Ground Reports

A Hindu Couple Was 'Tricked' Into Islamic Conversion 20 Years Ago. They Have Done 'Ghar Wapsi' - A Ground Report From Fatehpur, UP

Swati Goel Sharma

May 25, 2024, 01:54 PM | Updated May 26, 2024, 09:43 AM IST

Kavita Lodhi at her home in Poore Ujade village on 21 May, 2024
Kavita Lodhi at her home in Poore Ujade village on 21 May, 2024
  • Kavita and Shiv Lodhi say it was their neighbour who tricked them into conversion.
  • Two decades ago, when Shiv Prasad Lodhi and his wife Kavita sought help from their village pradhan to obtain government identity documents, their request led to a life-altering conversation.

    According to the couple, the pradhan, Mohammed Amil Sheikh, agreed to assist but suggested it was the right time to consider his long-standing suggestion – that the couple should adopt Islamic identities.

    Shiv Prasad expressed reluctance, but Amil Sheikh insisted that was the only way he could help them. How else, he asked, could the couple survive in an all-Muslim village?

    Shiv Prasad and Kavita found no counterargument and no viable alternatives.

    Three years prior, the couple had relocated from their native Varanasi to Amil’s all-Muslim village, Poore Adhari, in Hathgaon block of Uttar Pradesh’s Fatehpur district. They had come in search of employment, but without any identity documents.

    The couple acquiesced to Sheikh's suggestion.

    Soon after, they received their ration card and respective voter cards. Shiv Prasad was listed as ‘Abdulla, son of Jabbar’.

    He told this correspondent that Jabbar was an imaginary name provided by Amil Sheikh to the authorities; his father's name is Devnath.

    Kavita’s name appeared as ‘Fatma, wife of Abdulla’ and, in one of the documents, as daughter of Amil. In the ID card photos, she is seen wearing a burqa. She clarifies, “I have never bought a burqa in these twenty years. It was always the residents who gave me one to wear.”

    Four months ago, the couple publicly did a ‘ghar wapsi’ ritual.

    They participated in a havan just outside their house, attended by scores of saffron-clad men from a local organisation named Ram Bal (Strength of Lord Ram).

    The havan was conducted amid police security, signalling to the village that they were reverting to their original religious identities and embracing their former names.

    “We were tricked into conversion," Kavita told this correspondent at her home this week. "We would have liked Amil [Sheikh] to witness the ritual but he passed away a few years ago."

    As per Kavita, Amil was likely over 70 years of age.

    A picture of the couple's 'ghar wapsi' ritual in February 2024
    A picture of the couple's 'ghar wapsi' ritual in February 2024
    A picture of the couple's 'ghar wapsi' ritual in February 2024
    A picture of the couple's 'ghar wapsi' ritual in February 2024
    A picture of Ram Bal during 'ghar wapsi' ritual of the couple in February 2024
    A picture of Ram Bal during 'ghar wapsi' ritual of the couple in February 2024
    Kavita at her home in Poore Ujade on 21 May, 2024
    Kavita at her home in Poore Ujade on 21 May, 2024
    Aadhaar card of Kavita as Fatma
    Aadhaar card of Kavita as Fatma
    Bank passbook of the couple as Abdulla and Fatma
    Bank passbook of the couple as Abdulla and Fatma

    According to Shiv Prasad and Kavita, they are natives of Dulahipur village in Chandauli block of Varanasi district. They married, in an alliance fixed by their families, about 25 years ago. 

    Tragic circumstances compelled them to sell their home and leave the village within two years of their wedding.

    Shiv Prasad’s brother, his only sibling, succumbed to an illness. His parents had passed away when he was still a child, leaving him orphaned after his brother’s death. Kavita, who has no sibling, gave birth to a daughter, but the infant died on the sixth day.

    With no clear direction, they sought the advice of a neighbour who worked in another district. Following his recommendation, the couple shifted to the very area where the neighbour lived and worked. They rented a place in Poore Ujade village.

    Thanks to the neighbour, who was from the Muslim community, Shiv Prasad found work.

    They settled in well. In their new home, Kavita became pregnant again, and the couple hoped their days of misfortune were over. It seemed that the change in environment was finally bringing them luck.

    However, in the eighth month of her pregnancy, Kavita suffered a miscarriage. She was devastated. Neighbours began visiting her to offer condolences.

    The women suggested that worshipping her Hindu gods was bringing her no fortune, and that she should instead pray at a local dargah. 

    Desperate for hope, Kavita started following their advice.

