| Mahesh Bhatt with Udit Raj at the ceremony. Picture by Ramakant Kushwaha
Gurgaon, Oct. 27: Over a hundred Dalits today embraced other religions in a “conversion mela” organised by a clutch of Dalit organisations to protest the lynching of five backward caste youths for skinning a cow for hide at Jhajjar near here.
Veer Shankar Lal Kharalia started the exodus from Hinduism, by choosing Islam. Mohammad Rafiq Azad read out the kalma — the mandatory declaration for embracing Islam — and rechristened him Saddam Hussein. Chandra Bhan Mehra followed. He embraced Christianity.
After the short ceremony, Saddam sounded as fiery and defiant as his famous namesake. “I challenge the VHP to reconvert me. Even if my life is in danger, I don’t care.”
Another tonsured youth, Satya Prakash, said: “Giriraj Kishore (the Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader) is responsible for my conversion, not Christian or Muslim leaders.” Asked why he converted, 23-year-old Harsh Kumar Kadipur, who became a Buddhist, said: “I want to take revenge for the Duleena (Jhajjar) killings.”
Among those who embraced Buddhism were about 20 relations of the lynched Dalits. Five-year-old Vipin, whose uncle Dayachand was one of the hapless victims, was among the first to become a Buddhist.
As the barber shaved his head after soaking his hair with bottles of mineral water, Dalit activists scribbled “Jai Bhim” — as Babasaheb Ambedkar was fondly called — on his scalp with a ballpoint pen.
Little Vipin, who could not have made much of the ceremony, sat through the diksha with moist eyes. The monk read out 22 pledges for the neo-converts to repeat, but he did not utter a word.
Although the numbers that converted today fell far short of the expectations of the organisers, outrage against “Manuvadi” Hindus and the VHP for according more value to the life of a cow than a Dalit was palpable in the gathering.
Ridiculing the VHP for according “mother status to cow”, Dalit leader Udit Raj said: “Cows are left uncared for, starving and forced to feed on garbage and polythene bags, and when they grow old and useless (are) sold to slaughter houses. No one sells his mother. Why do they wear shoes made of cow’s hide'”
Raj, chairman of the Confederation of SC/ST Organisations, criticised VHP leader Praveen Togadia for calling Sonia Gandhi a “dog” and called him names.
The organisers said today’s ceremony was only symbolic, and threatened to convert en masse at the block and district levels later.
But some in the gathering did not agree with the exercise. “What is the use of this conversion' Will a Muslim girl marry us if we convert' They are emotional,” said a youth watching the ceremony. Nand Lal, another Dalit, said: “I spit on them (the converted).”
Alleging “politics” behind the conversion, Kishore Kumar Kullu said: “I am a chamar, I will continue to be a chamar.”
Speaker after speaker addressed these sections, exhorting them to quit a religion and a social system that gives more importance to a cow than a human being.
To hammer home the point, a cow covered with placards, reading “Cow is more important than Dalits: Giriraj Kishore”, “You burn us according to Manu rites”, “Don’t wear footwear made of mother’s (cow) skin”, “Don’t sell holy mother” was paraded around the dais.
Dalit organisations, including the Confederation of SC/ST Organisations, Lord Buddha Club and Valmiki Maha Sangh have decided not to celebrate Diwali in Haryana on November 4 and threatened more conversions.
Rubbing shoulders with leaders of Dalits, Muslims and Christians was director Mahesh Bhatt. “I am a concerned citizen. I feel outraged. I came to express outrage, to deepen that sense of outrage,” he said.
“I belong to a dream world. More often we don’t see things. We close our eyes. Salman Khan got more media coverage than the Dalit killings. The fire should not be stoked, it should not be allowed to spread. We should ask those we vote for, how long it will continue'” he told the gathering.
He felt there was no need for a god or religion to treat humans as humans. “Solution does not lie in conversion. It is a tool of protest,” Bhatt said.
When Catherine Philips of the London Times asked Raj if he was “trying to exploit the sentiments of Dalits by converting them”, a stern-looking Bhatt butted in: “Has not George (W.) Bush exploited the WTC (World Trade Center) attack'”