Sant Ravidas temple row: Devotees figurehead says no ‘sane person’ can accept govt’s present offer

How could govt offer 200 sq metres when number of devotees of Sant Ravidas runs in lakhs who cannot be accommodated in the area on offer, devotees’ figurehead Sant Sukdev Waghmare said on Saturday

Guru Ravidas Temple (Photo courtesy: social media)
Guru Ravidas Temple (Photo courtesy: social media)

Abid Shah

The row over razing of sprawling devotional centre of predominantly Dalit followers of Sant Ravidas in South Delhi over two months ago has now taken a strange turn.

The Government’s claim of virtually settling the issue of restoring Tughlakabad’s Ravidas Temple through an offer put before the devotees’ representatives is being abjectly refuted by the temple restoration committee members. They have been fighting to reclaim the temple site both in the Supreme Court and outside its precincts through wrathful demonstrations.

Devotees’ top figurehead Sant Sukdev Waghmare Maharaj said on Saturday in New Delhi, “I believe no settlement has been made though an offer for this was being forced. Our men or colleagues spoke to one among the five persons, Sant Kulwant Ram, who was said to have agreed to the Government offer made through Attorney General KK Venugopal to give 200 square metre out of a total of 12,500 square metre of the revered site. Sant Ram denied to have given any such consent to the Government.”

This writer met Maharaj on Saturday and crosschecked his claim with Sant Ram over phone since he lives in Punjab. “I never gave any such consent, nor did I engage any lawyer on my personal behalf to negotiate with the Government about any offer for possible solution of the situation that arose after the demolition of the temple in August this year. So I don’t know of any settlement. Nor would any sane person can accept the government offer of 200 square metres when the number of devotees of Sant Ravidas runs in lakhs and crores who cannot be accommodated in the area on offer.”

An eight-point document that has been circulated via social media and found its way to news portals too as a proof of acceptance of Government’s offer was signed by lawyers of five persons. These are Surjeet Kumar, Atma Ram, Satvinder Hira, Ravidasacharya Suresh Rathod besides Sant Kulwant Ram.

The main points the document mentions are fencing of 200 square metres for temple with a gate to give access to it, housing the deity in a 20 by 20 feet structure like Pota Cabin or one made of wood, access and freedom to worship, formation of committee to look after the temple by Union Government in four months time, and restoration of four graves of saints buried at the site.

The temple restoration committee has reservations about most of these points. Often its members ask what right can the Government have to dictate dimensions of the sacred premises and the nature of the structure to be built to house the image of Sant Ravidas and to appoint a committee to run the temple. Maharaj said that the idea of a parallel ‘Peeth’ (somewhat like trust with trustees) has been mooted at the behest of the BJP and RSS to wrest temple site so as to give it to their virtual henchmen.

The main keeper of the temple Rishipal, who looked after it until it was demolished, said the demolition of the temple is now being used to bring pocket associates of the Government though from among Dalits to control the site both before and after the rebuilding of the temple.

As tempers heighten among Ravidasis who now gather at another Sant Ravidas Temple, near RK Puram, in South Delhi, Supreme Court is supposed to hear multiple petitions filed after the demolition of Tughlakabad temple on Monday, October 21. And the offer that the Government claimed to have been given nod of a few petitioners and applicants is likely to come up before the court during this hearing.

Significantly, the Tughlakabad temple was demolished only months before Assembly elections in Haryana and Maharashtra. Soon it kicked off a series of demonstrations in Delhi where one of the protests assumed worrying signs leading to the arrest of over 90 people. Quite a few of them have now been released on bail. Yet, most of them had to spend weeks in jail. Most Dalit organisations came together and joined these protests.

Thus, the stir soon caught the eyes of political parties. And the leaders spearheading the movement for regaining the temple site were invited for talks by the higher ups of both the BJP and Congress. Yet, so far there has been little sign of an acceptable solution coming out of these efforts.

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Published: 19 Oct 2019, 9:42 PM