[dropcap]T[/dropcap]HE Supreme Court has been petitioned to restore the Ravidas Temple at the Tughlaqabad site, allow the restoration of idols and grant permission to followers to continue offering prayers at the temple site.
The petition, filed by two former members of parliament of the Congress party Ashok Tanwar and Pradeep Jain Aditya, have contended that the demolition of the Ravidas temple by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and the prevention of entry to the temple site for devotees, entails a violation of the right to worship.
The petitioners stated that they were approaching the court not for 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 under the Article 21 of the Constitution to worship the site as well as the temple or Guru Dham, they contended.
The demolition by the DDA on August 21 had triggered 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 petitioners contended that 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.
“That the site has religious significance for more than last 500 years and even before the Government of India or DDA came into being. Hence it cannot be said that the temple and the samadhis of Guru Saint Ravidas are encroaching upon the Government land.”
The petitioners contended that “the divinity of land is inalienable and cannot be taken away.” Referring to the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991, which protects the religious nature of a place of worship, as it existed on August 15, 1947, the petitioners contended 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 also urged the top court to consider 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 and Jains are given special educational and cultural fundamental rights under Article 26-29 of the Constitution. Thus, the temple or Guru Dham deserves protection and not demolition,” the petitioners said.
The petitioners also pointed out that there were examples of religious structures which were allowed to be constructed, even though they would not be permissible.
The petioners cited the case of Akshardham Temple, which was constructed on floodplains of Yamuna in Delhi, where construction is otherwise not permitted.
The petitioners further added 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.