“They want to break our protest. That’s why they are killing people in Delhi,” said Asiya against the backdrop of slogans of azadi or liberty. “They want us to go back to our homes so that they can do the NRC.”
Forty-five year old Asiya was one among a thousand women who had blockaded the Jaffrabad Main Road in North East Delhi on Tuesday afternoon, to oppose the Modi government’s plan to introduce a nationwide National Register of Citizens.
Widespread violence in North East Delhi since Sunday night made the protest first swell, with anxious Muslims heading to the site – and then dispersing later at night on Tuesday to Seelampur. The Jaffrabad and Seelampur protest sites are minutes away from neighbourhoods that have been up in flames for more than two days now, with at least eleven people killed in the rioting.
This protest started late on Saturday, with women moving from the Seelampur protest site a few hundred metres away to the main road below the Jaffrabad Metro station. The protest mimicked the two-month old Shaheen Bagh demonstration in South Delhi, where women have also blocked a road to demand withdrawal of the Citizenship Amendment Act, the National Population Register and the National Register of Citizens.
In 2019, Union Home Minister Amit Shah repeatedly connected the CAA to a future nationwide NRC. As per the legal framework for an NRC drawn up by the Vajpayee government in 2003, the NPR is the first step of the process.
On Sunday, a Bharatiya Janata Party leader, Kapil Mishra, threatened to take the law into his own hands. Standing a kilometre away from the Jaffrabad protest site, he issued an “ultimatum” to the Delhi police – right in front of a policeman – to clear the Jaffrabad protest in three days. “We will be peaceful till [Donald] Trump leaves,” he told a crowd, with a senior police officer standing right next to him. “After that, we won’t listen to even you [the police] if the roads are not cleared.”
That very night, violence began with stones being pelted at Muslim houses in and around areas where Mishra had delivered his threat. By Monday morning, the violence escalated, as Hindu and Muslim groups clashed, with very few policemen deployed by the Union Home Ministry to control the situation. By Tuesday, North East Delhi has seen large-scale rioting, arson and violence by mostly Hindu mobs, with 11 people dead.
At the Jaffrabad protest site on Tuesday afternoon, there was a heightened sense of fear among the protestors, given that much of the violence was happening at their door step. “RSS gundas are trying to come up to us and intimidate us,” explained Arif, a volunteer at the site, referring to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the ideological parent of the BJP. “We were very tense at night and are worried now too.”
Another protestor showed a video of injured Muslims being forced to recite the national anthem by the Delhi Police. “We are being treated worse than animals,” she says.
Along with anxiety, however, there is also anger at what protesters describe as a deliberate attempt to spark violence. “Aap ja kar dekh sakte hai video par BJP neta Kapil Mishra ne kaisa bharkaun bhashan diya hai,” said an agitated Naziya, 20. You can go and check the incendiary speech BJP leader Kapil Mishra has given.
Naziya continued: “They want us to stop protesting. But if we stop now, then they will know they can do anything they want. We will neither move forward, nor back. We will stand our ground till CAA, NRC and NPR are gone.”
The unstable situation has seen the protest swell during the day – but then wrap up at night. “Log bas ate ja rahe hai subah se,” said Arif late on Tuesday afternoon. People have been streaming in since the morning.
Later at around eight pm, however, with violence escalating even further across Delhi, the protesters cleared the road and moved back to the Seelampur protest site at the side of the street.
“Now after seeing this [the violence] everyone realises how urgent the situation is,” said Arif. “If we don’t say anything now, they will kick us out of India.”