A day-long bandh called by the Dalit groups to protest against the demolition of a Guru Ravidas temple in Delhi’s Tughlaqabad area on Supreme Court orders, saw normal life getting affected in Punjab amid reports of stray incidents of violence.
The Doaba region, comprising Jalandhar, Kapurthala, Nawanshahr and Hoshiarpur and home to largest concentration of SC population in Punjab, witnessed a complete shutdown. With the region sending 23 representatives to the Vidhan Sabha — Dalit vote share ranging between 30 per cent to 50 per cent in each segment — all the political parties came out in support of the bandh.
Protesters under the banner of the Guru Ravidas Jayanti Samaroh Samiti, All India Adi-Dharam and Sadhu Sampardaye had given the bandh call and also announced to mark the Independence Day as a ‘black day’ against the demolition of the temple that was believed to be more than five centuries old.
With the issue snowballing into a major controversy, Delhi Social Welfare Minister Rajendra Pal Gautam had Monday alleged that the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), in presence of a police force, had demolished the “temple” on August 10 morning and the statue was “taken away”.
However, the DDA, in a statement issued Monday, did not use the word temple and said the “structure was removed as per the orders of the Supreme Court”. “The standing permanent structure was dismantled peacefully without any resistance or use of force in the presence of Guru Ravi Das Jayanti Samaroh Samiti members,” the DDA said.
Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri Tuesday said that the Centre is determined to find a solution and possibly identify an alternative site to relocate the temple. The protesters are demanding that the temple be rebuilt. They blocked roads at several places, including in Bathinda, Barnala and the Jalandhar-Delhi national highway, causing huge traffic jams, officials said. Protest marches were taken out by Dalits at several places as the demonstrators sat on a dharna, burnt effigies and placed burning tyres on roads to enforce the bandh.
Punjab government, which had extended support to the Dalit community over the issue, had announced to close all the schools and colleges as a precautionary measure. State minister Aruna Chaudhary joined the protest at Dina Nagar in Gurdaspur, while all the local MLAs of ruling Congress, including Pargat Singh, Bawa Henry, Rajinder Beri, Sushil Rinku, and Dr Raj Kumar, sat with protesters in their respective assembly constituencies.
Shiromani Akali Dal leaders, including MLA Pawan Kumar Tinu and former MLA Sarabjit Singh Makkar also came out in support of the Dalit community as did BJP leader Manoranjan Kali.
In Phagwara, Bheem Army head Chander Shekhar also participated in dharnas. Targeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he said that the BJP government at Centre wants to suppress Dalits. He said that struggle will be intensified if temple was not rebuilt.
In Hoshiarpur, youths in groups were seen wielding swords and sticks while moving in the city on their motorcycles to enforce the bandh. According to the police, some shopkeepers and protesters clashed and hurled stones at each other in Adda Mansar on the Jammu-Jalandhar national highway near Mukerian when some protesters allegedly damaged three shops that were open, the police said.
Hoshiarpur Senior Superintendent of Police Gaurav Garg said the police intervened to defuse the situation. In Nawanshahr, there was a tense situation when shopkeepers resisted the attempts by activists of various Dalit organisations who allegedly asked them to shut their shops. The shopkeepers also staged a protest on the Chandigarh road against the alleged high-handedness of the protesters.
Upkar Singh, president of Chamber of Industrial and Commercial Undertakings (CICU), said some visitors on way to his factory were heckled on Jagraon bridge, Sahnewal. SB Singh, joint secretary, CICU said, “Factories and business establishments remained closed. There was no intimation to industry about the extent of bandh by any government body”.
In Khanna, a sweets shop was vandalised. SSP Gursharan Singh Grewal said,”Till now we have not received any complaint from the shop owner. One window pane of the shop was broken”.
In Bathinda, a dharna was organised outside bus stand due to which bus service remained suspended for some time. Kuldeep Vaid, Congress MLA from Gill constituency, submitted a memorandum to Ludhiana DC seeking re-building of the temple in Delhi. Vijar Danav, national president of Bharti Valmiki Dharam Samaj, when asked about the violence by the protesters, said, “The community is deeply hurt (over temple demolition)”.
Rail traffic was also affected as several trains were stopped on Ludhiana-Jalandhar route. According to information available from divisional railway manager, Ferozepur division, four trains had to be diverted while three pairs of trains had to be short terminated. Two trains had to be re-scheduled. The protesters mostly raised slogans against the Centre and the BJP.
“How could (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi touch our Guru’s temple. Now, he will have to pay for this. He will have to get the temple rebuilt,” said a protesting woman at Guru Ravidas Chowk. Calling the Delhi temple issue a matter of “life and death” for the Dalit community, a large number of protesters took out a march in Phagwara, which observed a complete shutdown.
They blocked the Jalandhar-Ludhiana highway, Phagwara-Nakodar, Phagwara-Hoshiarpur and Phagwara Nawanshahr-Chandigarh roads. Several roads wore a desolate look, while many markets were deserted and some places presented a curfew-like look. Kapurthala city observed complete bandh as all commercial establishments remained closed and bus services were also suspended on several routes.
Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) president Gobind Singh Longowal and Akal Takht ‘jathedar’ Giani Harpreet Singh strongly condemned the temple demolition. The SGPC extended support to the community and also kept its offices closed for the second half on Tuesday. The site in Delhi is believed to be visited by Guru Ravidas around 1509 during the reign of Sikander Lodi.