Jalandhar/Chandigarh: Normal life was affected as parts of Punjab observed complete shutdown on Tuesday in response to a bandh call given by Dalit groups to protest against the demolition of a temple dedicated to Guru Ravidas in New Delhi’s Tughlakabad on directions of the apex court.
Protesters blocked roads at a few places including the Jalandhar-Delhi national highway causing huge traffic jams, officials said.
The bandh call evoked good response in places like Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur, Phagwara and Kapurthala, where shops remained shut and educational institutions were ordered to be closed by authorities as a precautionary measure.
Protestors under the banner of ‘Guru Ravidas Jayanti Samaroh Samiti’ had given a bandh call for August 13 and announced observing Independence Day as a ‘Black Day’ against the demolition.
The protests are being held at different places in the state over the past few days.
There were also reports of protest dharnas being held at a few places in neighbouring Haryana including at Panipat and Karnal against the demolition.
In response to the bandh call, protest marches were taken out by Dalits at several places in Punjab on Tuesday, with protesters sitting on a dharna, burning effigies and placing burning tyres on roads.
The traffic on roads leading to Amritsar, Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur, Pathankot and Ludhiana was affected as protesters sat on dharnas. Besides, protest marches were also taken out at Ludhiana, Phagwara, Nawanshahr, Barnala, Ferozepur, Bathinda, Amritsar, Moga and Fazilka.
There was heavy police deployment as part of tight security arrangements across the state in view of the protests.
Calling the Delhi temple issue a life and death question for the Dalit community, a large number of their members, supported by various political parties, took out a noisy protest march in Phagwara from PWD Rest House via national highway-1 and converged on Sugar Mill crossing on NH1 where they staged a dharna.
The protesters blocked Jalandhar-Ludhiana highway, Phagwara-Nakodar, Phagwara-Hoshiarpur and Phagwara Nawanshahr-Chandigarh roads, even as Phagwara city observed complete shutdown.
Led by Moginderpal Pandwa, Chairman Shri Guru Ravidas Sadhu Samparadai Society, about 7000-8000 Dalit activists and their supporters joined the sit-in at Phagwara, braving torrential rain.
Several roads wore a desolate look while many bazars were deserted and some places presented a curfew-like look.
However, clinics of doctors, chemists shops remained open. Ambulances and other essential services were also excluded from the shutdown and blockade.
“Nothing short of re-allotment of the land and reconstruction of a grand temple at the same site was acceptable to us,” Pandwa said addressing the protesters.
Kapurthala city observed complete bandh as all commercial establishments remained closed.
Bus services also remained suspended on several routes in the state causing inconvenience to the passengers.
Normal life was also affected in Ludhiana in view of the protests.
Leaders from the Congress, BJP and Shiromani Akali Dal have said they would help resolve the issue amicably.
Commenting on the demolition of the temple believed to be on the site visited by Guru Ravidas around 1509 during the reign of Sikander Lodhi, Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar had on Monday extended his party’s support to the Ravidas community. He, however, appealed to the protesters to ensure that the common people were not adversely impacted as a result of their protests.
Union minister of state for commerce and industry and Hoshiarpur MP Som Parkash too had described the demolition of the temple unfortunate.
Shiromani Akali Dal president and Lok Sabha MP Sukhbir Singh Badal too condemned the demolition of the temple, saying their party was ready to help re-build the temple at their expenses.
Delhi social welfare minister Rajendra Pal Gautan sought Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s intervention in ensuring that the “land be given back” to the community to rebuild the place of worship.
The AAP minister in a press conference in New Delhi earlier had said the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), in the presence of a police force, demolished the structure on Saturday morning.
The DDA in a statement issued on Monday, however, did not use the word temple, and said the “structure was removed as per the orders of the Supreme Court”.
“The standing semi-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 had said in the statement.
Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh had on Sunday sought Prime Minister Modi’s intervention to pacify the situation.