|Two Harijan families, consisting of 40 members embraced Islam last month in two villages of Mewat - Beersika and Tarrakpur in Nuh tehsil. Both are Muslim-dominated villages. Unlike other recent publicised events of conversion of Harijans to Christianity and Buddhism, the Mewat conversions took place in total secrecy. Even the villagers did not know until it was all over. The would-be converts, perhaps realising the impending storm, kept it a closely guarded secret. They had been contemplating the move for the last 20 years and when they finally decided it was time, they went in total secrecy to Delhi's Jama Masjid and embraced Islam at the hands of the influential Shahi Imam Ahmad Bukhari who issued them conversion certificates. These certificates are prized possessions of these new converts - in fact their passport to a new, free and equal life.
Shahi Imam’s certificate
The Muslim community had no inkling of these events in Mewat area which is cut off from the outside world although it is just a stones throw from the national capital. If you could ignore the roads and electricity, which are a gift of Bansilal's ambitious plans to modernise Haryana, these villages are still in the Mediaeval age. Their womenfolk still fetch water from far-away wells and go to the jungle to collect dry wood to use as fuel for cooking. People here are subsisting on small tracts of farms which barely produce their food. Small farmers have no surplus to sell. The lot of Harijans, or the so-called "untouchables," is even worse. They are shunned socially by both Hindus and Muslims.
The Hindustan Times of August 24 broke the story of their conversion only partially. It spoke only of one village, Tarrakpur and quoted a VHP and BJP local unit ultimatum which announced: "We have decided to give two days to the district administration to rescue the converted Hindu families from Muslim villages. Otherwise we will have to enter these villages," Attar Singh Bhagat, chief of the local BJP unit was quoted as saying.
Brotherhood of Islam: Meo dignitary Chaudhry Wali Mohammad embraces Sohrab, head of the convert family
The language was serious enough to alarm us. Before we could think of where to turn, we received an SOS email from "People of Mewat" which read as follows:
"In Nuh subdivision villages of Beersika and Tarrakpur, 40 Harijans have embraced Islam of their own will in the presence of Shahi Imam Ahmad Bukhari in Delhi. They are living in their villages as Muslims and the administration is harassing these new Muslims and respectable people of these villages. Din Mohammad Sarpanch of Beersika has been perpetually harassed by DSP Nuh. The people of Mewat are very much annoyed by the action of the administration as the DSP is asking the new convert Muslims to go along with the RSS and Bajrang Dal people so that they may be converted into Harijans again. People of Mewat are preparing to make representation to the Minority Commission as they are afraid of the dangerous attitude of the DSP Nuh and Sangh Parivar who are using every means to convert these people back."
The situation was serious and the least we could do was to cover it ourselves so that the community and the country at large were made aware of the trials and tribulations of oppressed people who, using their fundamental right, decided to throw away thousands of years-old yoke of oppression and exploitation by higher castes. We replied to the email and soon came in contact with Chaudhry Wali Mohammad, an important personality and lawyer of Mewat and his lawyer son Tahir Husain.
Chaudhry saheb is a well-known lawyer of Mewat and practices at Gurgaon which is now a suburb of Delhi while his son practices at the civil court in Nuh. Both are proud Meos and committed Muslims. While this controversy was still brewing, Tahir Husain came in contact with the new converts who told him of their woes and the attempts of the local administration to intimidate them and coerce them to "return" to the Hindu fold. He went to the DSP Nuh and warned him to keep off these people otherwise he would take legal steps against him and complain about him to the Minority Commission.
Through the dusty lanes of the impoverished town of Nuh we were led to the house of Tahir Husain Advocate where his father Chauhdhry Wali Muhammad saheb was waiting for us.
Accompanied by Chauhdhry saheb and his advocate son we proceeded to Beersika village. Situated off metalled road at a distance of around ten kms from Nuh, it is an abode of around 2000 people with two Hindu families. The third, Prabhu's, is now Muslim. We had to leave our car at the village entrance and walk through the muddy lanes of the village to the modest mud courtyard of Prabhu (now Sohrab).
An old man of 80, Sohrab was alone. The rest of his family had gone to another village for dawat, or feast, which is a special lunch or dinner to celebrate something. Almost every day these people are invited to somedawat in the nearby villages.
The whole village seemed to have stormed us and we were led to a baithak, an area to receive guests and important visitors. Soon Prabhu arrived armed with certificates issued by Imam Bukhari. Behind him arrived the only sign of western influence out there - Pepsi Cola.
