NEWS
14/08/2019 2:03 PM IST | Updated 14/08/2019 2:44 PM IST

Punjab Dalits Question Centre's Move To Demolish Ravidas Temple

The community has contrasted the demolition of their temple with the BJP's expressed aim of building a Ram temple in Ayodhya.

Rachna Khaira/Huffpost India
The demolition squad of the DDA along with security forces removing the idol of Guru Ravidas from the temple area in Tuglaqabad on August 10. 

CHANDIGARH, Punjab — The destruction of a Guru Ravidas temple and its holy idols by the Delhi Development Authority in the national capital’s Tughlaqabad region has prompted protests across Punjab’s Doaba region.

On Tuesday, August 13, shops, schools and colleges in Jalandhar, Patiala, Barnala, Fazilka, Samana, Ferozepur and Moga remained shut as the ruling Congress and opposition Akali Dal supported the bandh. Reports suggest at least 12 people have been injured in clashes with the police.

Guru Ravidas was a Bhakti-era mystic, now revered by large sections of Punjab’s Dalit community. His followers, who call themselves Ravidassis, claim their temple was on land first occupied nearly 160 years ago by Guru Ravidas’s follower, Guru Roopa Nand. Guru Roopa Nand, who is also revered by the community, dug a pond and even built a hut, a suit filed by the Guru Ravidas Jayanti Samaroh claims.  

The community has contrasted the DDA’s demolition of their temple with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s expressed aim of building a Ram temple in Ayodhya.

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The DDA, which is controlled by the central government through the Union Ministry of Urban Development, maintains that the demolition of the temple was in line with Supreme Court directions. RD Meena, Deputy Director Horticulture, DDA told HuffPost India that the temple was demolished to restore the green belt in the area. 

The temple was demolished on August 10, prompting demands that the central government intervene to provide a fresh plot of land on which to rebuild the temple.  

“While the BJP is adamant to built Ram Temple in Ayodhya, it is demolishing minorities temples across India,” said Chaudhary Santokh, a Congress Member of Parliament from Jalandhar. “The central government should have intervened and prevented the demolition.”

“It will cause further drift between the minority community and will damage the social thread of the country. This could have been prevented easily,” said Chaudhary. 

Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh has urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to intervene. He has also formed a five member panel to meet the religious and political representatives of the community and formulate a strategy to resolve the issue with the Centre. 

“The state government has offered to provide all legal and financial support for the construction of the temple. The Centre should allocate land for the construction of the temple,” said Chaudhary.

Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Followers of Guru Ravidas raise slogans during a protest on 13 August in Jalandhar, India.

Idol Confusion

The ire of the protestors appears fuelled by the fact that the DDA demolished not just the temple, but even removed the idols placed in its premises. 

The demolition of the temple, interviews with members of the Guru Ravidas Jayanti Samaroh Samiti and their legal representatives, appears to have been arisen out of a misunderstanding.

“The temple authorities submitted false affidavit in the Supreme Court on August 2 stating that they had vacated the land,” Meena told HuffPost India. “However, they were still occupying the land on August 9. Following this, the Supreme Court in its order directed Delhi Police to get it vacated and provide possession to DDA.” 

The land was considered to be occupied, because while the office bears of the temple had vacated the land, an idol of Guru Ravidas was still placed on the land.

“As communicated by my client, I verbally informed the court that the Samiti had vacated the area and are ready to hand over the possession to DDA,” said Sumita Hazarika, advocate for the Samiti to HuffPost India. “However, when DDA visited the site, they found the idol at the site. When court was informed, it took a strong note and ruled in favour of the DDA.”

Rishi Pal, President of the Guru Ravidas Jainti Samaroh Samiti, said the temple was constructed in 1959 and an idol was placed on the site. It was inaugurated by former Union Railway Minster Babu Jagjivan Ram and the Samiti was powerless to remove it of its own. 

“As per directions of the Supreme High Court on August 9, we were asked to remove the idol by August 10. However, Delhi Police and security personnel from the BSF and CRPF surrounded the temple premises on the same night and did not allow us to enter. Next day around 8 am, they demolished the entire structure and took the idol away,” said Pal adding that DDA should have waited till next day to allow them to remove the idol. 

“They could have filed contempt of court against us instead of demolishing the temple,” said Pal. He added that Delhi High Court had asked DDA to allocate a separate land for the construction of the temple but the latter  claimed helplessness in the absence of any special policy for religious shrines in the country. 

Punjab On Alert

Des Raj Kali, a Punjab-based Dalit writer and activist, said the demolition of the temple can lead to an atmosphere of unrest in the border state. 

“Punjab shares its border with Pakistan where anti-national elements including Khalistan supporters are waiting for an opportunity to intrude into the Indian territory,” Kali said. “Meanwhile, the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir has further increased the security concerns in the region. In such a scenario, upsetting the Dalits in the state would be difficult to handle for the state government.” 

He further added that religious and caste hatred is on the rise in Punjab, and Hindu organisations are aggressively pursuing agendas which have brought them into conflict with the Dalits. 

“This new conflict is resulting in a socio-religious realignment wherein radical Sikh organisations are joining hands with Muslims whenever any of them clashes with Hindu groups,” said Kali. 

Punjab is presently guarding its borders with no additional security cover provided by the Centre. The law enforcement agencies in the state have claimed that they have adequate security apparatus to deal with any kind of insurgency at their own. 

The state government has hoped that the central government would accede its request for intervention to settle the matter amicably. 

SC warns against politicising issue 

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court on Tuesday warned against politicising the demolition of Guru Ravidas Temple.

“Don’t think that we are powerless We know the seriousness of the issue. We will start contempt. It cannot be like this.” a bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra said when the counsel appearing for the temple authorities referred to the agitation on the issue in Punjab.