On the heels of 200 local Muslims allegedly changing their faith last month after they were promised ration and BPL cards, many of the poor and marginalized across Uttar Pradesh have now begun to use conversion as a potent threat in the hope that their long-pending grievances and demands will be addressed.A week after 1.5 lakh Dhangars -nomadic herders -said they would turn to Christianity if they were not recognized as a scheduled caste and given benefits that come with it, a group of villagers in Sikandarpur, Agra, have now threatened that they will change their religion if the administration and police don’t restrain Radhasoami followers from “encroaching“ on their lands.

“They have even encroached upon our cremation ground,“ alleged Jeetendra Singh, a villager. “Our leader Bhoori Singh is in jail on false charges of murder. We are being harassed…If life is like this in Hinduism, we would like to become Christians.“ Last week, Dhangar functionaries held a mahapanchayat and declared that if the UP government didn’t give them SC certificates in a month’s time, they would convert en masse to Christianity. They claimed the state government had done little for them and the community received next to nothing — “no education, no employment, no pucca houses”.

“We are thinking of conducting a conversion ceremony in Aligarh,” said Bhupesh Singh, a Dhangar and an advocate by profession. “Conversion is the only weapon we can use to get our demands fulfilled.” “There are 2 lakh Dhangar voters. We are reaching out to them to convince each family that conversion can be an effective weapon against the administration,” CP Singh, district president of Dhangar Samaj, added. Villagers in Lal Grahi have requested better civic amenities from the government, failing which, they said, they will give up their faith. “We have seen that those who have opted to become Christians are in a better situation,” said Sunil Jatav.

“Their kids get better schooling. Their houses are well constructed. They have better jobs. It’s better, I think, to become Christians. As Hindus, we don’t even have the right to sow what we want in our fields.” And it’s not just the weaker communities that have latched on to the threat of conversion. Patiram Rathore, a corporator from Kath Nagar panchayat in Shahjahanpur district, has written to President Pranab Mukherjee, no less, saying he will change his religion if electricity poles in front of the house of one Radhey Sham are not removed. Rathore explained to the President that no one had asked Radhey if he wanted those poles. “He is a good man…

if the pole falls on his home, his family will die,” Rathore wrote in his letter on Friday.

(With inputs from Priyangi Agarwal in Bareilly and Eram Agha in Aligarh)