Part of the new converts home: humble even by a Mewat village standards
Was there any immediate reason for your family's conversion to Islam? I asked him…
No. We were contemplating this for the last 20 years. We were not praying to any idol all these years. In fact my wife was secretly praying like Muslims for the last ten years. We were shabbily treated by Hindus. We could not sit with them or fetch water from their wells. We, were in fact living like vermins of gutters. Living in this very house was painful earlier but now it is Paradise. It was about six months back when we decided to become Muslims openly. We discussed the matter between ourselves and on August 7 of this month we went to Delhi's Jama Masjid where we all became Muslims and were given these certificates."
Are you facing any problems?
No problems form the villagers here. They are treating us like their brothers as you can see here. I am sitting with them as you can see - something I could not even dream with Hindus. The only problem we are facing is from the authorities. They want us to go back to the Hindu fold. But why should we?
DSP Nuh [Kuldeep Singh] and SDM Nuh [SP Sharma] threatened us to reconvert but none of us will do it. We are ready to face the worst punishment if we have done anything wrong. Even in our dreams we cannot think of reconverting. I have only one dream now: to die as a Muslim.
The officers in Nuh ask us to come to them to investigate and record our statements. I have refused to go to them. I have not committed any crime, then why should I go?. If they want to record my statement let them come here. They in fact came here twice and I told them that we have become Muslims out of our own free will. No one has influenced us.
The villagers here did not even know when we went to Delhi to convert. What the RSS and VHP people are saying about Muslim pressure to convert us is rubbish.
We have embraced Islam only after understanding fully this religion and what we know about it is that it is the simplest and purest of religions which teaches us tolerance and humanity.
How do you feel now?
Thank God. He has given us the courage and wisdom to convert to Islam which is the simplest and purest religion. It treats us equally. Now I sit, drink and eat with other Muslims. This was not possible with upper caste Hindus. Higher caste Hindus do not allow us to sit with them. Eating and drinking with them was unthinkable. Even animals are treated better than us by upper caste Hindus.
Village headman (sarpanch) Shahabuddin chips in. The authorities are pressuring me to bring these people to them to record their statements but I am helpless as they refuse to go. We would like to do more for this family, but due to the official pressure we are hesitant, says Shahabuddin.
Former village headman, Deen Mohammad, is more forthcoming. He has been trying to help these people but he finds the attitude of Meo elders unhelpful. He was aghast when an important Meo politician told him, "what was the need for you to buy this trouble? Don't take interest in such matters." But Deen Mohammad is adamant not to let the new Muslims down in their hour of trouble with influential high caste Hindus who are threatening them in many ways and are using the official machinery to intimidate the converts.
On our way back we come across a tractor with trolleyful of people, mostly women. Villagers accompanying us recognised them. These are the family members of Sohrab who had gone for dawat, they tell us. They had stopped at the entrance of the village when people told them that some strangers have come to see them. They thought we were government people out to make trouble for them!
Sohrab's son Hakeemuddin (previously Omkar) approaches us in confidence. He is a 50-year-old man in good health and full of youthful determination. He repeats what his father had just told us in the village.
"Our dreams have been fulfilled," says Hakeemuddin with traces of paan still in his mouth after the dawat. He repeats that they were thinking of converting to Islam for the last 20 years. “Thank Allah that good sense prevailed and we were able to take a decision finally to convert," Hakeemuddin says. "We are ready to face the consequences to any extent but we will never go back to Hinduism which did not allow us to do pooja (worship) together with others."
The upper caste Hindus treated us worse than animals," Hakeemuddin adds. "By the grace of Allah we are now enjoying equal status with others. Muslims are with us. They are giving us everything and most important of all they are giving us love and affection. They are also helping us to understand this religion better."
But life has not been easy for this family since their conversion and one victim has been Hakeemuddin's son Tasleem (previously Sunil) who was not allowed to enroll for class IX in a nearby school although he had paid the fees. Teachers in his school say they do not want any trouble with the administration and the RSS and VHP people who, they claimed, were threatening them not to take Tasleem. The young boy is now studying in a madrasah in Malab but he is determined to enroll in another school next year.
As we talk, Hakeemuddin's 70-year old mother Sajeda (previously Bharpani) approaches us. She was among the women sitting in the trolley. I have been performing namaz for the last ten years, she says. "I am glad to have become a Muslim. My only prayer to Allah is to protect my religion and the Muslims," Sajda says.
Other male members of the family are now with the Tablighi Jamaat learning the new religion. Hakeemuddin too will go out shortly into a Jamaat when other males return to protect the family which is determined to stay on the course it has chosen for itself.
There is a similar family in the nearby Tarrakpur village. They are related to the Beersika family and their story and determination to stay on course is every bit identical.
¯ Zafarul-Islam Khan with Jeelani Khan