Born a Rajput in Uttar Pradesh’s Fatehpur and now held by the state’s anti-terror squad for allegedly ‘forcibly converting at least 1,000 people across the country to Islam’, who is Mohammed Umar Gautam, the man in the middles of the ‘religious conversion racket’ and the topic of debate on prime time shows for the last one week?
Gautam, an Islamic scholar and founder of Islamic Da’wah Centre (IDC), was served a notice in his Jamia Nagar office to appear at the Masuri police station in Ghaziabad on Thursday, 17 June. IDC was formed in 2010 and its appeal says the organisation “is working for the poor and needy who have no support from their family or society.”
His son, who accompanied him to the police station, said members of anti-terror squad and Intelligence Bureau were already present for the investigation. “On the first day, they seized my father’s phone during the investigation but let him go by evening. Till then, we had no clue why he was called.”
Gautam was called back on Saturday and asked to produce “all documents, account details and records.”
“My father is innocent, he has nothing to hide. Hence, he was cooperating with the police. But, the investigating officer coerced me to sign on a blank paper at the police station on Saturday saying they are relieving him. In the evening when I asked him, he said the ATS has taken my father somewhere. For the next 24 hours, we had no clue where our father was till a friend from Lucknow informed me that he has been taken there,” says Gautam’s son.
Umar and another employee at the IDC, Jahangir Kasmi, were booked under an FIR filed at Lucknow’s Gomti Nagar police station. The charges levied so far have been under penal code sections for cheating, criminal conspiracy, promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, etc, committing acts against national integration, insulting religious beliefs, and attempting to commit offences. They have also been charged under the UP’s anti-conversion law, passed in November 2020.
The Quint tried to reach the ADG Law & Order multiple times for comment since 26 June. The story will be updated with his comments as and when he responds.
Addressing a press conference in Lucknow on June 21, Prashant Kumar, additional director general, law and order, claimed the police unearthed the “conversion racket” while investigating a case filed at Ghaziabad’s Masuri police station.
Enter Dasna temple priest Narsinghanand Saraswati, a staunch Hindutva ideologue who has routinely been in news for allegedly spreading communal tensions in parts of Uttar Pradesh.
The trail of investigation into the alleged “mass conversion racket” started with two people - Vipul Vijayvargiya and Kashi Gupta - who, according to the UP Police, tried to hide their identity and enter the temple ‘where only Hindus are allowed.’
Police, who was called to the spot, said that Vipul went by the name of Mohammed Rizwan and had recently converted to Islam while Kashi was actually Kashif and was Vipul’s brother-in-law. Narsinghanand, in a press conference, claimed that the two men had come to the temple with a plan to “assassinate him.” The accused, however, said they wanted to debate the priest over his views on Islam and Prophet Mohammed.
The investigation into this incident led the police to one Samiuddin, who had helped Rizwan ‘convert to Islam.’ Samiuddin had led the police to Umar Gautam’s IDC as one organisation that helped people who wanted to convert their religion.
Although ADG Law and Order, Prashant Kumar, on Thursday said the ATS is still investigating the case and it would not be right to divulge information on Umar Gautam’s alleged foreign links or financial dealings at the moment, the police had made several allegations in their first press note about the case on 20 June.
1. What Police Claims:
Umar Gautam has submitted documents that show he has converted 1000 people to Islam.
What Family Claims:
Umar’s daughter, Fathima who is a teacher at a higher education institute in Delhi, says, “Those documents show the 1000 people whom Umar Gautam has helped to file legal documentation after they had already converted.”
She added, “My father only helped people with legal documentation for those who have already converted to Islam. He worked with a network of lawyers and registered Maulvis like Jahangir Kasmi to facilitate the formalisation of the conversion. Anyone who came to IDC had to first fill up a form where they would be required to write whether they converted under force or by their own will. After that, an affidavit needs to be filed before the sub-divisional magistrate. If my father is guilty, even the government officials who approved these affidavits should be held guilty, right?”
2. What Police Claims:
Umar Gautam and his associates targeted vulenrable communities like women, children and physically disabled people.
What Family Claims:
We have documents to show that there are people from wealthy and dominant communities who have willingly converted and have come to my father of their own will to process their legal documentation.
3. What Police Claims:
Several students at Noida Deaf Society were lured with jobs, money, and marriage to convert to Islam, without the knowledge of their parents.
What Noida Deaf Society Head Claims:
Founder and General Secretary of Noida Deaf Society, Ruma Roka, told The Quint, “The first time I even heard of Umar Gautam was at the Lucknow ATS office when I was called for cooperating with the investigation. I have never even heard of him before that.”
She added, “The police has claimed that they have found a conspiracy by members of a certain community who targeted deaf and mute people and many of them have allegedly been a part of our centre at some point. So, they needed my help with the investigation. Nowhere in the press note has the police named Noida Deaf Society as an accused. It is our national duty to co-operate with the police and we will.”
4. What Police Claims:
The police, in its press release, claims, that they came across the video of the father of one such deaf student who had been a part of Noida Deaf Society. In the video, the police said, the father claimed that his son was converted to Islam without his knowledge. Talking to India Today, Mannu Yadav’s father, Rajiv Yadav said he found out that his son has converted to Islam after he saw an affidavit where his name was changed to Abdul Mannan. When asked if he knew whether his son was in touch with Umar Gautam, Rajiv says, “He doesn’t know if Mannu came in contact with Umar Gautam but he suddenly changed his religion without our information.” He too claimed it was a conspiracy to target deaf people alluring them of jobs or marriage.
