New Delhi: Thousands of dalit activists from across the country under the banner of Ravidas community, Bhim Army, Dalit Soshan Mukti Manch (DSMM), Dalit Sant Samaj and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) will protest on Wednesday at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar against the demolition of the historic Sant Ravidas Temple in the Tughlaqabad area.
Dalit activists said the demolition of the temple by the Bharatiya Janata Party-run Delhi Development Authority (DDA) had enraged people and demanded that the temple be re-constructed on the same location.
On August 10, the DDA had demolished the centuries-old Guru Ravidas temple in Delhi's Tughlaqabad under a Supreme Court order. The DDA claims that the temple and its campus were built on illegal land. According to documents submitted before the court, the Ravidas temple complex is spread across 12,350 square yards and has 20 rooms and one hall on its premises.
Commenting on the demolition of the temple, dalit activist Sushil Gautam told Newsclick, "The temple of Sant Ravidas ji must be re-established at the same place because the faith of over 40 crore people is linked to this temple. The BJP has deliberately demolished the symbol of the faith of 40 crore dalits. The community will never forgive the BJP. From India to abroad, people will show their resistance against the demolition. People from Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra will be protesting. It’s a call by the community and not any particular organisation."
Gautam said soon after Independence, "the Tughlaqabad Ravidas Society was registered in 1948 while the DDA was founded in 1957,” adding that the society was registered before DDA’s existence so the question of its illegality does not arise. “The documents of Ravidas Society were stolen and it had been ignored during the Supreme Court hearing,” he claimed.
Yashpal, a member of DSMM Delhi, elaborating on the history of the temple, said: "The historical significance of this site is that the Ravidas Temple was built in the 15th century on land allocated by the then Delhi emperor, Sikander Lodhi. Guru Ravidas had spent three days at the same place in Delhi where this temple was built. Along with the temple, there are three samadhis (mausoleum). The temple was constructed in 1954 and in 1959, it was re-constructed and a school was built inside the premises and inaugurated by then Railway Minister Jagjivan Ram.”
He said while the DDA claims that it has done the demolition on the order of Supreme Court, the construction of the temple was done with proper documents, which is why a Railway Minister had inaugurated it.
Pointing out the innumerable illegal constructions and encroachments by various religious sites across Delhi, the DSMM leader said: “There are several temples and religious places made on illegal site, encroachments and have become a hurdle for the public, including the ashram of Asaram Bapu near Ridge Road, but DDA cannot see such sites,” alleging that the “reality behind the demolition of Ravidas temple is that upper caste people living in the posh Greater Kailash had a problem with Dalit temple."
He said the country-wide protest march on Wednesday will begin from Ambedkar Bhawan and will end at Jantar Mantar.
BHIM ARMY VICE-PRESIDENT BOOKED UNDER SEDITION
Meanwhile, Bhim Army vice-president Manjeet Singh Nautiyal was booked on charges of sedition after he is said to have uploaded an allegedly “inflammatory” speech on Facebook, venting his anger over the demolition of the Ravidas Temple.
According to the police, Nautiyal, in his speech, warned of dire consequences for those creating obstacles in reconstructing the demolished temple and reinstalling a statue of Dalit icon Sant Ravidas in Delhi.
Commenting on the sedition charges and, Nautiyal told Newsclick, "I did not say anything wrong. The Jatav community worships Sant Ravidas and the DDA, run by BJP, demolished the temple saying that it was built on illegal land. There are so many temples across the country that are illegal but DDA and any government could not dare to demolish them because they belong to the upper caste."
Meanwhile, on Monday the Supreme Court said that its orders on the Guru Ravidas Temple in Tughlaqabad forest area cannot be given a "political colour" and asked the governments of Punjab, Haryana and Delhi to ensure that no “law and order disturbance” was created politically or otherwise during the protests over the demolition of temple, according to a PTI report.
Sant Ravidas (1450-1520) is hugely revered by dalits across the country. As per a report in Scroll, the poet-saint was born in Varanasi into a family of leather tanners, considered lowly and polluting by upper caste Hindus. He preached “inclusive coexistence”, based on a casteless and classless society, and has a large number of followers amongst Dalits as well as other communities across India.