Shyam Pratap to Mohammed Umar Gautam: A Media Trial

India Jul 14, 2021

Recently, Mohammed Umar Gautam found himself at the centre of several prime time debates about a ‘religious conversion racket’. Many claims have been made about the racket but what actually happened? Who is Umar and why did he suddenly come under the lens of the officials?

Shyam Pratap to Mohammed Umar Gautam

Born a Rajput in UP’s Fatehpur, Shyam Pratap Singh Gautam met Nasir Khan at his university in 1984. Nasir’s values and devotion led Shyam to spend a month reading the Gita, Bible, and Quran, after which he converted and took the name Mohammed Umar Gautam.

When Umar’s wife- Raziya, moved in with him, he taught Islamic Studies at Jamia Milia Islamia. She explained how she liked the ideas and practices of the religion and adopted Islam willfully.

In 2008, he set up a charitable institution- the Islamic Da’wah Centre (IDC). IDC undertook various initiatives like distributing blankets to the needy and giving people food during the lockdown. Umar also facilitated people who wanted to convert to Islam by helping with documents to formalize the conversion.

The Case and the Claims

Umar and Jahangir Qasmi have been charged with 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 booked under UP’s anti-conversion law.

The investigations about this ‘racket’ began when two people allegedly tried to hide their identity and enter a temple where only Hindus are allowed. The temple priest- Narsinghanand Saraswati, who is known to pass bigoted anti-Muslim comments, claimed that they had come with a plan to assassinate him. The accused denied those claims and said that they just wanted to debate the priest over his views on Islam. This investigation led police to Samiuddin who had helped the accused convert, and he, in turn, led them to Umar’s IDC.

Since then, many allegations have been levelled by ADG Prashant Kumar in a press note. The Anti-Terrorism Squad had supposedly found that several organisations including Pakistan’s ISI are funding groups in India that lure vulnerable people to convert with promises of money, marriage, and employment. It has been alleged that IDC is one such organization but Umar’s family insists that IDC runs on contributions from family, friends, and well-wishers. They added that IDC receives some Zakat (obligatory wealth tax for Muslims).

The police also claim that Umar showed documents that prove that he has converted over 1000 people. But his daughter, Fatima, said those documents show that Umar helped them file legal documentation after they had already converted.

The next allegation is that Umar targeted vulnerable people like women, children, and physically disabled people. Police are stating that multiple students of the Noida Deaf Society were lured to convert without the knowledge of their parents.

Many of Umar’s clients have come forward and clarified that their conversions were not forced. Lawyers have critiqued the anti-conversion law and its misuse to curb religious freedom.

Fatima has expressed how it is unfortunate that a vast majority of the media has already declared her father a criminal, even though the investigation is ongoing. The sensationalist coverage which pays no heed to facts seems very reminiscent of other media trials to many and has raised the question of ethics in journalism yet again.

This article has been written by Pravallika Manju for The Paradigm

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