Islam conversion
Kashmiri villagers chat in front a close shop as they wait for the body of Aaqib Ahmad Bhat to arrive in ShopianReuters

Over 800 members of Valmiki community in Uttar Pradesh's Rampur district converted to Islam on Tuesday to prevent the demolition of their houses allegedly built on government land.

However, their move may not help them, said Fasahat Ali Khan, media-in-charge of Samajwadi Party leader and UP State minister Azam Khan, who belongs to Rampur.

"Those converting to Islam should clearly understand that this is not going to help them in any manner. Encroachment of public land in any form by any community is totally unacceptable. In Rampur, the majority of those evicted from government lands are Muslims," The Times of India quoted Fasahat as saying. 

The Valmikis had alleged that the district administration had put a red mark on their houses a few days ago to identify them for demolition to facilitate construction of a shopping mall. They further claimed that the demolition had the support of Azam Khan, who has political clout in Rampur.

One of the converts, Bhim Anarya claimed that a municipal employee, who had come to their locality a few days ago had asked them to convert to Islam to prevent the demolition. 

"A municipal employee had come to our locality a few days ago and asked us to vacate our houses. When we expressed our inability to do so, he advised us to convert to Islam in order to save our houses from being brought down. For us, it made sense because a few settlements belonging to the minority community in our vicinity have been spared the demolition," Anarya said.

Hence, they arranged a conversion ceremony, which was supposed to be carried out in the presence of a cleric from Amroha, but he did not come to perform the rituals. Thereafter, the Valmikis wore skull caps, announced conversion and declared themselves Muslims.

The newspaper said that the conversion to Islam does not need the presence of a religious leader and added that "all one needs to have to convert is 'niyat' (true belief in Islam), recite the 'qalma' and have faith that Mohammed was the last prophet of God. Even circumcision, after a certain age, is not necessary."

The additional district magistrate has, however, refuted any plans of demolition and relocation of affected families but the residents do not trust government authorities.