In August 2019, the DDA (which falls under the purview of the Central Govt.) got demolished a longstanding Ravidas Temple in Tughlaqabad area of Delhi. The Central Govt. said this was done on the basis of an order of the Supreme Court.
On the 21st of August 2019 a vast gathering took place at Ramlila Maidan in Delhi to protest against the demolition of the Temple and to demand that it be reconstructed at the same place. Big gatherings also took place on the same day at Ambedkar Bhawan. Eventually a massive rally walked to the site of the demolished Temple in Tughlaqabad. After it reached the area, where a massive police deployment was already in place, some events took place. As a result the crowd dispersed over hours while 96 people were shown arrested by the police from the site. They have been charged under many sections like Sec. 143,147,148,186,308,353,332,323,435,34,120-B of IPC,3/4 PDPP Act and Sec 27 of Arms Act. Among those arrested is Chandrashekhar Rawan, leader of the Bhim Army.55 of the arrested are from Haryana, 23 from Punjab, 11 from UP, 1 from Jammu and 3 each from Delhi and MP. They have been remanded to 14 days judicial custody.
The police have claimed that the gathering at the Temple turned violent, destroyed vehicles, looted shops, held rods and lathis and hence Police were forced to act and that they acted in a restrained manner on the night of 21st August 2019. To try to piece together the events of that evening, a team of leaders drawn from the Delhi committees of IFTU and PDSU visited the Tughlaqabad extension area opposite the site of the demolished temple to find out from the local people what they knew about the events of 21st August evening and night. The team members were Com Jai Prakash, joint secretary of IFTU Delhi Committee, Jaydeep and Vishal, the latter two leaders of PDSU Delhi. They visited the area on the evening of 23rd August 2019 and gathered the following facts.
People Interviewed and Facts Gathered.
65 year old Bir Singh told the team that the Temple was 600 years old and was built at the spot where Sant Ravidas had stayed for few days. He had no idea that there was a court order to demolish the temple. He maintained that Sikander Lodhi gave 150 bighas for the Temple to be built. He said it was wrong to demolish the temple. Answering questions about the events of 21st night he said the marchers had not indulged in any form of violence. 35 year old Puneet also agreed that the Temple was 600 years old and it was wrong to break it. He said the seat of a motorcycle had been set on fire on 21st night but was unable to tell by whom.
Munish Kumar, who is a vegetable vendor and who stands opposite the demolished Temple, said that they got to know about the Court order only when the police came to demolish the Temple. He and several others standing nearby agreed that some windowpanes of cars were broken on 21st night but they did not see who had done this.
The local people said that the Temple is 600 years old. The case between the Temple Committee and the DDA has been going on for 30-40 years. The team found that there is an environment of fear in the area and the local people are hesitant to talk about the events of the 21st night. However, some of the local house owners spoke up to say that the Bhim Army leaders and activists of many organizations were protesting peacefully, but the local police grappled with Bhim Army Chief Chandrashekhar, which angered the people. The police then resorted to lathicharge. Common people were also targeted by the lathi charge. People were of the opinion that it was wrong to demolish the temple. They were mostly not aware of the court case but they said that police had been posted at the Temple since 8th of August. Some people asserted that though no one had died in the police violence that night, many were injured by pellets fired by the police.
One auto driver who joined the group the team members were talking to asserted that the issue had escalated and the Temple was demolished because the Temple priest had denied parking rights to the MP of the area, BJP leader Ramesh Bhiduri. Otherwise the dispute with DDA was on for years. No one else repeated this version.
Another house owner who has been residing there for the past 50 years said that the protestors were peaceful and it s the police which suddenly attacked them. A Muslim boy who runs a stall in front of the demolished Temple said that he had not put up his stall for the past two days in view of the tense situation. However, he was categorical that the Temple should not have been demolished.
Another vegetable vendor who has been in the area for the past 30 years said that satsangs used to be organized in the Temple. He too did not know that there was an ongoing court case. He said that on 21st night, after the protestors were in the area, there was a sudden loud sound or blast and then police firing and lathi charge occurred, leading to stampede like conditions. His own 28 years old son ‘s foot got cut by a broken piece of glass. He said that many people had injuries on the head due to the lathi charge. He is of the opinion that it was wrong to demolish the Temple and it should be built at the same place.
