Dalit politics, Sant Ravidas and a temple
Mandir wahin banayenge. We will build the temple there only. This chant was raised loud in the capital yesterday, by a sea of blue-clad protesters around Ramlila Maidan in central Delhi, many of whom later marched towards Tughlaqabad in south Delhi. It was not the Ram temple in Ayodhya to which they were referring but the Sant Ravidas temple in Tughlaqabad.
On August 9 the Supreme Court asked DDA to remove this structure. DDA had tried to do precisely this 27 years ago, “arguing that there could be no permanent construction in a protected forest area”. On August 10 it did as the SC had ordered. And yesterday, on August 21, the rally protesting this demolition, which saw several traffic snarls as well as some violence, was joined by Dalits from Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan etc. Vishnu Sharma and Karishma Koshal report that “such a united demonstration by Dalit protesters from across the country has been almost unseen since the time of the veteran Dalit leader Kanshi Ram.”
Sant Ravidas was a Varanasi shoemaker of the 15th century, a contemporary of Kabir, a guru of Mirabai. Maren Bellwinkel-Schempp points out that when Ravidas became popular “it was primarily as a ‘public arena activity’, which was also an expression of social protest and the beginning of Dalit assertion.” She explains how he is understood as someone who though born in a low caste was full of self respect – svabhiman – and had no inferiority complex – hin bhavana. His popular sayings are also reflective of him being against the caste system and preaching equality. For example: Aisa chahun raaj main jahan mile saban ko ann, chote bade sab sam basein Ravidas rahe prasan.
The claim that the demolished temple is centuries old is contestable. What is fact is that religious structures come up and grab land with impunity across our country, and often these even obstruct important infrastructure projects shamelessly. In this sense, the SC is right to say that its demolition order should not be politicized. But in another sense, politics is a priori here. State gives consent to some demolitions while other it does not dare contemplate.
Incidentally in another case in the SC yesterday, it was being argued that, “once a temple, always a temple.” In 1992, the year when the DDA failed to demolish the Sant Ravidas temple in Tughlaqabad, kar sevaks managed to pull down the 16th century Babri mosque. Though that criminal demolition led to riots and bombings then, today it looks increasingly likely that the crime will be richly rewarded rather than punished. The kar sevaks brought the Babri mosque down brick by brick. Dalits are only talking about rebuilding the Tughlaqabad temple brick by brick.
Mayawati’s BSP did not officially participate in the protests yesterday. By contrast Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad delivered a rousing speech there: “If every person places one brick, then we will be able to rebuild the temple within an hour.”
The politics is very much a priori, including the prospect of Azad grabbing the Dalit champion mantle from Mayawati.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.