Just when a resurgent Vishwa Hindu Parishad is hogging the headlines by reiterating that it is determined to bring Hindus who had converted to Islam back into the fold of their original religion, a Dalit group is working on another sort of ghar wapsi or homecoming programme with much less fanfare that could kick up a similar political storm.
Unlike the VHP's programme, this group's project does not threaten India's fragile religious harmony . But it could radically alter social equations within Hindus as it seeks to restore a Valmiki, a Khatik or a Charmakaar to their “original“ surnames such as Mishra, Pandey , Tiwari, Tomar or a Rathod.
The group led by led by Bizay Sonkar Shastri, a national spokesperson of the Bharatiya Janata Party and a former chairman of National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes says it has taken it upon itself to restore the “lost pride“ of the Hindus who volunteered to descend in the caste hierarchy rather than accept Islam during the time of Islamic invasion.
“We are talking about ghar wapsi for people who took to other religions because their ancestors were either forced to do so, or who thought they would get respect if they convert. What about those who did not convert but took up menial jobs just to save their religion? Is it not the right time to give them their place in society?“ he asked.
However, historian Prakash Am bedkar, grandson of Dalit icon BR Ambedkar, rejected the theory.“BJP has come to power and antiIslamism is the only force to unite the Hindus,“ he said.
Shastri said he has already addressed about 500 seminars to spread awareness on the issue and he has also held talks with the BJP's ideological mentor, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and other Hindu organisations. He added that he has lined up another 2,000 seminars across the country.
“We are planning to make this a people's movement and people will decide what our future course of action would be. But whatever we will do, will be done following the due course, as mentioned in our scriptures. And we are collecting data on that,“ he said.