More than 1,200 protesters were detained from thousands that took part in protests at three different locations in the capital, demanding a rollback of the new citizenship law and a proposed country-wide National Register of Citizens.
Red Fort, Mandi House and Jantar Mantar were the centre of these protests that kept security forces on their toes even with mobile communication and internet services snapped and 20 Metro stations being shut down in parts of the city. Movement was restricted not just for Delhi residents, but also for those coming in from Haryana, as heavy barricading meant most couldn’t cross into the capital for hours.
Protest marches were organised from Red Fort and Mandi House to Shaheed Park, with the participation of political leaders and students. But amid heavy detentions by security forces, over a 1,000 protesters from both marches decided to gather at Jantar Mantar by mid-afternoon, where the air resonated with chants of ‘azadi’; some offered snacks and tea to the crowd; and others handed out roses to security personnel.
Among those detained in the protests were students and political leaders including Swaraj India’s Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan, Left leaders Sitaram Yechury, D Raja and Brinda Karat, and human rights activist Harsh Mander. Yadav was detained along with over a 100 protesters from Red Fort around 11 am as the march was about to begin.
At Red Fort
Around 400 security personnel were deployed at the Red Fort, and those detained were taken away in hired private buses. After the initial round of detentions, protesters found themselves scattered, with the few who managed to pass through the barricades immediately being chased and detained. “It’s our right to protest and march peacefully. We only want our voices to be heard but that is being suppressed,” said Hasan Badr (27), a resident of Okhla.
DCP (Central) Mandeep Singh Randhawa said CrPC section 144 had been enforced in the area, which prohibits organising of public gatherings or rallies. He added that organisers had sought permission for the march but it was rejected.
By 2 pm, protesters were scattered and it was business as usual for local residents, daily wagers and shop owners.
At Darya Ganj
While the Red Fort area was swiftly cleared by the police, a large crowd gathered near Darya Ganj’s Sunehri Masjid, outside Parda Bagh market.
A large contingent of police and Rapid Action Force (RAF) was rushed to the spot, where DCP Randhawa, DCP (North) Monika Bhardwaj and Additional Commissioner of Police (Crime) Ajit K Singla also arrived.
The loose band of protesters — mostly students from Shyam Lal College and Kirori Mal College — sat on a dharna near the mosque. Shops had shutters down by that time. In nearby Lala Lajpat Rai Market, the association president was announcing that “we are with the government, the government is with us, kindly do not fall for rumours”.
At Parda Bagh, every poster, every banner, every slogan was emphatic in terms of rejecting the NRC and CAA. As TV cameras approached a protester, Wasim, asking for his stand, he said: “Ye NRC aur CAA sage bhai hain, isko alag karke mat dikhaiye aap log (NRC and CAA are brothers, you people should not project them as separate issues).”
Women from DU, part of a platform called Bhagat Singh Ekta Manch, did the coordination work at the gathering, which civil rights activist Kavita Srivastava also attended. “For me, the tipping point was the police assault on Jamia students. I realised it was time to hit the streets. It is not so much about the detentions or arrests, but the brutality on students in the library that has left me shaken,” said Shabi Mirza (19), who hails from Bulandshahr.
Around 3.30 pm a stone came flying towards the gathering from a nearby rooftop, creating a flutter. Police rushed to the spot to quell tensions. Later, personnel were deployed on rooftops lining the road where the gathering took place. The crowd peacefully dispersed around 5.45 pm.
At Mandi House
At Mandi House, a protest began at 11 am but was quickly controlled by security officials after 30 minutes by announcing the imposition of Section 144. Officials were seen chasing protesters to detain them and send them away in buses. Police said all those detained at the protests were released by 5.30 pm.
At Jantar Mantar
Those left behind were informed to reach Jantar Mantar. Sanj (23), a student of OP Jindal University, said, “When I reached, there were barely 50 people, but we stuck around and within half an hour, more than 1,000 showed up.”
From Gurgaon to Mustafabad, people from across Delhi-NCR were present at Jantar Mantar, including those released from police detention. The spot became a gathering of students, political groups, writers and citizens who voiced their resentment towards the new legislation with placards, songs and slogans.
Radhika, a student from Ashoka University, was among students handing out roses to cops. “These are symbols of peace we are offering. These officers are doing their duty because of orders but at the end of the day, they are also human. We want to bridge the gap and the tension between us and them,” she said.
Without a central leadership, protesters formed multiple groups and chanted slogans accompanied with tambourines and drums. Among the protesters was Manisha Pandey (46), who promised her daughter who could not attend, that she would go as her “representative”. “Our Constitution is based on secularism but laws are now being made based on religion. If we don’t wake up now, it will be difficult later,” she said.
At detention centres
Of the detained protesters, 400 were taken to Surajmal stadium, 400 to Northwest district and 400 to Rajiv Gandhi Khel Parisar. Those from Red Fort were taken to Surajmal Stadium, where they were offered tea, samosas and bananas. Around 5:30 pm, they were released, an officer said.
Among those detained were Tara Bhatnagar (30), a documentary filmmaker, and her mother. “My mother was standing behind me while I was shooting the Lal Quila protest on my camera. Police personnel first detained my mother, and when I protested, they detained me as well.”
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