Ravidas temple protesters turn violent, clash with policeUpdated: Aug 21, 2019 23:12 IST
Having wrapped up their Jantar Mantar protests against the Ravidas temple demolition, hundreds of protesters marched to the temple site in Tughlaqabad, where they clashed with police personnel on Wednesday evening. The confrontation saw police personnel resorting to lathicharge and lobbing tear gases at protesters.
Rumours flew thick and fast that the police had opened fire in the air to disperse the protesters, but Mandeep Singh Randhawa, Delhi Police spokesperson, denied that security personnel had opened fire. “We had to fire some tear gas shells and used batons sparingly after some protesters began pelting stones at us,” said Randhawa.
Chinmoy Biswal, deputy commissioner of police (south-east), said that many policemen were injured in the clash, but said that their number is yet to be ascertained. Eyewitnesses accounts also said that many protesters were also injured, some of them from the cane-charge and a few others from falling while fleeing.
The protesters vandalised many vehicles parked in the streets and torched a policeman’s motorcycle. A journalist with a national daily was injured in the violence. The injured journalist said she was hit with a stick by a protester before being hit by a broken brick.
“While fleeing from the police, the protesters damaged the windscreens and windows of over a dozen cars,” said the reporter, adding that her cab too was damaged.
Police said that they had anticipated trouble and asked local businesses to down their shutters and asked residents to stay indoors even before the protesters arrived at the scene.
The protesters started arriving at the Tughlaqabad site around 6.30pm after marching along the Nizamuddin-Ashram-Modi Mill Flyover-Kalkaji-Govindpuri route, triggering massive traffic snarls along the way. The major arterial roads remained choked for hours after the protesters reached outside Tara Apartment, near the temple site.
Police said they had set up four levels of barricading to stop the protesters. “Many of the protesters were carrying sticks, while a few others plucked out iron rods from road dividers along the way. We had set up barricades, deployed water canons and sought help from the paramilitary forces to control the situation,” said a senior police officer, who didn’t want to be identified.
When the protesters arrived, the police allowed them to cross the first level of barricading and stopped them at the second. Police said that it was at that point, around 7.30 pm, that the protesters demanded to be allowed to the temple site and turned violent when their demand was turned down.
“The protesters suddenly formed small human chains before starting to run in different directions. Even as we were caught by surprise by their act, some of them began pelting stones, while others tried to forcibly enter the temple site. We used canes sparingly before resorting to lobbing tear gas shells to control the situation,” said the officer.
The police action saw many protesters run into narrow lanes near the temple site, while others climbed fences to escape into parks. The police said they avoided chasing the protesters into the lanes as they were filled with local residents, who were not involved in the protests.
Chinmoy Biswal, deputy commissioner of police (south-east), said that the police have been combing the area to catch people involved in the violence. According to another officer, at least two dozen protesters were detained within an hour of the violence.
Ashok Bharti of All India Ambedkar Mahasabha, one of the main organisers of Wednesday’s rally, denied that the protesters had anything to do with the clashes in Tughlaqabad. “Our rally was limited to Ramlila Maidan. If any protest took place in Tughlakabad, we have nothing to do with it,” he said.
Sushil Gautam of the Bhim Army, a Dalit rights group based in Uttar Pradesh, said that he had “heard about the clashes at Tughlakabad”. “We are trying to ascertain if any of our members sustained injuries,” said Gautam.