Dalit agitation over Delhi temple demolition brings Punjab to a standstill

Arjun Sharma | Aug 12, 2019 | 4 min read


Punjab comes to a standstill during Dalit protests in Punjab

By Arjun Sharma

Having the highest concentration of Dalits, Punjab came to a virtual standstill as the movement of vehicles on highways remained suspended throughout the day owing to the protests by members of Ravidas community against the demolition of the ancient Ravidas temple in New Delhi on orders of the Supreme Court. Most of the educational institutions and business establishments also remained closed in many parts of the state.

Thousands of members of Ravidas, Valmiki and other Dalit communities protested on highways at Pathankot, Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur among other cities, snapping the crucial land link to the northern parts from rest of the country for several hours. Members of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) also joined the protests against the central government.

In Hoshiarpur, the protests turned violent when the agitators entered the premises of two factories that were not closed in Rahimpur area. Some of the sections of the factory were damaged by the protesters and the unit was forcibly shut. Eyewitnesses stated that heavy stone pelting was done by the protesters from outside the factory when they say the gates of the unit opened. Management of the factories immediately came to action and closed the main gates to avoid entry of protesters inside the unit. However, no report of any serious injuries was received from the spot.

Authorities in all the four districts of Doaba region—Jalandhar, Kapurthala, Hoshiarpur and SBS Nagar—had shut the educational institutions in the wake of protests scheduled on Tuesday. Doaba region has a large concentration of members belonging Ravidas and Valmiki community. Punjab School Education Board supplementary examinations for class 10 and 12 scheduled on Tuesday were also postponed.

In Ludhiana, the commercial hub of Chaura Bazaar wore a deserted look in the wake of protests. Heavy deployment of police was carried out on the crucial Ludhiana-Jalandhar highway to avoid any untoward incident. A large number of protesters blocked the highway that caused massive traffic jams in the industrial city.

The police commissioner of Ludhiana Sukhchain Singh Gill said at least 3,000 policemen were deployed in every nook and cranny of the city to keep an eye over the protests. He added that the protests were held in a peaceful way in the entire city and they did not have to use force anywhere.

Shops and other establishments also remained closed in Moga, Sangrur, Bathinda, Mansa districts.

Protests to intensify

The All India Adi-Dharm Mission Khuralgarh Sahib and Sadhu Samaj Samperdaye gave the call for bandh. According to popular belief, the land on which the temple was constructed was visited by Guru Ravidas in the early 16th century during the reign of Sikander Lodhi. Members of the protesting community demanded the temple that has been demolished must be restored else the protests would continue across the country in the coming days.

Gurdev Singh, an agitator protesting at the Jalandhar bypass in Ludhiana, said the agitation will spread across the country and could even take a violent turn if the demolished temple in Delhi is not restored. “We are not in favour of violence but what will be left with us if the government fails to restore the historic temple of our community," he argued.

The issue has taken a political turn since the demolition of the temple with parties taking potshots at each other. BSP state chief Jasvir Singh said the central government led by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has failed to protect the historic temple of Ravidas community. “Central government took a selective approach and implemented the orders of the Supreme Court regarding demolition of the temple. Even the AAP government in Delhi failed to look after the rights of the Ravidas community,” Singh added.

Extending its support to Ravidas community, Chief Minister of Punjab Captain Amarinder Singh constituted a five-member committee and announced legal and financial help to the Dalit community for the reconstruction of Sri Guru Ravidas temple at Delhi.

Captain Amarinder Singh had earlier appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to personally intervene into the matter.

Cabinet minister Charanjit Singh Channi said, “The state government would extend legal and financial support to the SC (Scheduled Caste) community for filing a review petition against the order of the Apex Court to demolish the historic temple.”

On the other hand, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), which is an alliance partner of BJP, said it will help the community in rebuilding the temple. SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal said the party was ready to extend financial support for rebuilding the temple.

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