Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad was on Thursday arrested on charges of rioting after protests by members of the Dalits community against the demolition of a Ravidas temple in Delhi turned violent. The Dalit activist, who was detained by Delhi Police along with 96 others, will be produced before a court on Thursday.
On Wednesday, cries of 'Jai Bhim' filled the air as the protesters, who arrived from Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, and other states, demanded that the Centre hand over the plot of land to the community and rebuild the temple in the Tughlaqabad area of the national capital. Reportedly, the temple was demolished by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) on 10 August on the orders of the Supreme Court.
Stating that the police lobbed tear gas shells and used "mild" lathi-charge to disperse the "unruly and violent" crowd, officials said that an FIR has been registered against several protesters on charges of rioting, unlawful assembly, voluntarily causing hurt to deter public servant from his duty, among others. However, police have denied any reports of injury to the protesters.
According to the reports, protesters set fire to two motorcycles and vandalised cars, which injured several people, including policemen.
Condemning the incident, Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra hit out at the BJP-led central government on Thursday over the use of batons by the police to disperse the protestors, saying that the "insult" of Dalit voices cannot be tolerated.
"First the BJP government messes around with Ravidas temple — the symbol of cultural heritage of crores of Dalit sisters and brothers, and when thousands of Dalit brothers and sisters raise their voice in the national capital, the BJP lathi charges them, gets tear gas fired at them and arrests them," Priyanka Gandhi said in a tweet.
"This insult of Dalit voices cannot be tolerated. This is an emotional issue, and their voices must be respected," she said.
Reportedly, the mob that had gathered at the Ravidas Marg in the national capital around 7.30 pm "turned unruly and became violent". DCP (southeast) Chinmoy Biswal was quoted by PTI as saying, "...despite persuasion and appeal by police to maintain peace, (the mob) started pelting stones and attacking policemen."
Earlier on Wednesday, thousands of Dalits activists, wearing blue caps and carrying flags, who trooped into Delhi from various parts of the country, marched from Ambedkar Bhawan in Jhandewalan to Ramlila Maidan in central Delhi, protesting against the demolition of the temple in the Tughlakabad forest area.
The protest that was attended by a large number of people caused massive traffic jams in several areas of the city. The Delhi Traffic Police issued several advisories, urging commuters to avoid stretches which witnessed heavy snarls. It said traffic moved bumper-to-bumper in the entire southeast Delhi area.
The protest was also attended by Delhi's social justice minister Rajendra Pal Gautam, Azad and spiritual leaders from the community. At the planned protest at the Ramlila Maidan, Azad announced that they would install a bust of Sant Ravidas at the demolished temple and began a march to the site along with his supporters.
He told reporters on the way to the temple, "The demolition of the temple was an insult to our community and I will go to any extent to fulfill the promise (of installing bust) made by me to my people. No force can stop us." He also said that if he dies, his body should be taken to the temple, a leader of the Bhim Army was quoted by PTI said.
The agitators were stopped from marching towards the temple in the Tughlakabad area with the police forming a security ring around them. Soon after, the protesters turned violent.
The issue has taken a political hue with various parties demanding that the temple be reconstructed either at the same spot in the national capital or at an alternative location. After the demolition of the temple, BSP supremo Mayawati had alleged that the incident reflected a "casteist mentality".
Following Maywati's allegation, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said the state government had nothing to do with the demolition of the temple. Union Housing and Urban Development Minister Hardeep Singh Puri had also said that the Centre was determined to find a solution and possibly identify an alternative site to "relocate" the temple.
With inputs from agencies
Updated Date: Aug 22, 2019 11:42:13 IST