Oppression pushes Dalits towards conversion


JAMUA (Jaunpur), April 23. – A dalit weaver, Zalim, speaks with hostility against the biggest landlord of the area, Shabhapati Shukla whose pucca house is not even two hundred metres away. He had been the symbol of power in the area.

“His days of oppressing the Harijans are over. Once his word was the final. The “SCs” (as the Harijans call themselves possibly because of the Bahunjan Samaj Party influence) were always pawns in his hands,” Zalim says. Zalim is among those who the RSS and VHP “reconverted” to Hinduism from Christianism, last week. His strong words against the Brahmin landlord are approved by a local BSP leader Mr Radheshyam sitting beside Zalim and other villagers.

The “reconversion” didn’t cause any tension among the villagers but ever since the operation of the RSS and VHP, a sense of mistrust has crept in.

One finds Shabhapati Shulka sleeping in his huge house. The door leading in has a sticker that says: “Hame hindu hone per garva hain ( We are proud of being a Hindu).” He had been sanchalak with the RSS. Though, Mr Shulka was not directly involved in the “reconversions”, he was happy that the RSS and Vishwa Hindu Parishad leaders had saved the Hindu society “from splitting and getting weakened.”

Anil Kumar of Ratanpur, who was given a certificate of becoming a Hindu by the the RSS and VHP leaders said: “Why should one not become a Christian when the lower caste people get no respect in society.”

Ram Sagar, an old man, did not become a Christian but he had seriously considered the idea. There is a sense of hurt among these people. The prospect of escaping oppression as lower castes is alluring to them.

Nasir Ali, has the same things to say about the oppression. The landowners pay the barest possible wages to the labourers. They get paid just four to five kg of wheat for working in the fields. The labour inspectors and other officials visiting the village are in collusion with the landlords, say villagers.

Villagers are cynical when one of the landlords of the area BN Singh claims that he himself works on the field and there was no question of violation of the statutory minimum wages tothe labourers.

Sadhu Ram had also become a Christian but is back in the Hindu fold now. One reason for his decision to convert was that he had not been given a loan of Rs 2,500 by the government to purchase a loudspeaker.

He has the loan documents on him but the grant has still not come his way.

Many others like Sadhu Ram hold the government’s inability to counter the unjust treatment meted out to them by the upper caste Hindus, responsible for their decision to become Christians.

“There is a question of roti (food), kapda (clothes) and makan (home) – and also untouchability,” the villagers say.

Talking about the “reconversions”, the gram pradhan, Ramashray says:

“This is the first time the RSS and VHP leaders have shown concern about us.”

Since he is a Dalit there had been a number of petitions filed for his removal as gram pradhan.

After the “reconversions” by the RSS and VHP in the twin villages of Jamua and Rantanpur, Shampat alias Baba, another Dalit who became a Christian in 1992 has become the focus of attraction. One room of his house doubles as the church where the Christians of the area gather on the Sundays.

On the wall of his room a cross has been drawn with praise written in name of Jesus in Hindi.

Shampat’s wife Dharma complains that the government has not done anything for the Dalits especially regarding the poor wages paid by the landowners of the area. “Nobody comes here. The place you are sitting will be flooded during the rainy season. Even today you had park your car half a km away from my house. But a well brick road leads to the house of Shabhapati Shukla which is built on a higher land” she says. It is perhaps justified then that Dalits have their own vested interests behind the decision to convert to Christianity.

Source:"The Statesman", Kolkatta, 24-04-01, Tuesday
Referred by: Mukundan CM
Published on: April 26, 2001
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