Thursday, 9 October 2014

* My name is Khan and I am a Hindu

The Times of India

Ishita Mishra

If there is one place in India that just doesn't get the idea of 'Love jihad', it is Khera Sadhan in Agra. And that's because of its peculiar history. During the rule of Aurangzeb (1658-1707), villagers there were asked to either convert to Islam or leave their homes. Faced with such a threat, almost all of them had changed their religion at that time. After Independence, a group of local leaders exhorted the townsfolk to go back to Hinduism. Some did, others didn't. But religion since then hasn't mattered to the people here.

"Why should it?" asks Vikram Singh, a Thakur in the village of about 10,000 roughly 50 km away from Agra. "That's why I don't understand this 'love-jihad' nonsense. My mother Khushnuma is a Muslim, my father Kamlesh Singh a Thakur. My sister Sita is married to Inzamam and my wife Shabana is thinking of naming my newborn Santosh."

The tolerance of each other's faith and an inherent secularism that has to be seen to be believed has endured. Today in Khera Sadhan, it is common to have a family of four brothers with two of them Hindu, two Muslim. Or have a husband who doesn't care about the religion of his wife, or her children for that matter. Here, Muslims worship in temples and Hindus go to the dargah. Eid and Diwali are both sacrosanct.

Ask 55-year-old Shaukat Ali and he will tell you that he recently arranged for his youngest brother Raju Singh to marry Lajo, daughter of Sunil Thakur and Reshma. The wedding ceremony will be attended by Shaukat's brothers Rizwan Ali and Kishan Singh. The nikah will be held at a temple.

"We are amazed when we hear stories of people fighting about inter-faith unions," says Salim Thakur, a Geeta and Quran by his bedside. "My neighbour and first cousin Love Kush Singh has been offering Eid prayers in the village mosque for as long as I can remember. Yet, like everyone else in this village, he also celebrates Holi and Diwali."

The villagers themselves have many versions of Khera Sadhan's tryst with Islam and Hinduism. But narrating a popular strain, Munna Lal Khan, 60, says, "According to one story, a Muslim sultan called Aurangzeb told our ancestors "Either convert to Islam, get death or have your womenfolk raped'. Our forefathers selected the first option. Instead of fully converting to Islam, however, they accepted only three things of the religion -- male circumcision, eating meat by making it halal and burial of the dead. This is why we only follow these three Islamic practices while being almost indistinguishable from Hindus in other respects."

The others, mostly younger ones who are not aware of the backstory, don't care about it too much. "I am not aware who turned us first into Muslims and then Hindus. But whoever made us what we are today, we are the better for it. There are no fights here regarding caste and community," said Shabana, a commerce student at a government college. "We are a unique community and I don't think there is any other community like us in the whole of India. Our philosophy of life is to live and let live. People must be free to worship God in whatever form they like," butts in Rohan Singh, whose email ID has the holy number 786 affixed in it.

Not all, though, are happy. Some say those in nearby villages make fun of them for being neither here nor there. "They mock at us," says Karim Singh. "They claim that we are confused and ride two boats at the same time. Of course, what they say doesn't really matter. Still, the barbs do fly around and it doesn't feel great."

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