Several major towns and trading centres including Ludhina and Jalandhar in Punjab faced complete shutdown on Tuesday, August 13, after the Ravidassia community called for a statewide bandh over the demolition of a 500-year-old temple in Delhi's Tughalaqabad. The demolition has incited scathing criticism from all quarters of the society, who have sought an amicable solution with intervention from Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The demolished site in the question is believed to have been visited by revered dalit saint Ravidas in 1526 during the reign of Sikander Lodhi.
The site was demolished by Delhi Development Authority (DDA) on August 9 following a Supreme Court order. The DDA said in a statement, “In compliance with the Supreme Court order, senior officials of police, government and DDA were present along with members of the Guru Ravi Das Jayanti Samaroh Samiti on the site...The standing semi-permanent structure was dismantled peacefully without any resistance or use of force, in the presence of samiti members.”
The reason for the state becoming the centre of agitation lies in the fact that dalit communities constitute major chunk of the population in the Doaba region of Punjab which includes Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur, Nawanshahr and Kapurthala districts. The region has also the highest dalit population in the country at around 35%. The region also houses Ravidassia deras or spiritual centres including the largest Dera Sach Khand Ballan in Jalandhar.
The latest episode has also brought criticism for the ruling BJP as DDA is directly under the jurisdiction of the central government. Senior journalist Hartosh Singh Bal pointed out that the authority not only works under the Centre but the minister concerned, Hardeep Singh Puri also fought elections on a BJP ticket from Punjab.
Sensing the tensions, Punjab School Education Board has postponed the class 10 and 12 supplementary examinations scheduled for Tuesday. New dates for the examinations will be released soon.
The shut down also affected railway services as the department cancelled the services of trains like Mumbai-bound 11058 DN Dadar Express train. Similarly, Pathankot-Delhi Express was stopped at Kartarpur on Tuesday morning. Reports suggest that the 15655 Kaumakhiya Dev-Jammu Tawi Express was stopped at the Phillaur Railway Station whereas 15707 Amritsar-bound Katihar Express train was stopped at Ludhiana.
Meanwhile, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has formed a five-member committee consisting of prominent dalit community leaders and announced that the state government will extend legal and financial support to the dalit community for seeking a review against the apex court's order.
Criticisms pour in
Criticism against the demolition also came from the top spiritual body of Sikhism, the Akal Takht Harmandir Sahib. Jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh, head priest of Akal Takht, in a statement said, “The demolition of the historical Ravidas Temple in Delhi is a highly condemnable episode. It has hurt the feelings of the Ravidas community. The psychology of the rulers has worked behind the demolition of temple. The oppressed dalit class would never tolerate this oppression.” He added that the rules are being misused for the demolition of historical monuments of dalit and Muslim community.
The tensions, however, has left many local leaders perturbed over the course of action. Roshan Luther, president of Punjab Congress Committee Gurdaspur told NewsClick that given the mammoth response of the shut down, the government must act. He said, “Batala, Pathankot and Dinapur are entirely under a lockdown. A similar situation prevails in Ludhiana and Jalandhar. We do not know if the situation continues, how much damage will be done. Please remember, its a call by the community and not any particular organisation. Thus, an uneasiness is certainly here."
Also read: Why Do the Woes of Dalits in Punjab Remain Ignored?