In a letter dated 10 February 1959, the Guru Ravidas Jainti Samaroh Samiti invited Jagjivan Ram, the railway minister at the time, to inaugurate a temple of Ravidas, a fifteenth-century saint and poet revered by the Dalit community. The samiti of followers of Ravidas had constructed the temple in Delhi’s Tughlaqabad area. The letter said: “We, the Dalit residents of Tughlaqabad, have built a temple of Guru Ravidas and an ashram. Our village and other neigbouring villages have a large population of Dalits. But they had no temple or an ashram for their use so far. The Dalits showed a great enthusiasm in the construction of the temple, and with everyone’s efforts, the construction has been completed.”
Ram, who was also from the Dalit community, accepted the invitation, and inaugurated the temple on 1 March. Around six months later, the samiti was registered under the Registration of Societies Act, 1860. The samiti was in possession of lands on three khasras, or land parcels, detailed in revenue-department documents—khasra numbers 122, 123 and 124—according to its incumbent president Rishi Pal. Around that time, khasra numbers 123 and 124 contained the temple, an ashram for its priests and samadhis of the caretakers along with a pond, while khasra number 122 was farmland.
The first signs of trouble for the samiti came in August 1986, Pal said, when it received notices under the Land Acquisition Act. The notices mentioned that the central government’s Delhi Development Authority was acquiring their land on khasra number 122, Pal said. The samiti denied that the acquisition had taken place and challenged the DDA’s claim over the land in the Delhi high court that year. Later, the DDA said in the courts that it had also acquired the land on khasra numbers 123 and 124 in April 1963, and had awarded compensation to the samiti.
The legal battle between the samiti and the DDA lasted for more than three decades. It culminated in an April 2019 judgment by the Supreme Court, which granted the DDA ownership of the entire temple premises. On 10 August this year, the DDA demolished the Ravidas temple. The move triggered large-scale protests led by the Ravidassias and Dalits in Punjab, Haryana and Delhi, demanding that the central government rebuild the temple on its original location. Since 30 August, Dalit protestors have been on a chain hunger-strike in Delhi’s Jantar Mantar with the same demand.
Pal said that he had documents which showed that the samiti was in possession of the temple land since 1959 till the time the legal dispute began. He submitted these documents in the court as well. But “whatever was in our favour, they didn’t take on record,” he said. “I respect the courts but I feel they did not look at our case properly,” he added. A perusal of the case’s legal history and judgments of the courts indicates that Pal’s statement is not unfounded. In fact, the samiti seems to have had a legitimate claim over a part of the disputed land.