What Many of Umar Gautam’s Client Claim?
While no interview of Mannu Yadav has surfaced so far, several people among the list of 1,000s claimed that they converted of their choice and Umar Gautam had only helped them with legal documents.
A 33-year-old government official said he had decided to convert to Islam in 2012 after reading about the religion. “I was born in Brahmin family. In 2012, an incident pushed me to read more about life after death. I started reading about different religions and somehow found my answers in Islam. I came to know about Umar Gautam in 2013 through a childhood friend. When I met him, his thoughts and ideas seemed practical to me. He told me to not rush into conversion and take my time to read more about it. Finally in 2018, I wanted to go for Hajj and needed legal documents for that. Umar Gautam helped me with that but it was completely my choice. My employment records at the government office show all the details of my conversion.”
5. What Police Claims:
Umar Gautam and his associates would preach that Islam is the greatest religion, would spread hate for Hinduism and inculcate belief in Islam to convert vulnerable people from their primary religion. The accused would use different forms of luring, indulge in brainwashing and creating fear about their future to influence people to convert to Islam. They would then help them with legal documentation to formalise their conversion. In return, the converts are either given money, jobs or marriage proposals. Time to time, the accused would also hold gatherings where they would invite non-Muslims and influence them.
What Umar Gautam’s Lawyer Claims:
Umar Gautam’s lawyer Ashma Izzat said, “Article 25 of the Indian Constitution guarantees right to profess, practice and propagate one’s religion. The onus is on the police to provide evidence that documentation of the said converts were done by “force” or “fraud”. So far, they have not provided any evidence in court while taking custody for him till 30 June.”
In April 2021, a Supreme Court bench led by RF Nariman lashed out at a petition claiming there is mass religious conversion happening "by hook or by crook" across the country. He said, "There is no reason why a person above the age of 18-years-old can't choose his own religion."
6. What Police Claims:
The press note says that ATS, in its ongoing investigation on forced religious conversions in the country, had found that several foreign organisations including Pakistan’s ISI are working in a conspiracy to alter the demography of India by luring vulnerable people with money, jobs etc to convert their religion to Islam. For this, they are providing funding to several people and groups in India. However, on 24 June, ADG Law & Order said, “It won’t be right to talk about his links with any foreign groups before the investigation is complete.”
What Umar Gautam’s family claims:
Umar’s daughter rubbished the funding claims and said, “Bringing in names like ISI into the investigation helps the police in creating a narrative. My father had no links with them. IDC would run on contributions from their friends, relatives and well-wishers, including in foreign countries such as the US and the UK. In addition, IDC receives some Zakat, the obligatory wealth tax for Muslims.
Born in a Rajput family in Fatehpur, Umar Gautam’s original name was Shyam Pratap Singh. His wife, Raziya who converted her name from Rajeshwari in the 1990s, said Umar had decided to adopt Islam in 1984 while pursuing BSc at the Govind Ballabh Pant University, now in Uttarakhand.
Raziya said, “He had a friend and roommate named Nasir Khan in his college. Initially, he would be very inquisitive about Nasir’s religious beliefs and practices but later was pleased by the thought process. He studied about the religion before he decided to convert.”
Raziya’s father, also a Rajput, was friends with Umar’s family. Their marriage was fixed even before Umar decided to convert. Raziya says, “There was a culture of getting young girls married before 18 back in those days and since our families were friends, it was decided long ago that I would be married to Umar, who was five years older to me. But, in 1984 when Umar converted, his decision sent shockwaves in our respective families. There were many problems, but the families thought that maybe Umar was distracted by a Muslim girl and would be back to the Hindu fold if they get him married off. So our marriage happened in 1985.”
But, that did not happen. Raziya said, “The families slowly realised that Umar was serious about adopting Islam as his religion. As the date for my Gauhna approached, a ceremonial sending off to my in-laws, my family started saying that they would want to break off my marriage. But, I had insisted that his religion did not matter to me. It was my decision to move to Delhi with him in the 1990s, after I became an adult.”
Umar Gautam was teaching Islamic Studies in Jamia Milia Islamia when Raziya moved in with him. She says, “Unlike what news reports are claiming, he never forced me to change my religion. I myself was a very religious person and believed in Hindu gods. When I started living with him, I started getting to know more about Islam. I liked the ideas and practices and after a couple of months, adopted Islam of my own will.”
Raziya said they were in touch with many of his relatives even after their marriage. His family had told Hindustan Times that the family had disowned him after he converted to Islam. The UP ATS went to Fatehpur on Saturday to further investigate Umar’s conversion and talk to his family.
Umar’s daughter says, “It is extremely unfortunate that several sections of the media have already declared my father a criminal even before the police has completed their investigation or the court has given a verdict. They are running sensational news, adding images of Hafiz Saeed and trying to link my father’s case to a terror outfit when the police is still not given any statement on the funding links of my father.”
She added, “Moreover, the police is leaking confidential documents of my father’s clients to the media through its sources which contain sensitive information like their name, address, contact numbers. Many of them have not told their families about their conversion because of the stigma. Now, they are facing trouble. How can the police leak information which is part of the investigation?”
The family and lawyer of Umar Gautam also condemned the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister’s order to invoke the stringent National Security Act (NSA) and Gangster Act.