On Wednesday morning, the streets and lanes in North East Delhi’s Seelampur area bustled like it was business as usual. This was in stark contrast to the scenes it had witnessed the previous day, when a protest against the Citizenship Act turned violent on December 17. At around 2 pm on Tuesday, police personnel used batons and fired tear gas shells at thousands of protestors after they allegedly threw stones at them.
But residents of the area who were at the protest told Scroll.in otherwise. “The police attacked us first,” alleged 24-year-old Jaan Mohammad.
Mohammad said that the protest started peacefully from New Seelampur Chowk. Protestors chanted slogans against Delhi Police, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah and criticised the amended Citizenship Act, Mohammad said.
The amended Act grants citizenship to refugees from the Hindu, Christian, Sikh, Jain, and Parsi communities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan but glaringly leaves out Muslims. It has triggered nationwide protests, especially in universities and colleges.
Police officials filed two First Information Reports on Tuesday and six persons were arrested in connection with the chaos in Seelampur on Wednesday, PTI reported. The police alleged that protestors damaged buses and other police vehicles. The Indian Express reported that at least 12 police personnel were injured.
Officials added that the situation on Wednesday was calm. “The whole day today was peaceful and there was no law and order situation,” Deputy Commissioner of Police North East Ved Prakash Surya told Scroll.in over the phone. Surya said that the police had conducted a flag march in the area and appealed to the residents to maintain peace.
‘No one threw stones’
The protestors on Tuesday consisted of residents and traders from Seelampur and the neighbouring areas of Welcome and Jaffrabad, Mohammad said. At around noon, they assembled at the Chowk and marched for over a kilometre, he said.
“We reached the red light and we just sat and chanted slogans and that is when police used lathis and tear gas on us,” he alleged. “No one threw stones,” he claimed.
Other residents also made similar claims of the police using batons against them before any stones were hurled. “Nobody knows who threw the stones,” said 26-year-old Naushad, a resident of the area who was at the protest.
Some residents claimed that some “outsiders” pelted stones at the police after they started using batons against them. “No one from here threw stones at police because if they did then they would have surely been arrested,” claimed Syed Mobin, a 40-year-old vegetable vendor.
Deputy Commissioner of Police for North East Delhi Ved Prakash Surya denied the allegations that the police had used batons without reason.
Once the police fired tear gas, shopkeepers pulled down their shutters and protestors started to run away, said Mohammad.
At around 4.30 pm, the imam at the mosque situated on the New Seelampur Chowk made announcements appealing for peace after which protestors dispersed from the roads, Mobin said.
‘Aankhon mein mirchi’
As the protest turned violent, Mohammad said that he heard tear gas being fired for over 50 times on Tuesday. Reuters reported that police fired more than 60 rounds of tear gas as protestors. Surya told Scroll.in that he did not know the exact number of tear rounds fired.
Some residents of Seelampur said that the tear gas entered their homes and shops. “Jaise aankhon mein mirchi,” said 50-year-old Qamar Jahan when she described what it was like as tear gas spread in front of her vegetable shop in one of Seelampur’s narrow lanes. It was like chilli in my eyes.
Jahan claimed that around 2.30 pm she saw four tear gas shells being fired. One shell, she claimed, landed on the shutter of a hardware shop opposite her. Another landed next to a scooter parked in front of her shop. A third landed next to a man whose right leg was injured, she claimed.
“I tied my dupatta [scarf] on his leg and then some people took him to the hospital,” she said. “There was so much noise. I was scared and my husband has breathing problems so I made him eat salt and drink water.”
The fourth can, Jahan claimed, fell on a terrace of a building opposite her shop. The building Jahan spoke of housed a tin-cutting unit on the ground floor and a shoe-making unit.
The tear gas cannister was still visible on the terrace on Wednesday.
Another resident of Seelampur, who lives on a lane adjacent to Jahan’s shop claimed that a tear gas shell entered her home. “My house was full of smoke,” claimed 35-year-old Savana, adding that the smoke made her daughter, who is barely two years old, vomit uncontrollably. “They kept firing tear gas as if there are no residents in this area.”
However, Surya denied that tear gas shells were fired into residents’ homes. “It is shot at an angle of 45 degrees in the air,” he said. “It could have been that it reached someone’s terrace but there is no possibility that it went into homes.”
Some traders and businessmen in the area alleged that police personnel vandalised their shops.
An office with shattered windows stood on a lane situated away from the main road where the protest took place. Shards of glass were strewn around the office that functions as 40-year-old Anis Malik’s travel agency called Indian Travels.
The agency is adjacent to a number of hardware stores, eateries and shops that sell clothes, shoes and bags.
Malik said tha he had been in the office from 11 am till 2 pm until he was approached by some police officials who asked him to go back to his home in the neighbouring area of Maujpur.
“They told me to shut the office because I am handicapped and that I could be inconvenienced,” he said. He shuttered the office from two sides without attaching a lock and went back home. “There was no one around and no one to help me put a lock,” he explained.
At around 4.30, Malik said he got a call from an unknown number and the person on the phone told him that police had vandalised his shop, sending him a video purportedly showing that. He reached his office at around 6 pm, surveyed the damage and dialled 100 to register a complaint.
“I got a call from the Seelampur police station and told them I want compensation for the damage,” he said. “If they do not compensate then I will file a case against them.”
Malik said that police had allegedly damaged his printer, desktop and CCTV camera. “They even took the monitor that recorded all the footage,” he claimed. “I couldn’t believe that police could do this because I always provide them with cars when they go for raids and I even provide them some electricity to some of the police CCTVs.”
But Malik was convinced that it was policemen that vandalised his shop. “I found a piece of a broken baton here,” he said as he held it up.
Surya said that police would inquire into the case.
Resistance against Citizenship Act
While residents were still reeling from Tuesday’s violence, they continued on Wednesday to express their opposition to the Citizenship Act and the possibility of a nationwide National Registry of Citizens.
Mobin felt that the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government should withdraw the Act because it would hurt the Muslim community. “Muslims were quiet when Babri was demolished,” he said. “Muslims were quiet when the court’s decision came. There was no riot or opposition. This Act is injustice on Muslims and other businesses will be snatched.”
Others questioned the necessity of introducing amendments to the Act. “This is an attempt to make Hindus and Muslims fight,” said 23-year-old Mohammad Sadiq.
However, Malik felt that residents were being rattled unnecessarily. “The Citizenship Act and the NRC are two different things,” he said. “The Act does not affect Muslims but if an NRC takes place then I will be on the streets protesting.”
He alleged that the police was attempting to “create distractions” at the behest of the government. “They want to hide the GDP,” said Malik. “The economy is bad and our image has spoilt all over the world.”