In Agra, it has been revealed that the Vishwa Hindu Parishad used intimidation to get a community of poor migrant Muslims to ‘reconvert’ to Hinduism – a ceremony the VHP called ‘Garwapasi’ (homecoming). The vulnerability of the community – to threats of being branded as ‘Bangladeshi infiltrators’, threats of eviction – was exploited to the hilt to get them to participate in the ‘Gharwapasi’ ceremony. When, subsequently, they declared that they are in fact Muslims, they have been threatened with dire consequences including eviction from the area.

What is most significant is that the extent of sheer deprivation of the community – the lack of shelter, lack of food or a BPL ration card – was a major factor in enabling their participation in the ‘Gharwapasi’ ceremony. Surely, in a democracy, shelter and food should be entitlements for all citizens, not dependent on one’s willingness to belong to a particular religious group? For India’s ruling party to tell desperately poor migrants that they can get BPL cards and housing only on the condition that they become Hindus, is shocking and criminal.

The State – the Governments of Uttar Pradesh and the Centre – bear responsibility squarely for this state of destitution, deprivation and precarious existence that rendered these migrants vulnerable to the VHP’s intimidation in the first place.

The RSS outfits have announced their intention to conduct ‘Gharwapasi’ of Christians on Christmas Day. The ‘Gharwapasi’ campaign is not a campaign of conversion. It is an act of intimidation against the vulnerable minority communities. Accompanied by pronouncements of a Central Cabinet Minister as well as other national ruling party leaders that citizenship rights are deserved only by those identified with the majority community, this campaign is even more threatening to India’s democratic fabric.

The response of the Uttar Pradesh Government and the ruling Samajwadi Party to the Agra episode has been a sorry and shameful one of vacillation, rather than a robust protection of the rights and dignity of the vulnerable minorities.

The Agra episode that has revealed the double standards of the BJP’s claims of ‘forced conversions’ to Islam and Christianity. The only instances of force and intimidation to convert people have been witnessed by the Sangh Parivar – be it in Kandhamal or Agra.

Intimidation, coercion, threats as well as humiliation used to force people to change their religion should be prosecuted and punished under the provisions of laws against communal violence and the Prevention of Atrocities Act, as they may apply. These are the laws that must be invoked against the perpetrators of the Agra ‘Gharwapasi’.

The BJP and Modi Government however, are using the outrage over the Agra episode to push their agenda of a ‘law against conversions’. This is cynical and shameful to say the least. In fact, existing laws against conversions should be done away with, since they militate against the fundamental right of every person to choose or change religion for any reason of their choice.