Around 800 members of Valmiki community in Uttar Pradesh’s Rampur district have gone ahead with their intended move of embracing Islam on Tuesday in order to save their houses from demolition by municipal authorities. While the authorities have dropped the plans of demolishing any alleged illegal structure, the Valmiki families, around 80 in number, have furthered their demands by seeking ownership rights of the land they dwell on, The Indian Express reports.
The Valmikis, without attending any religious ritual of conversion due to police’s restriction on entry of any cleric in the locality, donned skull caps as a token to show their new identity.
What is the issue?
The issue started on April 6 when according to the community members, an executive officer of the municipal corporation along with a contingent of police officers entered the Valmiki colony and told the residents that, on the orders of a political leader, their houses will be demolished within two days in order to pave way for the construction of a shopping mall, according to a Times of India report.
As per the report, one of the officials of Rampur Municipality had advised the Dalit community that their houses will not get demolished if they converted to Islam. After staging demos, the community had threatened to convert to Islam en masse on Ambedkar Jayanti, if their pleas were not taken into consideration.
The Valmiki families said they have been living in the premises for last 50 years as the place was allotted to the Safai Karamcharis by the Rampur Municipality, the TOI report notes.
A report in The Indian Express reads that Samajwadi Party’s district unit office is located on same road and the civic body is also constructing a multi-storeyed ‘Gandhi Mall’ in the same locality.
The agitating families also sent a memorandum to UP governor Ram Naik alleging that their houses were being damaged at the behest of a powerful politician. While the District Magistrate had ordered a probe into the matter, police registered a case against 86 members of the Valmiki community who had staged protests against the UP Urban Development Minister and Samajwadi Party strongman Azam Khan.
After holding a meeting Monday late night and despite an assurance by the state government about not touching their houses, the 80 families embraced Islam by donning Muslim skill caps on Tuesday. According to the families, police didn't allow any Muslim cleric, necessary to lead the conversion rituals, to enter the area, The Indian Express report adds.
Why aren't the protests over?
Continuing their protests, the families, in order to ensure security of their homes in future, are demanding “ownership title of the land” on which their houses are built.
The Express report also reads that some of the members of community claimed to have also written to the President and Chief Justice of India seeking permission “to perform euthanasia (or commit suicide)” in case they are not given the ownership rights to their houses.
On Wednesday April 15, the protesting community announced that they will boycott cleaning and sanitation work starting today.