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Two former members of parliament from the Congress party have approached the Supreme Court protesting the demolition of the Ravidas Temple at Tughlaqabad, New Delhi.
Petitioners, Ashok Tanwar and Pradeep Jain Aditya have filed a writ petition contending that the demolition of the Ravidas temple, and the prevention of entry to the temple site for devotees, entails a violation of the right to worship .
“The Petitioners herein are approaching the Hon’ble Court not seeking any property rights over the land, but only for enforcement and protection of their right to worship the pious land where Saint Guru Ravidas lived, and which was gifted to him by Sultan Sikander Lodhi in 1509…
…the Petitioners have the fundamental right to worship the site as well as the temple/Guru Dham, which is part of Article 21 of the Constitution.“, states the plea.
The August 21 demolition by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) had provoked large scale protests by members of the Dalit community who follow Saint Guru Ravidas and in whose honour the temple site was revered. Followers of the Saint believe that Guru Ravidas had stayed at the temple site after it was given to him in 1509 by Sikander Lodhi.
The DDA had carried out the demolition citing a Supreme Court order passed in a long-standing land encroachment dispute.
The petition filed by Tanwar and Aditya, however, highlights even though the site was declared a protected forest in 1980, prayers and other religious activities had been continuing at the temple without any hindrance. This was also the case even when the site land and adjoining property were acquired by the Government between 1986-87. In this backdrop, the petitioners proceed to contend,
“That the site has religious significance for more than last 500 years and even before the Govt. of India or DDA came into being. Hence it cannot be said that the temple and the samadhis of Guru Saint Ravidas is encroaching upon the Government land.”
It is also argued that the sacred nature of the temple site is not eroded only because of the temple’s demolition. The petitioners contend that “the divinity of land is inalienable and cannot be taken away.”
Further, reference is also made to the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991. As noted in the plea, this Act protects the religious nature of a place of worship, as it existed on August 15, 1947. Pertinently, the petitioners emphasise that the provisions of this Act override land acquisition laws.
Another contention raised by the petitioners concerns the significance of the Ravidas temple in view of the historically oppressed status of its followers. The petitioners argue,
“… considering the fact that followers of Saint Guru Ravidas are Hindus from oppressed communities and have been historically discriminated, as a result of which they were given special constitutional protection through reservations. Teachings of Guru Ravidas are also a part of the Sikh religion and prescribed in Holy Guru Granth Sahib. Religious minorities like Sikhs, Jains etc. are given special educational and cultural fundamental rights under Article 26-29 of the Constitution. Thus, the Temple/Guru Dham deserves protection and not demolition action.”
While this is the case, the petitioners also point out that there are alternate examples of religious structures being allowed construction, even though it would not ordinarily be permissible.
“… there are numerous examples of religious temples, including Swaminarayan Akshardham Temple, which was constructed on floodplains of Yamuna in Delhi, where construction is otherwise not permitted.
The petitioners further add that, in contrast to the Ayodhya case where there are competing claims over the property, there is no such competing claim in the instant case.
In view of these submissions, the petitioners have called on the Court to restore the Ravidas Temple at the Tughlaqabad site. In the interim, it has been prayed that the Court allow the restoration of idols to the temple and grant permission for followers to continue offering prayers at the temple site.
Image taken from here.