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Explained: How politics has driven Delhi’s Ravidas temple row full circle

Ravidas temple row: With elections looming, the Centre has changed its stand — the temple demolished on Tughlaqabad's forest land in August is set to return.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: October 23, 2019 8:40:46 am
ravidas temple delhi, delhi ravidas temple demolition, ravidas temple rebuilding, ravidas temple demolition protest, indian express explained Ravidas temple row: Thousands of protesters gathered at Ramlila Maidan and then headed to Tughlakabad. (Express photo by Gajendra Yadav)

Nearly three months after the Guru Ravidas Temple in the forest area of Tughlaqabad in south Delhi was demolished on the orders of the Supreme Court, a change in stance by the Centre has meant that it will be rebuilt at the same place on a 400-square metre area.

The court battle for the temple

The Supreme Court’s decision is the culmination of a legal battle that started in 2016, when the Guru Ravidas Jainti Samaroh Samiti, which manages the temple, approached the court for possession of the land.

The Samiti provided documents that said the temple was built in the 1950s, something that the Delhi Development Authority (which is under the central government) acknowledges as well. However, the devotees, mostly Dalits, who came to Delhi from Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh to protest the demolition, believe that the temple is 400-500 years old.

After hearings in a Delhi court for two years, the suit and the Samiti’s claim to the land was dismissed in 2018. The Samiti approached the Delhi High Court the same year, but their appeal was dismissed.

The high court, however, told the petitioners that the Samiti could submit a representation to DDA within four weeks of the order to allow them to relocate the one-room temple, courtyard, and two small rooms a small distance away, to the boundary of the forest land. It also asked DDA to consider such a representation in a liberal manner.

But the Samiti did not file this representation to the DDA, and instead chose to approach the Supreme Court this year.

DDA told the Supreme Court that the Samiti did not have a valid claim on the land as it was under the possession of the Delhi government’s forest department. The court dismissed the Samiti’s appeal and ordered DDA to demolish the temple. The court’s order was executed on August 10.

On Monday, almost two-and-a-half months after the demolition of the temple, the Centre made a revised offer of 400 sq. m. of land to rebuild it — a proposal that the court accepted.

Ravidas temple row Ravidas temple row: During a protest following the demolition of the temple in Delhi’s Tughlakabad area. (File Photo)

The politics of the rebuilding

Over the two weeks that followed the demolition, political parties including the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the BJP spoke out against the DDA’s action, and accused each other of precipitating the situation that led to the razing of the temple.

The Ravidas sect in Delhi is small, spread out across the city, and without a very strong connect to the temple. It was largely devotees from Punjab and Haryana who triggered the protests and agitation against the demolition.

On August 21, a meeting called at Ramlila Maidan by Dalit leaders ended up in a violent protest at Tughlakabad, near the site of the temple. Close to 100 people were arrested, including Bhim Army chief, Chandrashekhar Azad.

Since then, political parties have kept up the pressure, demanding that DDA allot land to rebuild the temple at the same site. With Delhi set to go to polls by February next year, the demolition and subsequent anger were hurting both the AAP and BJP.

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