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Denied temple access, Dalit converts to Islam


Shyam Singh and
his community were
told by the priest
that they could not
perform puja at
the Baghpat
Valmiki temple. Photo: Shivam Agarwal

Shyam Singh and his community were told by the priest that they could not perform puja at the Baghpat Valmiki temple. Photo: Shivam Agarwal

A month ago, he called himself Shyam Singh. Now he declares himself “Azad” (liberated). The symbolic name not only sums up his situation, but is also his new identity.

Shyam, a member of the Dalit Valmiki community in Moga village of Meerut, converted to Islam two weeks ago.

A landless labourer, he didn’t convert only because the community was denied access to a prominent Valmiki temple, located in nearby Baghpat district, to perform the traditional puja.

He changed his faith also because of the “continuous threats and harassment” he and his fellow community members had to face from the local law and order officials after he persisted with his demand to have the right to perform puja at the temple.

The temple is controlled by the dominant Yadav community, and the priests had problems with the Valmikis performing puja. After their efforts to get equal rights failed, they announced that they would convert to Islam. Last week, the Meerut administration booked Shyam and his family for “disturbing peace and communal harmony” by persisting with their demand to perform puja at the temple and the announcement about converting to Islam.

In November last year, Shyam and his community members were told by the priest that they didn’t have any rights to perform puja.

‘What is the point in being a Hindu if I can’t enter a temple’

Since November last year, Shyam has petitioned the District Magistrates of Baghpat and Meerut, and the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. He also petitioned the Prime Minister’s Office.

“What is the point in being a Hindu and having this sacred thread around my wrist if I can’t even enter a temple and perform puja,” he argued.

While Shyam has converted to Islam, his fellow Valmikis, numbering over 100, are scared and don’t want to raise the issue. They are thinking of migrating to some other part of the State to escape official harassment.

Shyam himself now plans to migrate to Nepal.

Interestingly, the announcement of the conversion plan by Shyam and his fellow Dalits provoked immediate attention from right-wing Hindu outfits, which requested them not to convert.

“All of them wanted us not to convert to Islam, but none of them want us to get equal status among Hindus. This is how we have historically and traditionally been cheated,” said Shyam.

Sub-Divisional Magistrate, Baghpat, Rajendar Singh told The Hindu that the Valmikis were denied permission to perform the elaborate puja in their own style as it was a “new” religious tradition.


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