The chargesheet filed by the UP police anti-terror squad in connection with an alleged mass conversion racket has concluded that cleric Mohammad Umar Gautam and others “were using psychological pressure in order to carry out conversions”, as part of their plan to “set up an Islamic state”.
Besides the “organic mechanism” of “financial inducements” to those from “humble financial backgrounds”, the accused “would look at those from the native religion (Hindu) with contempt and call them kafir”, the ATS has claimed in the chargesheet filed against six accused on August 13, 2021.
However, as per portions of the chargesheet seen by Newslaundry, it is not very clear how the agency came up with the theory of the use of the term kafir being part of the alleged conspiracy – the word means disbeliever in Arabic and is frequently mentioned in the Islamic tradition.
The concluding sentence claimed that the objective of the group led by Umar Gautam is to try “to increase the population of a particular religious group likely to go against the current constitutionally chosen government and set up an Islamic State”.
The six accused include Islamic Da’wah Centre founder Mohammad Umar Gautam, Jehangir Qasmi, Abdul Manan (alias Mannu Yadav), Rahul Ahmad (alias Rahul Bhola), Irfan Sheikh and Salahuddin Sheikh. They have been booked under various sections related to criminal conspiracy, wanton vilification of religion of a particular group, imputation prejudicial to national integration and cheating along with the provisions of UP’s anti-conversion law. In September, the ATS also arrested prominent Islamic scholar Maulana Kaleem Siddiqui, taking the total number of arrests in the case to 11.
The ATS contended that Umar Gautam was receiving funds via hawala route from different countries to carry out conversions.
“Going by the statements of those who approached Umar Gautam for conversion certificate, it is clear that their inclination towards Islam was there before they decided to formalise the process,” advocate Abu Bakr Sabbaq, who is representing Islamic scholar Kaleem Siddiqui, Rahul, Manan and one Kunal Chowdhury, told Newslaundry. “Where then is the question of coercion or undue influence?”
Sabbaq also said that since the ATS theory is based on disclosure statements recorded in police custody, it will have little evidentiary value. As per Section 25 of the Indian Evidence Act, confessions made before police cannot be used against the accused.
‘Organic mechanism’ of conversions
The ATS has claimed that with an aim to carry out conversions, “Umar Gautam and his gang would identify those from humble financial backgrounds and offer them inducements”; the police squad has labelled “this way of functioning” as an “organic mechanism”.
This also comprised making the prospective convertee believe that “Islam is the only religion and that post-conversion life and even life after death would be good since one would enter jannat (heaven). Else, one will continue to suffer in jahannum ki aag (hellfire).”
The ‘kafir’ theory
How did the UP ATS come up with the theory of “calling those from the other religion a kafir” as part of the conspiracy? The answer is not very clear as per portions of the chargesheet seen by Newslaundry.
Random references to the word come up in questions posed to Abdul Manan and Rahul Bhola as per daily diary entries dated June 27, 2021 and June 28, respectively.
In the case of Manan, the only plausible illegality emerges towards the end of interrogation. Asked if he or Umar Guatam had informed the district magistrate before the conversion, Manan replied with a “no”. The transcripts seem to be inconclusive about the trigger behind his conversion while the questions seem to overrule an adult’s agency of choosing one religion. Consider the following excerpt:
Q: For the purpose of motivation, were you told about shortcomings of your earlier religion?
A: Can’t say anything about this.
Q: For the purpose of motivation, what special features of Islam were told to you? Were you told about jannat (heaven)? Did you take an opinion from your parents about conversion?
A: Can’t say anything about this.
Q: What was the benefit you got after conversion?
A: I believe in Allah. You can ask my parents who have filed a complaint. I won’t tell you anything.
Q: Who is a kafir?
A: Don’t know. Tell the government. Please help my parents.
Q: Are you angry possibly because of a wrong decision made in life?
A: I’m not angry. Won’t be bogged down by someone. I believe in Allah.
As by Newslaundry earlier, Manan, whose name before conversion was Mannu Yadav, had embraced Islam in February. A resident of Gurgaon’s Babupur village, Manan fell apart with his family soon after he showed a conversion certificate issued by Umar Gautam’s IDC to his parents. Manan’s father, Rajeev Yadav, a cab driver had alleged that his son was “forced to convert”. While the UP ATS initially acted in response to a missing persons’ complaint filed by Yadav, the investigation agency took a U-turn and arrested Manan on charges of forcefully converting Aditya Gupta, a resident of Kanpur. Both Manan and Aditya are speech- and hearing-impaired, and communicate through sign language.
