Ground Report: Why Muslims Across Haryana Did ‘Ghar Wapsi’ During Lockdown
Swarajya visited two villages in Haryana where Muslim families converted to the Hindu faith during the pandemic lockdown.
A month after the lockdown began in March, reports began trickling in from across Haryana of Muslim families doing “ghar wapsi” or re-conversion to their ancestral Hindu faith.
First, we read about six families from Jind district becoming Hindus in April. The next month, about 30 families followed suit in Hisar district.
Similar accounts were then reported from Sonipat and Panipat, among other districts. Such reports emerged from other states like Rajasthan too.
What was happening? Did all this have anything to do with the pandemic?
The coverage of such cases in television and local newspapers was limited to the ‘ghar wapsi’ ceremony — that is, a havan and, in some cases, acceptance of janeu by Hindu converts.
To dig deeper into the trend, I travelled to Sonipat and Panipat district on 1 September, taking my cue from news reports.
My first stop was village Khewra in Sonipat.
The first person I meet, Jaishankar, who trades in liquor, has not heard of the event.
I show him the newspaper clippings that say several Muslim families from this village did ghar wapsi on 7 June.
Clueless, he calls on his neighbours. A few men, sporting a white headgear and clad in white kurta-dhoti, gather. Only one of them has heard about it.
Ordering his 13-year-old grandson to sit in my car and take me to the “Dhobi mohalla”, the man turns to me and says, “To isme pareshani kya hai? Aisa to hona hi chahiye [so what’s the problem here? What’s happening is right]”.
I reply I am a journalist who merely wants to write about the event. He nods, but is visibly sceptical.
The grocery store owner at the entrance of the Dhobi mohalla is surprised at the mention of a ghar wapsi event.
“Where did it happen? In this mohalla, really?” he says, grinning.
Finally, a woman in the mohalla takes me to the family I have been wanting to meet.
“This is not a Dhobi mohalla. Someone has misguided you. All jaatis live here. I am a Gujjar,” she says on the way, before stopping outside a house. She orders the child standing at the balcony to go inside and tell his mother to come downstairs immediately.
The house, with its modern architecture and expensive build, stands out in the colony where the street is littered with buffalo dung and some women are washing clothes outside their houses.
A woman, who introduces herself as Sonia, opens the gate. On learning that I am a journalist who has come to talk to her about the havan, she lets me in smilingly and without question.
Sonia is 34. She has two sons enrolled in school as Sameer Arya and Saksham. Her husband, Satish Kumar, is off for work. She calls him over the phone, tells him about me and hands me the phone. Satish sounds happy and says he is coming to his house in 15 minutes.
Sonia hails from Bawana area of North West Delhi, where, she says, hers is the only “Muslim dhobi” family among Jats, Brahmins, Sunaars and Baniyas.
Her only sibling — a brother — is named Sandeep. Her parents too have Hindu names. “We are not Muslims. Please do not think of us as Muslims. We are Hindus only. Even as children, we never celebrated Eid, even though all festivals are equal. Come, let me show you,” she says and takes me to her temple that has beautiful idols of Ganesha, Vishnu and Saraswati.
I ask for any signs of a “Muslim household” and she denies her house has any. On the walls outside some rooms, ‘shubh laabh’ is written with geru paste.
“Then why are you even Muslims in name?” I ask.
“This is because many years ago, Mughals converted us. We bury our dead and read nikahnama on the wedding day. That’s all the difference between us and Hindus. As I said, we are Hindus only, but my husband will explain it better.”
As we wait for Satish, Sonia says she wishes she had “pheras” on her wedding 14 years ago.
“I got to wear a red lehenga alright, but the wedding rituals were limited to signing on a piece of paper. I did not tell anybody then, but I wanted to walk around the fire,” she says.
“We did not have a sindoor ceremony either, but I really like it on new brides. So I bought it later from the market and asked him to put it in my hair.”
Satish arrives, carrying some snacks and smiling. “I will tell you everything,” he says.
He is wearing a kalawa on his wrist.
Satish says that under the Mughal rule, many people from the dhobi jaati were “forcibly” converted to Islam. Such ‘Muslim dhobis’ can be found across Haryana and parts of New Delhi and Punjab, he says.
“Traditionally, we marry only among Muslim dhobis. Hindu dhobis do not keep ‘roti-beti sambandh’ with us even though there have been exceptions over the years,” he says.
“Nobody in my family has ever had any Muslim name. None of us has ever gone for Hajj, but we regularly go to Haridwar. We celebrate Diwali and Holi and all other Hindu festivals, but have never celebrated Eid. We go to all the major temples, but have never visited a mosque or dargah,” he says, and drops the big surprise:
“On papers, we are Hindus. I have an OBC [other backward caste] certificate as a Hindu dhobi.”
What emerges from the conversations is that the family was already legally Hindu, but socially, they still carried the tag of being Muslims — the only differentiator being their custom of burial and nikah.
Both the practices, he says, cannot not be stopped or changed unilaterally.
“It cannot be an individual decision, ma’am. We need the support and approval of the samaj. Suppose I choose to cremate the dead, will Hindu dhobis allow me their cremation space? Will they participate? If the [Muslim dhobi] samaj decides to boycott me, how will our children get married?”
The ‘ghar wapsi’ havan that Satish organised on 7 June, in his own words, was a public announcement that he was no more part of the ‘Muslim dhobi’ samaj and had been accepted by the ‘Hindu dhobi’ samaj and Hindus of other jaatis.
For good measure, he invited the media and local political leaders to the event. It happened after weeks of consultations with representatives of the Hindu dhobi samaj, and Satish’s was not the only Muslim dhobi family that converted that week.
