Domestic scrap dealer Mumtaz Begum dodges the television cameras in her slum. A member of the 350-odd Bengali Muslim community in Ved Nagar, Agra, Ms. Begum was allegedly converted to Hinduism on Monday by activists of Hindutva organisations.
She said she took part in a ritual organised by several persons who held saffron flags, as she was promised a 'Below Povety Line' ration card and the government's Unique Identification Number -- entitlements her family has not received after migrating from Rampurhat near Kolkata around three years ago.
"These people (with flags) filled out several forms for us on Monday before make us sit near the fire while they chanted prayers. They said that we will get all benefits from government and also get proper houses to live in. When they started photographing us after the ritual, I got scared and ran away," she told The Hindu .
Ms. Begum added that the police questioned her later that day and since then journalists and Muslim clerics have been making repeated visits. Based on a complaint from community leader Ismail, the police filed a case of disturbing public tranquility and cheating against one Kishore Valmiki.
On Wednesday, Muslims from both Deobandi and Barelvi schools visited the slum, which has open sewers and no toilets. "This misfortune has come upon you and Agra because you strayed away from Allah. Stop dressing like unbelievers and grow beards. Make your women read the Quran and cover their faces," shoe-trader Haji Ikram told a gathering of the slum's residents.
Ismail, who migrated from Tulia in West Bengal's 24 Parganas to Agra 17 years ago, admits that they were attracted by the entitlements offered, but denies converting. "They said we would get all this if we pose for pictures with idols of goddess Kali. I didn't know I was being converted. I still believe in Allah. We have never had any differences with Hindus and we don't see ourselves as different from Hindu scrap collectors," he said.
350 Bengalis were "purified"
Bajrang Dal's Uttar Pradesh co-convenor Avneendra Pratap Singh alias Ajju Chauhan says that he was instrumental in 'converting' the Bengalis and that Mr. Valmiki is an associate of Rajeshwar Singh, Kshetra Pramukh of the Dharma Jagran Samanwaya Vibhag, who was also present at the ceremony.
Mr. Singh claimed that the scrap dealers, who are on rented premises, worship Kali during Navratri. "Their ancestors are Hindus and they approached us to bring them home. Ration cards are too small an allurement to convert and they are saying this under pressure from Muslim leaders and the government," he said.
He claimed that 350 Bengalis were "purified". A glance at a diary of the police Local Intelligence Unit revealed 57 names of Bengalis who participated in the Monday ritual. A police officer said that they appear to be Indian nationals and more names would be added.
Local youth said that the Bengalis had brought disrepute to the area. "They are Hindus and if they reconvert to Islam we will expel them from this area," local resident Shubham Shrivastava told this paper. Local elder RC Bhaskar, Founder of the Panchsheel Degree College here, explained that conversion is a new phenomenon in the Cantonment Area which has a BSP MLA. "Ambedkarite ideology has been the mainstream political discourse here in the last three decades. Of late, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has gained followers in Ved Nagar mainly from the upper castes from other districts who have built houses here. There is still no communal tension here, but incidents like this have created mistrust among people in Agra," he said.
Conversions and Reconversions
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