A sea of blue descended on the stretch between Delhi’s Jhandewalan and Ramlila Maidan as thousands of Dalits from various parts of the country gathered to protest against the recent demolition of a Ravidas temple in the Tughlaqabad region of the national capital on Wednesday, 21 August.
Cries of ‘Jai Bhim’ rent the air as the protesters, who arrived from Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and other states, demanded that the government hand over the plot of land to the community and rebuild the temple.
What Is the Protest About?
The Delhi Development Authority (DDA) had demolished the temple on 10 August on the orders of the Supreme Court.
A similar protest and a shutdown was witnessed by Punjab on 13 August over the issue.
The issue has taken a political hue with various parties demanding that the temple be reconstructed either at the same spot in Tughlaqabad forest area or at an alternative location.
Who All Were Present at the Delhi Protest?
The gathering in the national capital saw the presence of Delhi’s Social Justice Minister Rajendra Pal Gautam, Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad and spiritual leaders from the community.
Gautam said their fight is against the injustice meted out to the community and not against the Supreme Court order.
“I am here as a representative of the community and not as a Delhi minister or politician. We respect the Supreme Court order, but the government should answer why only temples of the Dalit community and statues of B R Ambedkar are being demolished across the country?” he asked.
BJP leader and former Union minister Vijay Goel criticised the Aam Aadmi Party for allegedly politicising the issue.
Goel said that he held a meeting with community leaders recently and offered them a solution, but the AAP wanted to score brownie points.
“I have proposed that the temple be built at an alternative place after the approval of the Supreme Court. If they agree, we will take the matter up with the DDA,” he said.
Gathered under the banner of Akhil Bharatiya Sant Shiromani Guru Ravidas Mandir Sanyukta Sanrakhshan Samiti, an umbrella body of Dalit groups formed for this temple movement, the protesters resolved to continue the fight till their demands were met.
Some even proceeded to go on an indefinite hunger strike at the Ramlila Maidan.
Hansraj Raj, 42, who travelled to Delhi from Punjab’s Jalandhar, asked, “How is our demand different from that of the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya? If that is so important for a particular community, this is important for us.”
VP Singh, 60, from Ghaziabad said thousands of religious structures have come up on government and forest land. “Why only a temple of Sant Ravidas was razed? The government should answer”.
Sonu, 30, said, “They are asking us to construct the temple at an alternative place. Why don’t they shift the Ram Mandir to some other place? Everything happened in the blink of an eye. We didn’t even get to know of the SC order. Are we not citizens of India?”
Another protester alleged that the apex court diluted provisions of the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, “without considering the views of Dalits”.
What Had The Supreme Court Said?
The Supreme Court on Monday, 19 August, had said that its orders on the Ravidas temple issue cannot be given a “political colour”.
A bench comprising Justices Arun Mishra and MR Shah asked governments of Punjab, Haryana and Delhi to ensure that no law and order situation is created politically or otherwise during the protests over the demolition of the temple.
“Everything cannot be political. Our orders can’t be given a political colour by anybody on earth” the bench said.
(With inputs from PTI)