Converting to save homes: 800 Valmikis turn to Islam in Rampur, spark outrage
800 Valmikis converted to Islam to save their homes in Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan's Rampur.
Even as political parties played tug of war over the legacy on the occasion of BR Ambedkar's 125th birth anniversary, 800 members of the Valmiki community reportedly converted to Islam in order to save their homes from demolition in Rampur, the constituency of Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan in Uttar Pradesh.
On Tuesday amid high security, and despite a cleric from Amroha who was supposed to aid in the conversion process not turning up, members of the Valmiki community put on skull caps and declared that they should be considered Muslim, according to this report.
The decision to convert was a last ditch attempt to stop the civic body from demolishing their homes. Officials has ordered demolition of homes belonging to members of the Valmiki community, a backward caste, in the Topkhana area so that a shopping mall could come up in the area, a decision that according to the report in The Times of India, was allegedly backed by Khan.
On 11 April, Khan had joined Samajwadi Party activists in protesting against the delay in the demolitions. He sat in protest at the Gandhi memorial in the town and the rally was called off only after Superintendent of Police Sadhna Goswami and collector CK Tripathi, who sat by the side of the senior minister, assured him of initiating necessary action.
The families in Topkhana locality of Rampur have been living under constant fear of demolition since 6 April when district officials marked the homes with red paint for demolition.
The locality was reportedly allotted to sanitation workers of the Rampur civic body 50 years ago and activists have claimed none of the homes there were illegal.
The civic body wanted to construct a new mall called the Gandhi Mall in the locality and wanted to remove all the "encroachments" in the area, said a The Indian Express.
Other residents told the Times of India that the property officer of Rampur municipality told them that the only way they could prevent their homes from being demolished is to convert to Islam.
A resident of Valmiki Basti, who converted to Islam on Tuesday, told The Times of India that a civic employee had told them to vacate their houses and told them the only way they could save their houses was by converting.
"For us, it made sense because a few settlements belonging to the minority community in our vicinity have been spared the demolition," the resident said.
Last week, several Dalits had protested outside the district magistrate's office and alleged that they were being targeted by Khan. The protest by the Valmikis led to clash with SP workers who were there.
According to this report in The Times of India, the police lodged a case agains the Valmikis for 'rioting'. Several attempts were made by the district administration to demolish the 80 houses but were thwarted by agitating social activists and political parties who held protests.
After all attempts to prevent the demolition failed, the members of the community had declared that they would convert to Islam on the occasion of Ambedkar's birth anniversary if their demands weren't met. On Tuesday, with no relief in sight, they went through with it.
The reactions to the event on Twitter were expectedly those of outrage with 800 Valmikis among the top trends:
"800 Valmikis 'Convert' to Islam to Save homes from Demolition in Rampur,UP" Shopping Mall have backing of Azam Khan to be constructed.
— Rajdeep Sardesai (@surdesairajdeep) April 15, 2015
Over 800 Valmikis convert to Islam to save homes from demolition , What the hell
— Anshul Saxena (@AskAnshul) April 15, 2015
Why don't BJP Govt makes strict Anti conversion laws and do something for the 800 Valmikis in Rampur who were Forced to Convert to Islam.
— Rishi Bagree (@rishibagree) April 15, 2015
— Rupa Subramanya (@rupasubramanya) April 15, 2015
— Rupa Subramanya (@rupasubramanya) April 15, 2015
Hindus are naive to think, induced conversions of 800 Valmikis Hindus will be Prime News discussions. We hav no Media Power
— Rahul Easwar (@RahulEaswar) April 15, 2015
While the Uttar Pradesh government has remained mum on the issue so far, it may have to do something to resolve the issue given the scale of the controversy.
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