A protest by the Dalit community against the demolition of a Ravidas Mandir in New Delhi on Wednesday turned violent, with police resorting to lathicharge and tear gas to disperse the demonstrators. PTI reported. The Delhi Development Authority had demolished the temple on August 10 based on the orders of the Supreme Court.

Protesters of all age groups marched from Ambedkar Bhawan in Jhandewalan to the Ramlila Maidan. The demonstrators had arrived from Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and other states. Chanting “Jai Bhim”, they demanded that the government hand over the plot to the community and rebuild the shrine.

The protestors turned violent on their way to the site of the temple, the police claimed. Some police officers were injured in the incident. Dalit group Bhim Army claimed that their leader, Chandrashekhar Azad, had been detained. They also alleged that the police fired at the protestors.

The protestors were gathered under the banner of the Akhil Bharatiya Sant Shiromani Guru Ravidas Mandir Sanyukta Sanrakhshan Samiti, an umbrella body of Dalit groups formed for the temple movement. They resolved to continue their fight till their demands were met, and some began a hunger strike at Ramlila Maidan.

Several political parties have already demanded that the temple be reconstructed. On Wednesday, Delhi Social Justice Minister Rajendra Pal Gautam was present at the protest. Gautam said the protest has been organised against the injustice to the Dalit community and not against the Supreme Court order.

“I am here as a representative of the community and not as a Delhi minister or politician,” Gautam said. “We respect the Supreme Court order, but the government should answer why only temples of the Dalit community and statues of BR Ambedkar are being demolished across the country?”

Hansraj Raj, 42, who had travelled from Jalandhar in Punjab, told PTI: “How is our demand different from that for the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya? If that is so important for a particular community, this is important for us.”

Dhail Singh, 83, said that President Ram Nath Kovind, being a Dalit himself, should have intervened in the matter. “The temple was around 500 years old,” he said. “ Many governments have come and gone, but no one touched it. It is the anti-Dalit BJP that has hurt the sentiments of crores of people in the country.”

BJP criticises AAP

The Bharatiya Janata Party, however, criticised the Aam Aadmi Party for politicising the matter. BJP leader Vijay Goel said he recently held a meeting with leaders of the Dalit community and offered them a solution, but the AAP was trying to gain political mileage.

“I have proposed that the temple be built at an alternative place after the approval of the Supreme Court,” he said. “If they agree, we will take the matter up with the DDA.”

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