Ravidas temple demolition row: 50 detained as protests turn violent

DELHI  : Police detained Bhim Army chief and Dalit leader Chandrashekhar Azad, along with 50 others, at Tughlakabad after protests against the demolition of Ravidas Temple in the area earlier this month turned violent. Thousands of protesters had gathered at Ramlila Maidan Wednesday afternoon to protest against the Supreme Court-mandated demolition on August 10. The temple, DDA officials who carried out the demolition said, was built on forest land.

“We have detained Azad and are registering an FIR of rioting as well as unlawful assembly against him,” DCP Chinmoy Biswal said. Police said a pistol was recovered from the protest and they are probing who it belongs to.

Protesters marched from Ramlila Maidan to Tughlakabad to visit the demolition site, throwing traffic out of gear in Central and South Delhi. As men wielding lathis reached Jahanpanah Forest area, where the temple was, they ran into personnel stationed there since morning.

Vehicles vandalised by protesters in the evening. (Express Photo: Arnab Mitra)

The protest soon turned violent, with cars and motorcycles being set on fire and windshields of cars being broken by agitated protesters, most of whom had come from Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. AAP minister Rajendra Pal Gautam had also joined the protest in the afternoon, and demanded that the Centre order DDA to rebuild the temple at the same site.

Delhi Police spokesperson Mandeep Singh Randhawa said, “After reaching Tughlakabad, protesters turned violent. We tried to pacify them but they started pelting stones, damaging cars and public property. We used mild force and fired tear gas to disperse the crowd.” Seven police personnel were injured, Randhawa said.

Thousands of protesters gathered at Ramlila Maidan and then headed to Tughlakabad. (Express Photo: Gajendra Yadav)

As hundreds marched towards the site, cordoned off by police half-a-kilometre away, locals anticipating a lathi charge hurried back to their homes.

Most protesters had reached Delhi on Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning. Scores of buses were parked outside Ambedkar Bhawan on Rani Jhansi Road, from where protesters headed to Ramlila Maidan

Around 4 pm, protesters chanting ‘Jai Bhim’ marched towards Tughlakabad. Praveen Chauhan (23) a student from Hodal village in Palwal, said he read about the demolition online and that it had hurt the sentiments of the Dalit community.

Scores of buses were parked outside Ambedkar Bhawan on Rani Jhansi Road, from where protesters headed to Ramlila Maidan.

Meena Kumari (30) a homemaker whose husband is a labourer, along with a handful women from her village near Jalandhar, was among the few women who attended the protest at Ramlila Maidan. “They have gone against our faith,” she said.

Om Prakash, 67, from Ramila village in Charkhidadri district of Haryana said, “This is an attack on the Dalit community, an attack on human rights.”

Paramjeed Singh, 30, a truck driver from Rajoomajra village in Sangur, Punjab, said, “All across Punjab there have been protests. They have to rebuild the temple.”