UMAR GAUTAM is the latest victim of Islamophobia in our country. Last year, it was Tablighi Jamaat through which the entire Muslim community was demonised and an effort was made to create an impression that the Muslims were responsible for spreading the deadly coronavirus in the country. It helped the government divert attention from its failure to tackle corona-related emergencies including the migrant crisis. However, the notorious campaign fizzled out with court after court trashing the claim as untrue and malicious.
But we have learnt no lesson.
Once again we are faced with a similar situation. Yogi Adityanath-led BJP government in Uttar Pradesh has miserably failed in governance, especially managing the health crisis during the second wave of coronavirus. The ruling party faces election in less than a year’s time. It needs something to raise passions and divert the voters’ attention.
So, whatever is happening with Umar Gautam is with a purpose. UP Police’s Anti-Terrorism Squad has arrested him along with Qazi Jahangir Alam Qasmi, his associate at the Islamic Dawah Centre, an NGO which he runs from Okhla in Delhi. The allegation is that Umar Gautam, himself a converted Muslim, was running a “conversion racket”. We are told that he has “forced” over 1,000 Hindus to convert; his main target is deaf and dumb children of a school in UP; that he has been allegedly getting funds, especially from Pakistan’s notorious ISI, for changing the demography of India. He has even been linked with an alleged criminal conspiracy to assassinate Yati Narsighanand Saraswati, priest of Ghaziabad’s Dasna temple and a known Hindutva extremist who routinely spews venom against the Muslims and their faith.
It is unimaginable that someone can force 1,000 Hindus to become Muslims in a state like Uttar Pradesh. Adityanath and his cohorts should have thought a thousand times before going public with such an absurd claim.
All the information about Umar Gautam is being released by the named and unnamed sources of UP Police including Additional Director General Prashant Kumar. Television channels are running primetime shows based on such information with added masala of hate and humiliation. A narrative is being built that the Hindu is in danger. An atmosphere of siege is being created against the already marginalised and voiceless Muslim minority. So far neither UP Police nor TV anchors have presented any “victim” of Umar Gautam. Only two parents have been cited, not shown, as having complained against him of ‘brain-washing’ or forcing their wards.
In contrast, nearly a dozen former Hindus have come forward to defend Umar Gautam and his Dawah Centre. They have either issued video statements or allowed themselves to be interviewed on camera by media including Clarion India. They are all adults and educated people. They include women as well.
One thing is common among all of them: They are saying that they did not know Umar Gautam when they started reading Quran and other literature of various religions. They contacted him only after making up their minds or in some cases after embracing Islam. They needed help to complete legal formalities to change their official status. His Dawah Centre offers this service among many other social works that it does. They are saying that India’s Constitution permits them to adopt a religion of their choice. Their change of religion is certified by government agencies duly notified by the Gazette of India. Umar Gautam’s Dawah Centre has just been a facilitator, a service provider.
TV anchors and journalists of mainstream media are ignoring their testimonies, although video recordings of their statements are widely available on the Net.
Sujit Kumar Shukla is a medical doctor who has worked in Delhi’s Safdar Jang and Ram Manohar Lohia hospitals. Currently, he is doing post-graduation in Bangalore. Talking to Clarion India, he said he converted in 2004 while still a medical student. He did not know Umar Gautam. He met him in 2009 when someone told him about the Islamic preacher during a train journey. Shukla needed legal help which he got at the Dawah Centre. “After conversion you are required to fulfil lots of formalities. People come to his centre for legal documentation. I never saw direct preaching or conversion… Most of the people coming there are those who have already embraced Islam.”
Sujit rejects the claims of financial benefits to neo-converts. “My personal experience is that you suffer a lot. My family boycotted me; society boycotted me. For seven to eight years it was tough to see my parents. They did not want to see me. I had to face financial problem,” he says.
Abhishek, who embraced Islam in 2012, told Palpal News that nowhere did Umar Gautam figure in his decision. He came to know about his centre and sought his help in paper work. “You can’t convert without the involvement of government agencies. You can become a Muslim in your heart which I did but completing legal formalities is a long and complicated process. No Qazi will give certificate unless you are cleared by government offices.
Abhishek says the media claim that Umar Gautam has been luring people to convert with promises of jobs is “laughable”. “I was jobless for a long time after becoming a Muslim. I know several neo-converts who have no jobs. No one can guarantee jobs. Even Umar Gautam’s son who is an engineer was jobless for a long time. So, a person who cannot manage to get a job for his son, how can he give assurance of jobs to others,” he asks.
Rahul Jaiswal who has become Yusuf Khan says in a video statement:
“I converted my religion on 2nd of January 2021 as per Gazette of India. I want to clarify that I have changed my religion based on my own understanding, belief and consent. No one has pressurised me; no one has threatened me to accept the religion of Islam… I have the right as per Article 25 of the Indian constitution to follow any religion… The motive of this video is to make sure that no blame or no false accusation is made against a third person.”
A woman, who embraced Islam after his son did so, told Palpal News:
“It’s absurd to claim that I changed my religion because someone threatened me. Even if you force me to convert on gun point, what would be my reaction once I go home. You can’t be with me all the time. I don’t understand how anyone can force others to change his religion. You can’t force even a child to eat chocolate if he is not willing. Religion is a very big thing.”