New Delhi: Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad and 95 others who were arrested on the evening of August 22 after a protest against the demolition of the Ravidas Temple in south Delhi’s Tughlakabad have been sent to 14 days of judicial custody.
An FIR was lodged on Wednesday evening against key leaders of the Bhim Army and the people who were part of a rally that had been headed towards the Ramlila Maidan. Clashes erupted between police and the protesters, with reports of damage to police vehicles and severe injuries on both sides.
Meanwhile, on the first day of its monsoon session, the Delhi legislative assembly demanded that the Centre bring an ordinance to allot land for the re-construction of the Ravidas temple. The assembly, through an adopted resolution, also directed the state government to reconstruct the temple at the same place.
“The Central government has badly mishandled the issue by not supporting their cause in the court of law which finally led to its unjustified and unfortunate demolition,” the resolution stated.
Tuesday’s FIR named Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad, the organisation’s national president Vinay Ratan and various other individuals who were part of the protest against the outcome of the Guru Ravidas Jayanti Samaroh Samiti Vs Union of India case.
Twelve sections of the Indian Penal Code, sections of the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act and Section 27 of the Arms Act were invoked.
Several Dalit groups had participated in the protest on Wednesday evening after the Ravidas temple was demolished by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) on August 10 on the orders of the Supreme Court.
The apex court had, on August 9, observed that a “serious breach” had been committed by the Guru Ravidas Jayanti Samaroh Samiti by not vacating the Jahanpanah forest area as directed earlier by it.
The 500-year old temple was a sacred site for the followers of the Ravidassia religion, most of whom are Dalits. There have been regular protest demonstrations at the Ravidas Marg in Govindpuri against the demolition by various leaders of the sect with the demand of reconstruction of the temple at the same site. Protests were also held in many parts of Punjab, which has a significant population of followers of the mystic poet Sant Ravidas.
Last week, the court had directed the governments of Punjab, Haryana and Delhi to ensure there was no law and order problem and the issue wasn’t given a political colour.
The FIR puts the total number of protesters at 4,000-5,000 though various media reports and eyewitness accounts suggest it was double that number. The clashes started after about half of the protesters made an impromptu decision to march to the site of the demolition instead of Ramlila Maidan, as was scheduled.
Police alleged that the “unruly” crowd did not pay heed to repeated warnings and attacked them unprovoked. However, the protesters The Wire spoke to all contested this claim. They said the rally was peaceful and some people wanted to visit the site as it is an emotional issue for them but the police started baton-charging as soon as they diverted from the original route.
The FIR says 29 tear gas shells were used to disperse the crowd. “You have only heard the police version. The truth is this looked like a pre-planned attack. Many of our people are admitted in AIIMS with severe injuries,” a person who was part of the protest told The Wire, requesting anonymity.
Dalit activists who were present at the spot claimed the rally was peaceful and the commotion started only after police allegedly used disproportionate force. They claimed a larger conspiracy where rightwing political activists assimilated with the protesters and caused the ruckus which lead to the clashes.
This story has been updated with inputs from ANI on August 23.