack under duress.
Ismail Khan, the ‘pradhan’ of the of the 57 families, comprising more than 200 people, said he had first been approached by a man 15 days ago. “All of us live here in kuccha houses, and pick rags for a living. We came and settled here 12 years ago, and hail from Bihar and Bengal. Fifteen days ago, a man from the locality came to me and asked if we had ration cards, to which I replied in the affirmative. He then asked me if all of us had BPL cards, but when I said no, he told me he would arrange them for us,” he said.
Khan said the man he identified as Kishan Lal said once the families had BPL cards, they would be eligible for a host of sops, including subsidised schooling and medical arrangements. “He said on the day our names were registered, big people would come to our basti, and even the media. I saw no danger in this, and agreed immediately. It was decided, that the event would be held on Monday,” he said.
Murshida Begum, another resident of the slum cluster, said on Monday afternoon, men arrived in “big cars with tilaks on their foreheads accompanied by the media.” They put some idols in one corner, and spread a sheet. “We began to get worried, but could say nothing for fear of the powerful people. They asked our men to wear their skull caps, read some text, and throw some things into a fire. They asked them if they were happy being Hindus now. Everyone was inside the basti, and there could have been trouble. We are poor people with nowhere to go, and if our landlord tells us to leave, we will have nowhere to go. What could the men have said but yes?” she said.
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Ajju Chauhan of the Bajrang Dal said, “It was not a conversion but a ghar vapsi, because the previous generations of these families had been converted from Hinduism to Islam. It was done with their consent, and not secretively, but for everyone to see. There was no issues raised on Monday, and we had only assured the families of some assistance from our organisations. They are only saying this out of pressure from vested interests.”
Senior police officers said that they had not received a complaint so far, and if they did a matter would be investigated. Ismail Khan however said that the families did not want to approach the police, but hoped things would “return to the way they were”.