Normal life was affected as parts of Punjab observed a complete shutdown on Tuesday in a strike called by Dalit groups to protest against the demolition of a Guru Ravidas temple in Delhi’s Tughlakabad area.
Protesters blocked roads at a few places, including the Jalandhar-Delhi national highway, causing huge traffic jams, officials said. Protest marches were taken out by Dalits at several places as the demonstrators sat on a dharna, burnt effigies and placed burning tyres on roads.
The bandh call evoked good response in places like Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur, Phagwara and Kapurthala, where shops remained shut and educational institutions were ordered to be closed by authorities as a precautionary measure. The strike also had impact in places like Amritsar, Ludhiana, Bathinda and Gurdaspur.
Protesters under the banner of the Guru Ravidas Jayanti Samaroh Samiti had given the bandh call and announced observing Independence Day as a ‘black day’ against the demolition.
Delhi Social Welfare Minister Rajendra Pal Gautam had on Monday alleged that the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) demolished the temple in the presence of a police force last Saturday and the statue was “taken away”. The DDA, however, did not use the word temple and said the “structure was removed as per the orders of the Supreme Court”.
Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said on Tuesday the Centre is determined to find a solution and possibly identify an alternative site.
The protests are being held at different places in the state over the past few days, with main demand is that the temple be rebuilt. There were also reports of sit-ins being held at a few places in neighbouring Haryana, including Panipat and Karnal.
State minister Aruna Chaudhary extended support to the strike by joining a protest at Dina Nagar in Gurdaspur district of Punjab.
The traffic on roads leading to Amritsar, Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur, Pathankot and Ludhiana was affected as protesters sat on dharnas. Protest marches were also taken out at Ludhiana, Phagwara, Nawanshahr, Barnala, Ferozepur, Bathinda, Amritsar, Moga and Fazilka.
There was heavy police deployment as part of tight security arrangements across the state in view of the protests.
In Hoshiarpur, youths in groups were seen wielding swords and sticks while moving in the city on their motorcycles to enforce the bandh.
According to the police, some shopkeepers and protesters clashed and hurled stones at each other in Adda Mansar on the Jammu-Jalandhar national highway near Mukerian when some protesters allegedly damaged three shops that were open, the police said.
Hoshiarpur Senior Superintendent of Police Gaurav Garg said the police intervened to defuse the situation.
In Nawanshahr, there was a tense situation when shopkeepers resisted the attempts by activists of various Dalit organisations who allegedly asked them to shut their shops.
The shopkeepers also staged a protest on the Chandigarh road against the alleged high-handedness of the protesters.
Calling the Delhi temple issue a matter of “life and death” for the Dalit community, a large number protesters, supported by various political parties, took out a protest march in Phagwara, which observed a complete shutdown.
They blocked the Jalandhar-Ludhiana highway, Phagwara-Nakodar, Phagwara-Hoshiarpur and Phagwara Nawanshahr-Chandigarh roads. Several roads wore a desolate look, while many markets were deserted and some places presented a curfew-like look.
Kapurthala city observed complete bandh as all commercial establishments remained closed and bus services were also suspended on several routes.
Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) president Gobind Singh Longowal and Akal Takht ‘jathedar’ Giani Harpreet Singh strongly condemned the temple demolition.
The SGPC extended support to the community and also kept its offices closed for second half on Tuesday. The site in Delhi is believed to be visited by Guru Ravidas around 1509 during the reign of Sikander Lodi.