Manan’s initial interrogation was done in the presence of an interpreter and began with questions related to whether he loved his family or not, and if there was any financial crisis in the household. Manan admitted that he was a follower of Lord Hanuman and even though there were financial problems, he was not in a hurry to make a lot of money. He stayed silent when asked about any inducement in the form of gadgets to convert. He also denied having any knowledge about radical Islamic preacher Zakir Naik and his Islamic Research Foundation.
As per section 8 of UP’s anti-conversion law passed in November 2020, any person willing to undergo conversion is required to inform the district magistrate 60 days in advance failing which he can be punished with prison term between six months and three years along with fine. In the case of Manan, he is a resident of Gurgaon and sought help from Umar Gautam whose office is in Delhi’s Jamia Nagar.
In July, after conversations with some converts who were aided by Umar Gautam, Newslaundry had that formalising conversion is a four-step process. This includes filing an affidavit before a sub-divisional magistrate, obtaining a certificate of conversion, declaring the same in a newspaper ad, and inclusion of the new name in the Gazette of India by the convertee. Manan’s father, Rajeev Yadav, had earlier confirmed to this reporter that his son had got both the affidavit as well as the conversion certificate made.
Yet, in the concluding note on 27 June 2021, the UP ATS has said that Manan’s conversion is a “criminal conspiracy”. “This conversion has been done with an aim to cause enmity between different groups and inflict damage to national unity”, an investigating officer has been quoted as saying in the charge sheet.
Rahul Ahmed, earlier known as Rahul Bhola and a 29-year-old resident of Delhi’s Uttam Nagar, was arrested on June 28. The ATS had claimed that he “used to come in contact with children who have hearing and speech impairment and lure them into converting to Islam”. His family had earlier Newslaundry that they had first noticed a change in him in 2018 when “he had started applying surma in eyes”.
That he was inclined towards Islam before meeting Umar Gautam is confirmed in his statement before the UP ATS too.
When asked about his inclination towards Islam, as per the chargesheet, Rahul told the ATS that he had gone to attend a conference in Kanpur in 2016 on the invitation of a man named Wasif, who had first given him an English version of the Quran.
While the questioning does seem to suggest that the ATS wanted to confirm if Rahul was getting financial help from Umar Gautam to carry out conversions, the reference to ‘kafir’ is not clear. Consider the following transcript:
Q: Who gave you money for conversion?
A: He stayed silent. When asked again via the interpreter, he said that Umar Gautam, Irfan Sheikh and myself used to receive money in our accounts in the name of religious conversion.
Q: What benefit did you get after conversion? Did you use fear, force or forgery as a means to carry out conversions?
A: I was told about the shortcomings of Hindu religion. And that life would be good after embracing Islam. Also, if you bring more to this fold then you’ll be following the path of Allah and will enter heaven.
Q: Who is a kafir?
A: One should not indulge in but-parasti (idol worship). The one who does this is a kafir.
Role as a facilitator
In his statement before the ATS, Umar Gautam has reportedly admitted to his role as a facilitator as far as conversions are concerned. This is in line with his family’s version as well when they had that Gautam helped with documents after conversion.
The facilitation of nikah (marriage) by the IDC seems to have interested the ATS.
Consider the following transcript:
Q: Do you insist on nikah of reverted Muslims (recent converts)?
A: Since the reverted Muslims are new (to the community) hence we provide them this service.
Q: Should one understand that not just one person, your aim is that an entire generation should be Muslims, and that’s why you indulge in marriage of reverted Muslim?
A: He stayed silent. Didn’t say anything.
In terms of financial dealings of the IDC, donations sent through hawala are under the scanner of the ATS. Admitting to donations received via hawala, the chargesheet mentions Umar Gautam as stating that a representative of the Majlis Al-Falah Trust in London had been transferring money into the account of Salahuddin Shiekh – Majlis’ representative in Gujarat. This was encashed through another agency in Chandni Chowk after a person known to Umar would show a 10-rupee note exchanged between Umar and Salahuddin over WhatsApp.
Umar has maintained that this money was being used for charity purposes with the IDC specifically looking after conversion-related activities. “The aim of IDC is dawa (invite) which means spreading teachings of Islam and not offering inducement to anyone. Even Islam doesn’t permit entry of anyone based on cheating and misunderstanding,” he has been quoted as saying in the chargesheet.