Thousands of Dalits from Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere took to the streets in Delhi on Wednesday to protest against the demolition of a temple dedicated to Sant Ravidas in Delhi’s Tughlakabad area earlier this month. Police resorted to lathicharge, fired teargas shells and used “mild force” to disperse them after the protests turned violent. Several people, including police personnel, were injured, despite heavy police deployment.
Police also arrested Dalit leader and Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad and detained over 50 others.
The Ravidas temple was demolished by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) on August 10 following a Supreme Court order. Since then, a series of protests have been organised by Dalit organisations in many states.
Dalit leaders have accused the central government of disregarding sentiments of Dalits, who are followers of Ravidas. (The central government is being blamed because DDA reports to it).
Besides protests on the streets, the matter has also taken a political turn with various Opposition parties voicing support for the protesters. Delhi goes to poll early next year while elections are due in Haryana later this year.
WHAT HAPPENED ON WEDNESDAY IN DELHI?
Thousands of Dalits from Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and other states reached Delhi to participate in a protest against the demolition of a Ravidas temple. They started their march from Ambedkar Bhawan in Jhandewalan to the Ramlila Maidan.
The protest in Delhi came a week after a similar Dalit protest was organised in Punjab against the temple’s demolition.
Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad and Delhi’s Social Justice Minister Rajendra Pal Gautam besides other Dalit spiritual leaders joined the protesters in the march.
At Ramlila Maidan, Azad announced that they would instal a bust of Sant Ravidas at the site of demolished temple in Tughlakabad. Soon after, Azad started a march with his supporters to the site.
“The demolition of the temple was an insult to our community and I will go to any extent to fulfil the promise [of installing bust] made by me to my people. No force can stop us,” Azad was quoted as saying by PTI.
As the protesters headed towards Tughlakabad, police stopped them from marching towards the temple and formed a security ring around them. Police also used lathicharge and fired teargas shells as the protest turned violent. Bhim Army claimed that police also fired at their members.
Later in the evening, police arrested Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad. An FIR was registered against him under Sections 147 (rioting), 149 (unlawful assembly), 186 (obstructing public servant in discharge of public functions), 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty) and 332 (voluntarily causing hurt to deter public servant from his duty) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) at Delhi’s Govindpuri police station.
WHY WAS THE RAVIDAS TEMPLE DEMOLISHED?
On August 10, the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) demolished a temple dedicated to Sant Ravidas in Tughlakabad area of New Delhi.
Sant Ravidas was a 16th century spiritual leader who is worshiped by Dalits. Many of his teachings were also included in the Guru Granth Sahib, the holiest book for the Sikhs. This is one of the reasons that Punjab has a large number of Ravidas followers, also known as Ravidasiya. Besides Punjab, followers of Sant Ravidas are also found in Haryana, parts of Rajasthan, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
Dalits say the place in Tughlakabad on which the Ravidas temple was built was visited by Sant Ravidas around 1509 during the reign of Sikander Lodhi. As such, the place and the temple hold special religious and spiritual significance for the community.
The temple was demolished following an April 8, 2019 Supreme Court order. Upholding a 2018 order of the Delhi High Court, the apex court said the area shall be vacated within two months. The court asked the authorities concerned to ensure compliance of its order.