Delhi, December 19
A day of protest - armed with posters and roses
NEW DELHI: On a grey morning on December 19, Delhi’s residents woke up to protest against the Citizen Amendment Act and police action against students at Jamia Millia University and Aligarh Muslim University. There were two protests organised in Delhi, well-advertised on social media days in advance. The first to be held at the Red Fort at 11 am, and marching forward to Shaheed Park from there. (The second from Mandi House, also moving to Shaheed Marg)
Around 9 am, everyone was alerted through the news and social media that section 144 was imposed on the Red Fort Area, and other areas of New Delhi. Section 144 prohibits groups of more than 4 people gathering in a public place.
During a conference later that day, a Delhi police official clarified that this was done to prevent a large gathering on the pre-decided route as it would disrupt crucial services with hospitals and schools operating on the said route. However, it seemed that Delhi Police was desperate to influence social media networks in spreading this news to instil fear among people, thereby discouraging them to come out and join the protests.
There was a diligent release of information from authorities all aimed to seamlessly curb crowds at the two selected sites for the March in Delhi. From 10 am onwards people were detained at the Red Fort. Noted activist, Umar Khalid; former JNU Student Union president was one of them. He went chanting slogans condemning the CAA and the NRC. Yogendra Yadav was also detained - amongst others.
At Noon, just as the Mandi House protest began to gain numbers, the Delhi Police officers and the Rapid Action Task Force began detaining random people from groups in an effort to disperse large crowds almost immediately. The buses were a mix of Rapid Action Force blue buses, and borrowed green DTC buses on Police Duty. Buses, it was said, were taking the detainees to Bawana and Akshardham.
One detainee, Koval Bhatia, an independent media producer, was taken to the Mandir Marg Metro station and held there without any answers to her fundamental questions -- that this police action was in violation of her rights granted under the Criminal Procedure Code. She was later released after a few hours.
Her release was secured when a member of advocate Prashant’s Bhushan’s team, Nilesh, sent his colleagues to negotiate the release of Koval and a friend who had been detained along with her. Koval later shared on Instagram stories that the police were fairly benign and released detainees before they got angry.
It became clear through the course of the day that the police’s focus was not to secure arrests but rather minimise participation in the protest.
While the protestors were detained and transported, their chants and slogans did not die down. They continued to raise flags from within the moving bus and shout chants.
An interesting turn in the protest chants was captured through some very interesting posters. But one of the chants that has taken root in public consciousness is the song of Azaadi recently recited and popularised by Kanhaiya Kumar when he ended the song with ‘NRC se…. Azaadi; Modi-Shah se… Azaadi.’
Meanwhile in Bengaluru, Ramachandran Guha, an eminent historian was detained on his way to the Town Hall to register his peaceful protest. He was holding a poster and speaking of the legacy of Gandhi and the constitution, when he was picked up just when he asked the police if they saw any violence around. Guha was immediately driven to Kalyan Mandapa, a marriage hall, an hour away -- joining the first group of 10-15 detainees which later increased to 700.
Ramachandra Guha commented in an evening interview on NDTV “you couldn’t tell by their dress whether they were national or anti-national”. They were all randomly detained and abruptly released.
His take on today’s protests’ result was a“mark of a forceful, paranoid, insecure and fearful regime” and he referred to the role of the central government in mobilising forces across the country when he said, ”I would not be surprised if Delhi instructed Karnataka to do this.” A rapid scare tactic to scare the other protestors from joining the protests.
The same was noticed by all protestors in Delhi when they met in different cafes to gather in groups and go and peacefully protest. Delhi Police’s brutal attack on Jamia, just four days ago on December 15, was fresh in everyone’s memory. These brutal attacks injured several students severely where one lost an eye, another had two broken arms while shielding himself from the lathi blows, and another student’s both legs were smashed.
Jamia had seen tear gas, burnt buses, all captured on peoples cameras and circulated immediately, that revealed the Delhi Police’s hand in inciting chaos in the city. The use of force and propaganda, and destruction of public property [ a video seems to show a cop deliberately burning a Delhi Transport Corporation Bus], shook Delhi given the blatant use of force and fear.
But on December 19, Delhi came prepared. Its people carried anti-pollution face-masks, battery packs in their backpacks, and enough water - incase they were tear-gassed or detained.
As the protesters arrived - at Red Fort and Mandi House - they were picked up and packed off by armed police personnel.
But by about 1 pm, word of mouth had guided two different groups from Mandi House and Red Fort to a small street in front of Jantar Mantar -- the Jantar Mantar Road. This street had two exits both barricaded heavily by Delhi Police ready with water cannons, lathis and shields. However, the police seemed to have a friendly demeanor -- quite different from the videos and photos emerging from Jamia. The people also noticed this and responded by offering the police roses and flowers. Free food was being distributed.
The chants continued till late evening, even though security forces remained in strong numbers - guiding the crowds into one small area to protest. The protestors took the risk of being beaten down in an alley with no exits, lathi charged with nowhere to go, and gained numbers through the day.
No news of violence has been reported through the day, however, there have been several reports of use of dispersion tactics by the police officials with water cannons being used.