‘You go on talking about making a Ram Mandir in Ayodhya for years. But then, if we Dalits cherish a mandir, you go on hurting our feelings.’ says Munni Lal Gautam at Tughlaqabad.
A Dalit from Delhi, he along with several Dalits are fuming with anger at the Prime Minister and central government. Many of them have been protesting here since a day, and some 90 of them have even been arrested.
Now, India is a country of politics, temples, and politics around temples. The recent Dalit protests bear testimony to this.
Yesterday, many students from the University of Delhi (DU) found forwarded Whatsapp messages and images showing the recent protests in the Tughlaqabad region of Delhi by the Dalit Community from Delhi and Punjab. In typical Indian protest fashion, DTC buses were being damaged and tyres were set ablaze as slogans were chanted, the night before.
Even if Dalit protesters at the area claimed that these vandals were just outsiders aiming to tarnish their cause, one can’t deny that these Dalits are furious. They’re furious at the police charging at them with lathis and gas; they’re furious at the state and central governments.
But why are they furious?
We’ll have to turn back to August 10, to get a clearer picture. The Supreme Court had ordered the Delhi Development Authority (which falls under the centre) to demolish the Sant Ravidas temple, a shrine highly respected among the Dalit community.
Before, we get down to the aftermath of this demolition, let’s take another trip back time to understand the importance of Sant Ravidas.
For those unacquainted with the Dalit icon, Ravidas (or Raidas as some account refer to him) was a mystic poet from the 15th century. A proponent of the bhakti movement in India’s spiritual history, Ravidas became a celebrated figure amongst castes in Punjab, UP, and Rajasthan. His verses on universal love are held in such esteem that some of them are even featured in the Sikh scripture Guru Granth Sahib. This further goes on to show his importance in Punjab.
Legend also has it that Ravidas came from a family of ‘untouchable’ leather workers. Rising above caste differences to be a guru of such stature is a remarkable case of lower castes standing up for their own rights. Ravidas is no less of a god especially for the Jatav and Chamar communities.
Now, if we come back to the Delhi temple dedicated to him, its legal battles with DDA aren’t new. Way back in 1992 too, the DDA had attempted to demolish the shrine as it lay in a protected forest region of Tughlaqabad.
Finally, this year, when DDA actually engaged in removing Ravidas’s mark from these forests, the Dalits naturally got enraged. Various Dalit bodies met for a peaceful protest at a classic Delhi venue, the Ramlila Maidan.
But here, many protesters joined with spiritual and political leaders, decided to march to the site of the temple, to make their voice heard. This is when the violence started to erupt.
Hira Lal, a Dalit activist, says that it was the policemen who were the first to attack the protesters on the night of 21st August. He does agree that some vehicles were being damaged. But as mentioned before, he too strongly feels that these perpetrators were not a part of the juloos from Ramlila Maidan.
As of now, the Dalits are still held in custody. But 22nd August saw a lot of traffic jams in the city. ‘These protests happened near the Govindpuri area and three DU colleges lie here: Ramanujam, Deshbandhu, and Acharya Narendra Dev. So naturally, there’s fear and confusion among the students. It seems that some classes also might have been cancelled.’ says Vaibhav Tekchandani, a student of Ramanujam College.
But sadly, for the privileged in their privileged bubble, this issue might not matter that much. Some students were bothered more about getting stuck in traffic and metro queues rather than the tumultuous happenings of the city.
As a source from Lady Shri Ram College tells, one of her professors scolded students for not showing up for the 8:45 class in the morning!
‘Protest hote hue bhi mai toh aagayi.’ (I came despite these protests), the professor said apparently…
Shaurya Singh Thapa