Protests by Dalit groups rock Ramlila Maidan
On August 10, the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) had demolished a Ravidas temple in south Delhi’s Tughlakabad in adherence with the directions of the Supreme Court.Updated: Aug 22, 2019 03:52 IST
The route from cental Delhi’s Jhandewalan to Ramlila Maidan turned into a sea of blue as over 5,000 protestors converged at the Ramlila Maidan on Wednesday to protest against the demolition of a Ravidas temple in Delhi’s Tughlakabad earlier this month, which led to widespread protests in Punjab. Led by multiple Dalit groups, protestors of all ages and gender from Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh demanded that the temple be reconstructed at the same location amid chants of ‘Jai Bhim’.
On August 10, the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) had demolished a Ravidas temple in south Delhi’s Tughlakabad in adherence with the directions of the Supreme Court. The demolition had led to large scale protest in Punjab, which has a high percentage of Dalit population. The protests saw highways get blocked and schools shut amid widespread demonstrations. With time, the agitation spread to parts of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh as well. The issue has now taken a political tone with various parties joining the Dalit community in their demand for constructing a temple at the same site.
“There is a reason why people have come here from such faraway places. The incident has seriously hurt sentiments of the Dalit community who worship saint Ravidas. The concerned authorities need to apologise,” said Renu Valmiki, 35, a resident of Kurukshetra in Haryana.
Valmiki was part of a 700-odd members group that had arrived in Delhi from Chandigarh in the early hours of Wednesday.
“Many protesters had left their villages on Tuesday and gathered in Chandigarh, from where around a dozen buses were arranged for by Dalit groups. We need another Ravidas temple to be built in Delhi at the earliest,” said Rakesh Bahadur, a resident of Chandigarh who identifies himself as a social worker.
There was heavy police deployment to maintain the law and order in the national Capital, senior police officials said, adding that traffic was affected on all major roads connected to the rally route.
The number of protesters in the demonstration even surprised the organisers. “We only realised the actual number of people gathering at the venue only by Tuesday night. So, we had to change the venue from Jantar Mantar to Ramlila Maidan under police orders,” said Ashok Bharti, a Delhi-based Dalit activist who was one of the organizers of the rally.
On Wednesday, protesters blamed the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for the demolition and criticized it as “anti-Dalit”. The BJP, however, dismissed the allegations.
“It is the BJP which should come forward, apologise and then reconstruct the temple immediately,” said Amrit Singh Bangar, a Dalit activist from Patiala in Punjab.
“The BJP is an anti-Dalit party. We demand that they build Ravidas temple again on the same spot at the earliest,” said senior AAP leader and Delhi’s social welfare minister Rajinder Pal Gautam.
Senior activists of the Bhim Army, led by Uttar Pradesh-based Dalit leader Chandrasekhar Azad, also participated in the protest and criticised the BJP.
However, BJP MLA Vijender Gupta, who is the leader of the opposition in the Delhi assembly, said, “The demolition was an unfortunate incident in the first place. We assure people of all communities that we stand with them and that a Ravidas temple is built at the earliest. But it is also unfortunate how some parties and groups are exploiting sentiments of Dalits for cheap electoral gains.”