A man buying vegetables told the team that he has been residing in the area fr the past 6-7 years. He said the temple s 600 years old and it is wrong to break it. He asserted that the police can go to any extent and they had also beaten up a woman of the area that night (“’auntie ko bhimara’’).
While a maximum number of people were unwilling to share their names, they evidently are the locals of the area, are well aware that the Temple was demolished and are all one in condemning the demolition. They all asserted that the temple is around 600 years old though a few said it is 100 years old.
All of them had seen the protestors gather on the late evening of 21st August. None could cite any provocation for the police action, while all said that the police suddenly resorted to lathi charge and even firing. Many also cited windscreens of cars being broken and a motorcycle being set on fire after the lathi charge commenced, but they were not able to say that this was done by the protestors, whom they described as ‘’fleeing’’ after the lathicharge. It is also true that shopkeepers on the Ma Anandamaiee Marg which is the road in front of Kalka Depot, as well as IFTU activists who were sitting in the Union office on the same Marg, testified to the team that they had seen the protestors walking towards the temple area from about 6pm onwards. The stream was almost unending for well over two hours and the people were holding up flags of Guru Ravidas or blue flags and were totally peaceful. Many remarked on how the people had walked the long distance from ramlilamaidan and appeared tired out but happy that they were going to the Temple site. Police had barricaded several roads leading into Govindpuri area but the rallyists did not try to protest at the barricades but peacefully moved along the route the police were allowing them to use. It is the police of the area which escorted this gathering towards the Temple site.
No one in either the rally route from Kalkaji Depot onwards to the temple area, where this team moved for information, stated that the rallyists carried weapons of any kind or that they were aggressive. Shops line most of the area and several cars and other vehicles are parked along it but the rallyists did not waver from their path or engage with anything or anyone around their route. Many of the rallyists were Sikhs and they may have been carrying their traditional weapons but nothing was brandished along this route. In fact, several shopkeepers of main Tughlaqabad said they saw the rallyists sitting down in the park and on the road in front of the temple which the police had barricaded for normal traffic. They also said that there was huge police presence in the area even before the rallyists started reaching the Temple area.
The team is of the opinion that the people of the area, while they may not have been part of the protests on 21st August, are of the opinion that it was wrong to demolish the temple and it should be rebuilt at the site. Not one described the rallyists as aggressive and mostly had sympathy for them and their cause. They were also clear that everything was peaceful until a sudden lathicharge from the huge police contingent in the area led to everything erupting and suddenly people were fleeing in all directions. One person told the team that the police had moved to arrest Bhim Army Chief Chandrashekhar even prior to the lathicharge. Others were not able to describe such details, but when asked about the violence alleged by the police, said that after the lathicharge everyone was running.
It is clear to the team that such a massive number of people had walked such a long distance through the city peacefully. They were in and around the shops and residential colonies of Tughlaqabad and Govindpuri- both ordinary middle and lower middle class colonies with shops lining the main roads- since around 6pm and had not indulged in any act of violence or show of force or brandishing of weapons at all. They had not forced their way towards the Temple area but walked on the route left unbarricaded for them by the police of the area. There was a sudden lathi charge just adjacent to the demolished Temple, unprovoked according to all those who were locally present. This led to the beginning of disorder and was not any result of it. No one says clearly that rallyists were responsible for breaking windscreens and police can hardly rule out deliberate infilteration of this fleeing crowd by those who want to malign this movement.
The team demands that
- Police officials responsible for the sudden and unprovoked lathicharge and firing should be punished. The rally and the gathering had been totally peaceful and it is the police that violated this with unprovoked lathicharge.
- Those who have been arrested should be released immediately and the charges, being patently false, should be withdrawn.
- The Temple should be rebuilt at site.
Jai Prakash Jaydeep Vishal
Jt. Secretary, Convenor PDSU College Committee
Delhi IFTU Committee PDSU College Com. Delhi
Dated 24th August 2019
Released by Com. Animesh Das on behalf of Delhi IFTU and Com Rajeeve, Convenor Delhi PDSU.