“First, it was Sonia’s mama in Bawana [Delhi] who did ghar wapsi along with five neighbouring families. Then, it was my mama from Bajitpur [Delhi] who did it with 40 neighbouring families. Here in Khewra, we were the only one,” says Satish.
Satish’s chacha and tau initially opposed the move, but are reconsidering their position now, he says.
“There are many others from our samaj too who criticised us. They threatened to boycott us. They said they wouldn’t give their daughters to us in marriage,” says Satish, and adds, “I did not say anything to them, but thought: By the time my sons reach that stage, will they even have an arranged marriage? These days, they all choose their own brides and grooms.”
Asked what triggered their move to hold such consultations and formally become ‘full Hindus’, Satish throws up another surprise: “The Tablighi Jamaatis brought us a bad name. We were needlessly dragged into the controversy as several men turned up at our doorsteps in Delhi and Haryana and asked us if we were hiding any Tablighi. Then, there is also the issue of terrorism. We get clubbed with them. Even Muzaffarnagar riots brought us public shame. Needlessly.”
From Sonipat, I travel to village Aasan Kalan in Panipat, which is an hour-long drive away.
As per local Hindi dailies, five Muslim families did ‘ghar wapsi’ here on 23 June.
Taking a cue from reports, I go straight to a Shiva temple in the village where, as per reports, the event was organised.
The temple is under repair. A villager, Kitaab Singh Gujjar, cheerfully asks me to sit in the shade while he calls up all the “right” people.
He also orders a child to run to his house and get a lota full of tea, along with a mineral water bottle from a shop.
As we sit in wait, Kitaab Singh says it is a Gujjar village with a substantial population of “Pandits, Punjabis and Harijans”.
The five families that converted in June, he says, are from Doom jaati.
“The village has five Muslim Dooms in total. All of them participated in the havan. There are Hindu Dooms too. We villagers don’t use the term ‘Doom’ though. We use ‘Marasis.”
The first to arrive is Naseeb Kumar, head of one of the five Muslim Doom families.
He is followed by two youths, Rajan Kumar and Vikas Tanwar, who helped organise the ‘ghar wapsi’ event.
Rajan says he is a member of Hindu Yuva Vahini, an organisation started by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath years ago; Vikas says he is a member of ‘Hindu Samaj Sewa Dal Samiti’, a village-level Hindu outfit registered only weeks before lockdown. Both are from Gujjar jaati.
Naseeb is wearing a saffron headgear and a white kurta pajama. He is tall and of strong build.
He says the five Muslim Dooms in the village are from the same clan. The names of male heads of other families are Yaasin, Rasheed, Amit and Rinku.
“The others could not come to meet you. A young man in our community has died. Everyone has gone to another village,” he says.
Naseeb says all five Muslim Doom families have Scheduled Caste certificates.
This means they are Hindus in government records. This also means that like Satish and his relatives in Sonipat, Naseeb and his cousins in Aasan Kalan, too, do not need to do any paperwork after the ‘ghar wapsi’ event.
They neither need to give an affidavit in the district court nor get an advertisement published in any newspaper for name change.
Unlike in Satish’s case, the Muslim Dooms and Hindu Dooms in Aasan Kalan and nearby villages do have a “roti-beti sambandh” between them.
The only differentiator is the practice of burial after death. Hindu Dooms cremate their dead while Muslim Dooms bury them in the ground.
The wedding rituals, however, are exactly the same.
“We have jaimala and pheras just like Hindus,” says Naseeb.
Naseeb takes some time to explain how he has always led a Hindu way of life.
His maternal uncle, Satbir, is an active member of Arya Samaj. Naseeb has been associated with the Gorakhnath tradition for more than a decade. Nine years ago, he received janeu from them and was given a new name — Bhoondunath. Villagers call him baba in respect. He has done tapasya and Hatha Yoga for nine years, he says.
Why then was the ‘ghar wapsi’ ceremony even needed, I ask.
Naseeb says that until now, they were not wholly accepted by either Hindus or Muslims.
“At the temple, some people would say he is indulging in Hindu ways despite being a Muslim. At the mosque, some people would say he does not follow Muslim ways properly and indulges in Hindu ways. So we decided that when we anyway lead a Hindu lifestyle, why not become fully Hindu?” he says.
“We had been mulling over the thought for two years. Our samaj was ready, but we weren’t getting any support or direction,” he says.
Rajan and Vikas step in. “Someone has to take an initiative, right? Nobody did it all these years,” says Rajan.
Vikas explains the working of the village Hindu outfit. Led by one Ankit Gujjar, the youths formed a collective and got it registered as a non-profit just before lockdown.
A total of 110 youths “from all jaatis” are part of it. Together, they have enough clout to influence the election of the sarpanch, he says.
“Lockdown gave us time to take things forward. We began to meet every Sunday in a temple. That’s when the idea of this ‘ghar wapsi’ was born.”
“Thanks to the event and the press coverage, a message was sent out in the area. Now, the Marasis too will do ‘dah sanskar’ [cremation]. All Hindus will stand with them,” he says.
Naseeb recalls a sad incident. “My bhabhi died some years ago due to serious illness. She would observe an extremely tough fast during the nine days of Navaratra. Before dying, she said it was her wish that her body should undergo dah sanskar. We had to struggle a lot then, as we did not get the required support of the samaj.”
Kitaab Singh has been listening to the conversations intently, but quietly so far. Now, he comes forward and says, “Ladke tez hain” [the boys are smart]”, and bursts into laughter.
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