Hundreds of protesters, mostly Shia Muslims marching to the capital to meet Congress president Sonia Gandhi, turned violent and set fire to vehicles on Monday after being stopped by police on National Highway (NH)-24 on the Delhi-Ghaziabad border. Several protesters were injured in the violence. The protesters said they were lathi-charged by police, a charge the latter denied.
The protesters were led by the Anjuman-e-Haideri — the trust entrusted with the upkeep of the Dargah Shah-e-Mardan at Jor Bagh in Delhi. They alleged a prominent Congress leader was “patronising land-grabbers in Karbala Jor Bagh and the Qabristan of Mehrauli”.
Violence began around 1 pm when the Delhi Police stopped the protesters from entering the capital. “The situation was already tense and spiralled out of control almost immediately after they were stopped by the Delhi Police. The protesters set a truck on fire. But police prevented them from setting other vehicles on fire,” Ranvijay Singh, DSP (Ghaziabad), said.
Two fire tenders were pressed into service to douse the flames. The protest led to massive snarls on NH-24, causing immense hardship to office-goers and others travelling to East Delhi and Ghaziabad till late at night.
“The violence wasn’t perpetrated by us. We are here because the court has repeatedly taken up the issue and asked the Delhi government to resolve it. But such is the extent of Congress leaders’ influence that even the top brass of the ruling party at the Centre and Delhi say they can’t do anything,” Syed Bilal Husain, of Anjuman-e-Haideri, alleged.
Husain alleged the “land-grab” was being allowed for financial gains, saying the dargah alone would fetch a rent of over Rs 4 crore per month.
“The Delhi High Court has said a rent of Rs 4 crore should be paid to us. The court has also asked for the cessation of all illegal activities. But nothing has changed,” he alleged.
Husain said after blocking NH-24, the Delhi Police also stopped people from going to the Jor Bagh Karbala.Police denied they resorted to lathi-charge. “We didn’t lathi-charge the protesters. But when vehicles were set on fire, people started panicking and several were hurt. We administered them first-aid,” Singh said.
Two Metro stations — Jor Bagh and INA — were shut by police as a precautionary measure. “On the advice of the Delhi Police, INA and Jor Bagh Metro stations were closed for passenger service at 3.20 pm and re-opened at 6.23 pm,” a DMRC spokesman said.