By Sushmita Sihwag:
While some Hindutva outfits are busy running their Ghar Wapsi campaign with a fervent zeal and utmost devotion, a substantial number of Hindu Valmiki families in Rampur have announced their plans to adopt Islam as their religion in order to ‘save’ their houses from getting demolished by the municipal authorities in one of UP’s Muslim-dominated areas.
What forced them to take such a step?
On April 6, the municipal authorities marked the houses to be demolished at Topkhana locality in Rampur. In response to this, hundreds of members of the Valmiki community staged a protest two days later against UP Urban Development minister Azam Khan, and the demolition drive. The police then registered a case against 86 members of the community, following complaints by Samajwadi Party workers. Five of the 80 affected families began an indefinite hunger strike to protest against the government’s plan to widen the roads.
The residents of the Valmiki Basti alleged that the decision to demolish their houses came after a political leader gave the order to demolish the houses surrounding the under-construction Gandhi Mall. The decision to convert to Islam was the result of a suggestion made by an officer of Rampur Municipality to the residents. The officer, who is on good terms with the politician, told them that they could save their houses from getting demolished by converting to Islam.
“If that is the guarantee when our houses can be saved we will become Muslims. There is no other option. The roads in Muslim locality is quite narrow but our road is being widened,” said Eklavya Valmiki, a leader of the Valmiki Basti Bachao Sangharsh Samiti, the organization leading the protests.
According to the statements by the members of the Samiti, the Valmiki community has been residing in the area since the last 60 years and their houses are being demolished despite their having all the legal documents, including the order of the Urban Development ministry, which proves that the land was allotted to safai karamcharis. The residents submitted a memorandum to UP governor Ram Naik through the DM, who had already ordered a probe into the matter.
In the government’s defence, Azhar Ahmed Khan, Chairman of Nagar Palika Rampur, said, “We are just removing encroachment from government land. We will take legal action. It is just pressure tactics. One becomes Muslim from heart. It is an RSS ploy.”
When all else failed, the community announced that it would embrace Islam on Ambedkar Jayanti on April 14, as the last resort to protect their houses. However, their plans were thwarted by the Muslim clerics who refused to be a part of the conversion ceremony, a day before the intended date. “They have been terrorised. They are not doing this for their love for Islam. They believe that they would be able to protect their houses by adopting Islam. The authorities wouldn’t dare to dislodge them from the locality if they were Muslims. However, any conversion under fear is not permitted in our religion. So we have refused to be part of any conversion programme,” said Maulana Furqan Raza, after he met with the community members.