    During this time, she also began working as a househelp at pradhan Amil’s house, where her lifestyle underwent significant changes.

    At the behest of Amil’s family, she stopped wearing sari and adopted salwar suit, the prevalent attire for women in the village. She also stopped wearing bindi and sindoor, as discouraged by Amil’s family. She was told to live as the other women in the village did.

    Within two years, the couple saved enough to buy a small plot just outside the village. The plot was owned by Amil Sheikh and the deal was finalised for Rs 40,000.

    It was after this land transaction that Shiv Prasad realised the need for government documents to register the plot in his name. He requested Amil Sheikh for assistance.

    “He [Sheikh] told me that since I had no original documents in the name of Shiv Prasad, it was an opportune time for a name change to fully integrate," Shiv Prasad told this correspondent. "I am illiterate. I attended the school until Class 2. I did as told."

    Soon after Shiv Prasad agreed, a ceremony was organised in the local mosque where the couple recited the Kalma, or the Islamic oath of allegiance. Shiv Prasad says Alim Sheikh told him it was a mere formality.

    A month later, the documents arrived.

    The couple says their harassment began soon after and has persisted for two decades. 

    Following their paper conversion, neighbours began demanding that they completely adopt Islamic ways. Shiv Prasad was often reprimanded for not attending mosques for namaz. 

    Kavita was discouraged from observing Navratri fasts and urged to keep roze instead, "in line with village custom". Public celebration or observation of their Hindu beliefs was no longer possible. They kept all practices indoors. 

    Pressure was also mounting on Shiv Prasad to undergo khatna, or circumcision.

    When he approached Amil Sheikh to register the deal, he was told he should first undergo khatna, as was customary. After several attempts, Shiv Prasad gave up on asking for the papers, fearing he would be pressured again.

    Even today, the house remains in Sheikh’s name, says Shiv Prasad, causing him constant anxiety. His attempts to get Sheikh’s sons transfer the property in his name have resulted in ugly spats.

    Refusing to undergo khatna also led to social ostracism, affecting his work opportunities. Shiv Prasad eventually started traveling to Mumbai for seasonal work, leaving Kavita alone.

    In her husband's absence, Kavita began facing pressure from neighbours to adopt a baby from the village. They told her a woman should not be without child.

    Sensing this as a ploy to eventually take their house, Kavita refused, stating it was God’s will that she remained childless.

    Over the years, Kavita has grown accustomed to living in isolation. She has no friends or relatives and keeps to herself indoors.

    On the day this correspondent visited, Kavita did not open the door for an hour despite repeated knocks. A neighbour, Anjum Begum, said ‘Fatma’ does not speak to anyone in the village. 

    Just when this correspondent was about to leave the village without talking to her, Kavita opened the door.

    She said she had heard the knocks but deliberately did not open the door, but did so eventually only to see if it was her husband knocking at the door. She had just realised that her phone was discharged.

    She expressed delight that someone had come to visit her from New Delhi.

    A view of Kavita and Shiv Prasad's house
    A view of Kavita and Shiv Prasad's house
    Anjum Begum and her husband, neighbours of Shiv Prasad and Kavita
    Anjum Begum and her husband, neighbours of Shiv Prasad and Kavita
    A view of the house of Shiv Prasad and Kavita
    A view of the house of Shiv Prasad and Kavita

    Towards the end of last year, Shiv Prasad and Kavita learned about an organisation named Ram Bal, whose members reside in a Hindu village about two kilometers away. 

    The couple visited them, seeking protection from ongoing harassment over circumcision and child adoption. 

    The activists approached the police and organised a public havan to send a clear message to the village: the couple was no longer Muslim.

    Agendra Sahu, 40, who heads the organisation, told this correspondent over the phone that it was Shiv Prasad’s desire to perform ‘ghar wapsi’ and the organisation merely facilitated it.

    Both Shiv Prasad and Kavita are pleased with the public ceremony, which was attended by numerous policemen, giving them a sense of security. However, their documents still bear the names Abdulla and Fatma.

    The organisation informed them that they must visit the district court to rectify this issue. The couple however says that all their attempts so far have been unsuccessful.

    “Lawyers have been ambiguous about what needs to be done. Some said it’s not possible since we don’t have any documents under our original names. Others are demanding exorbitant fee which we cannot afford,” says Shiv Prasad.

    He added, “We will try again after the elections. Maybe everyone is busy right now."

    Swati Goel Sharma is a senior editor at Swarajya. She tweets at @swati_gs.

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