Over 50 protesters, including Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad, were detained by the Delhi Police on Wednesday, August 21, after a Dalit protest against the demolition of Guru Ravidas temple in the Tughlakabad forest area turned violent in south-east Delhi's Govindpuri.
"At around 7:30 pm, the mob that gathered at Ravidas Marg turned unruly and became violent despite persuasion and appeal by police to maintain peace and started pelting stones and attacking policemen," Deputy Commissioner of Police (southeast) Chinmoy Biswal was quoted as saying by PTI.
He added that a case was registered in the matter and appropriate legal action is being taken. "Mild and reasonable force had to be used to disperse the unruly mob. Some policemen have sustained injuries in the incident. There are no injuries to the public. Some members of the unruly mob have been detained and being verified," said Biswal.
The situation is being monitored by 500 police personnel, including the Deputy Superintendent of Police and the Joint Commissioner of Delhi police (southern range).
The stretch between Govindpuri and Kalkaji was closed for traffic on Wednesday. Earlier in the day, thousands of protesters of all age groups, wearing a blue cap and carrying flags marched from Ambedkar Bhawan in Jhandewala to the Ramlila Maidan in central Delhi.
What is the protest about?
Members of various Dalit organisations, led by the Bhim Army chief, came up in arm against the demolition of a temple dedicated to the 15th-century spiritual leader Sant Ravidas.
The temple was demolished by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) on August 10 after the Supreme Court asked the Ravidas Jayanti Samaroh Samiti to vacate the site, which is on forest land and belongs to the government.
For the followers of Ravidas, the temple held great significance because it is believed that the Bhakti movement poet-saint spent three days at the site. He is revered for his message of equality and seen as a divine figure by the people belonging to the lower caste as he called to boycott the caste hierarchy.
According to the members of the Samaroh Samiti, asking the saint's followers to seek as an alternative plot is like asking the Hindus to build Ram temple at a site other than Ram Janmabhoomi in Ayodhya.
"Ravidas is the most revered saint of the Jatav and Chamar community of Dalits. They are upset because the abode of their God has been demolished," social scientist Badri Narayan was quoted as saying by The Print.
Who are the protesters?
Gathered under the banner of Akhil Bharatiya Sant Shiromani Guru Ravidas Mandir Sanyukta Sanrakhshan Samiti, protesters from across Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and other states are demanding the Central government to rebuild the temple on the same location and handing over the plot to the community.
Cries of "Mandir Wahin Banayenge" and "Jai Bhim" were reportedly raised by the protesters on Wednesday, with the leader proclaiming that the demonstration will continue until the temple is rebuilt.
"The demolition of the temple was an insult to our community and I will go to any extent to fulfil the promise (of installing bust) made by me to my people. No force can stop us," said Azad.
The gathering was also attended by Delhi's Social Justice Minister Rajendra Pal Gautam and spiritual leaders from the community.
"I am here as a representative of the community and not as a Delhi minister or politician. We respect the Supreme Court order, but the government should answer why only temples of the Dalit community and statues of B R Ambedkar are being demolished across the country?" asked Gautam.
A protestor, VP Singh, told PTI: "Why only a temple of Sant Ravidas was razed? The government should answer".
Another protester, Dhail Singh, said: "The temple was around 500 years old. Many governments have come and gone, but no one touched it. It is the anti-Dalit BJP that has hurt the sentiments of crores of people in the country."
Protest turns violent
A tight security ring was formed by the police around the protesters and they were stopped from marching towards the site of the temple. According to the police, soon after, the protesters turned violent and attacked the officers with sticks and stones.
The police then resorted to shelling tear gas, firing in the air and lathi-charging the protesters to disperse them.
The protesters, however, claimed that they were peaceful. "Some people wanted to go inside the temple and the police used water cannon and lathis to stop us," said a protester.
The Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati had alleged that the demolition of the temple reflects a "casteist mentality". Following the allegation, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said that his government has played no role in the demolition.
The Aam Aadmi Party leaders have also been protesting alongside the Dalits. "BJP is playing with the feelings of the Dalits," said AAP MLA Ajay Dutt.
The Bharatiya Janata Party leader and former Union minister Vijay Goel criticised AAP for politicising the issue. "I have proposed that the temple be built at an alternative place after the approval of the Supreme Court. If they agree, we will take the matter up with the DDA," he said.
The General Secretary of Congress, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, attacked the BJP government for using batons to disperse the protestors and called it an "insult" to the Dalit voices.
"First the BJP government messes around with Ravi Das temple - the symbol of cultural heritage of crores of Dalit sisters and brothers, and when thousands of Dalit brothers and sisters raise their voice in the national capital, the BJP lathi charges them, gets tear gas fired at them and arrests them," Priyanka wrote on Twitter.