“Today we have a voice to speak but that may not be the case tomorrow,” said Mohammad Rashid, a 26-year-old interior designer and resident of Old Delhi. On a foggy Thursday afternoon, while defying prohibitory orders, Rashid joined hundreds of residents, workers and students to protest against the newly amended Citizenship Act and the possibility of a nationwide National Register of Citizens.
The protestors marched from Nishadraj Marg in Old Delhi toward the historic Red Fort area where Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure – which bans a gathering of more than four people – had been imposed on Thursday morning.
These protestors demanded that the Act – which many believe can be used along with the NRC as a tool to harass Indian Muslims – be withdrawn, and they chanted slogans against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and the Delhi Police. Similar protests took place around the country, with authorities detaining hundreds of protesters and the demonstrations leading to three causalties.
Around noon, the protesters in Old Delhi were stopped by police and the protest came to a halt, after which several of them sat on the road and sang songs like ‘Hum Honge Kamiyaab’ (We Shall Overcome) as the presence of police and paramilitary forces grew.
“This Act goes against the ideology of Babasaheb Ambedkar which is why we are protesting against it,” said Muzahid Ali Khan, a 35-year-old, who is a resident of South Delhi’s Jamia Nagar. “When the government stops listening to the pen then people use their voice. That is why people should come out to protest. In the last six years, they [Centre] have been doing as they wish despite dissent.”
Earlier in the day, police had detained dozens of protestors who had gathered in the area, even though permissions were denied.
The protestors detained included Swaraj Abhiyan’s Yogendra Yadav, lawyer Prashant Bhushan, activist Harsh Mander, Communist Party of India (Marxist) leaders D Raja, Sitaram Yechury, Brinda Karat, Nilotpal Basu and former Jawaharlal Nehru Student Umar Khalid were among those detained. They were later released on Thursday evening.
Police officials on Thursday afternoon told Scroll.in that around 126 protestors around Red Fort area had been detained. More than a 100 of these protestors were taken to Rajiv Gandhi Stadium in North West Delhi’s Bawana, while the rest were detained at a facility in Rohini, police officials said.
In the National Capital, Section 144 was imposed in North East Delhi district, around Red Fort and in parts of New Delhi, said Delhi Police Public Relations Officer MS Randhawa while addressing a press conference on Thursday evening. Mobile internet was also snapped in some parts of Delhi to curb rumour mongering, he said.
Another protest halted
The stretch of Nishadraj Marg goes on for around a kilometre and it is just a street away from the Red Fort, where the protestors were hoping to gather. As they reached the end of the stretch, however, police officials stopped them and the protest halted there.
“Today it is us Muslims, but tomorrow it could be Sikhs and Christians next,” said 32-year-old Irfan Khan, who lives and works as a travel agent in East Delhi’s Laxmi Nagar.
Khan also felt that protest was the only alternative left. “It is the only way we can raise our voice against this. All are here including women and even the elderly.”
At around 12.40 pm, as protestors sat on the road, the number of policemen equipped with batons and tear gas cans. Around 52 companies were present at Nishadraj Marg that included several paramilitary personnel including those from Rapid Action Force, the Delhi Police spokesperson later said said.
Police and paramilitary troops continued to stand on the road as protestors demanded that those detained be released at around 1.30 pm. Some protestors also negotiated with police officials to release those detained.
At around 3.45 pm, some protestors alleged that stones were pelted on them twice from a building situated along Nishadraj Marg. “It just fell on us suddenly but nobody got hit,” said Vikram Pratap, 25, a protestor who was present at the time. Police officials said they would investigate the matter.
‘Protest is precious’
Despite prohibitory orders in place, several protestors at Nishadraj Marg felt it was necessary for them to dissent. Another protestor felt that dissenting against the Act was necessary to protect different communities.
At around 5.45 pm protestors started to disperse from the road. But many of them said they would continue to protest against the Citizenship Act.
“It is every Indian’s duty to be out here on the streets,” said 19-year-old student Shabi Mirza. “So many people are raising their voices against the Act in Jamia [Jamia Millia Islamia] and Assam. Protest is very precious for us because we cannot use violence. We need to get our voice to the government.”