Matter of faith
The Guru Ravidas temple in Tughlaqabad was demolished by DDA and Delhi Police on orders of the Supreme Court
The demolition of the Sant Guru Ravidas Temple in New Delhi has created a stir over the last 10 days. A bandhwas held in Punjab last week and exams were postponed in the state as protests boiled against the demolition of the temple in Tughlaqabad Extension by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA). The temple was demolished on the morning of August 10 based on a Supreme Court order.
The temple in Tughlaqabad was reportedly visited by Guru Ravidas in the 15th century and was later converted into a temple dedicated to him. Guru Ravidas belonged to the Dalit community and preached equality and peace. He was revered as a saint and social reformer.
According to court documents accessed by Newslaundry, the friction between the DDA and the Guru Ravidas Jayanti Samaroh Samiti, which represents the temple, started in 1986. The case first came to the court in 1992 when some of the structures of the temple were demolished by the DDA as the temple lies in forest land. A petition was filed by the then president of the Samiti. In 1997, the Delhi High Court restrained the DDA from carrying out further demolitions and a local commissioner was appointed to look into the matter. The report was submitted in the same year. The suit was transferred to the district court in 2003 and the case was re-stated in 2011. A trial court dismissed the suit after which the Samiti went to the Supreme Court.
A petition was filed by Mahipal Singh, then president of the Guru Ravidas Jayanti Samaroh Samiti, against the DDA. However, in April this year, the Supreme Court gave orders to vacate the structure. When the Samiti did not do so, on August 10, the court asked the DDA to take the help of Delhi Police and vacate the structure.
The temple had one entrance facing the road, now replaced by a wall. The other way to reach the temple is through Jahanpanah forest. The route through the forest land is long and one has to walk through a muddy path to reach the temple.
Harish Kumar, a resident of Tughlaqabad for over 30 years and an ardent follower of Guru Ravidas, shows Newslaundry the historical pond in the area (Chamar Wala Jauhar)—Guru Ravidas reportedly stayed near the pond—and the well which was used by Dalit community.
Now, all that remains of the temple is a pile of debris. The site is patrolled by police forces and is barricaded on all sides.
The issue over the temple’s demolition has now spiralled beyond the Dalit community’s anger, with political parties using it to gain mileage. The Supreme Court warned against “politicising the issue” on August 13 and on August 19, reiterated that its order shouldn’t be given “political colour”—but that doesn’t seem to be stopping anyone. From Arvind Kejriwal to Mayawati to Captain Amarinder Singh, everyone has used the opportunity to attack the governing party and also appease the Dalit community by offering help and support.
On August 14, former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati tweeted that the incident was a “conspiracy” between the Centre and Delhi government, saying the demolition “showcases the discriminatory mentality against our saints and caste”. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal responded that his government had “no hand” in the demolition and that he also opposed the move.
Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh met with representatives of the Ravidas community in Jalandhar and assured them that all necessary financial aid will be provided by him and his party to restore the temple. He also agreed to lead a delegation to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take up the matter of the temple’s reconstruction.
Most party leaders are careful to not criticise the Supreme Court order. Ramesh Bhiduri, the BJP MP from Tughlaqabad, tells Newslaundry: “The issue is being politicised. My hands are tied as once the Supreme Court passes [its] judgement, no one can do much about it.” He adds: “I do not agree with the decision. People’s sentiments should be taken into consideration before any judgement. But you can’t go against the judgement.”
The Aam Aadmi Party’s Rajendra Pal Gautam, who is Minister for Welfare (Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes), strongly believes the temple was demolished expeditiously because it belonged to lower castes. He says:: “There are hundreds of temples which are on the Green Belt illegally taking up public places. A similar attitude should be taken towards them as well. We, as a community, are still being targeted and are made to feel unequal, which is unjust. These temples symbolise our culture which reminds us that we got freedom from 400-year-old slavery, why is that being snatched away from us?”
Referring to the BJP government at the Centre, he says, “They will demolish Buddha temples, Guru Ravidas temple, as they belong to certain communities.”
The DDA is steering clear of the politicisation of the issue. A DDA official told Newslaundry on condition of anonymity: “Some judgements are hailed by the people and some are not. From a law perspective, the DDA did its job.”
Rishi Pal Singh, current president of the Guru Ravi Das Jayanti Samaroh Samiti, says the issue is being politicised but the community has taken a stand to raise their voices if it helps them. “At the end of the day, no one cares what happens to our temple. Everyone is trying to politicise it for their own benefit. All we care about is our temple. If they come and support the cause as followers of Guru Ravidas, they are welcome. We are protesting as a community.”
The debates have become extremely polarised. The Additional DCP, South, Parvinder Singh, asks this reporter right off the bat what ideology she belongs to. “These days, people belong to two sides,” he says. Singh emphasises that the police has been unbiased in its approach to the demolition and its aftermath. “Required forces were used to carry out the demolition. It is a religious structure and we had to be prepared. We had to detain a few people as they were reluctant to move. Other than that, the matter was carried out peacefully.”
But Tughlaqabad resident Harish Kumar is unable to understand the complexities of politics. To him, it’s simple: his faith was snatched away. “I went to the temple as usual at around 8.30 am on August 9. A huge force of police surrounded the temple from every side. All we requested was don’t demolish the sanctum, break the structure, let the sanctum remain. They made us sit inside a bus and the bus was taken away so that we were unable to see the demolition. Around 12-13 of us were detained and taken to Saket Police Station. We were released in the morning.”
The community wants the temple reconstructed in the same area, where they also have the graveyards of their sants. Kumar reacts strongly when asked if the temple can be rebuilt somewhere else. “Will you say the same thing for Ram Mandir? Why only Ayodhya for that temple, let them construct it at some other place. Why can’t Kedarnath Temple be reconstructed in Delhi? Similarly, it is not merely land for us but a matter of faith.”
BJP MP Ramesh Bhiduri calls this “arrogance”. He says: “We had a meeting with Hardeep Singh Puri to resolve the issue. Do you know what they asked? ‘Why do we need to build Ram Mandir in Ayodhya then?’ What is this attitude, what kind of language is this?”
Right now, the Guru Ravidas Mandir bus stop in Tughlaqabad has become a meeting point for people to discuss the issue. Sitaram Vidrohi, who would regularly visit the temple, tells Newslaundry: “They will demolish structures one by one. The Dalit temples, the mosques. They will introduce Manusmriti in schools. That is what this government wants and the judiciary also is supporting it.”