NEW DELHI: Protest marches are underway against the government’s citizenship policies and police brutality against unarmed civilians amid reports of heavy police and paramilitary deployment in the national capital.

Earlier today The Citizen reported from the demonstration at the Shahe Mardan dargah in Jor Bagh, where protestors called on the government to repeal the Citizenship Amendment Act and proposed National Register of Citizens, and release Bhim Army leader Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan.

“Today this government has cheated us, tomorrow it will cheat you too,” a protestor said.

They were marching to the prime minister’s residence on Race Course Road or Lok Kalyan Marg.

Police turned The Citizen’s reporters away before they could reach the second protest, a gherao or encirclement of the Uttar Pradesh Bhawan in Chanakyapuri. This despite the fact that they were in a group of three, and not violating prohibitory orders imposed by the government.

People leaving the site reported that the police “are picking people up before they reach the area, picking people out of autos”.

The Citizen saw a number of people detained by police with water cannons also at the ready, near the Vietnam embassy about half a kilometre from UP Bhawan.

The Delhi Police which answers to the union home ministry told PTI earlier today that they conducted “flag marches” in parts of northeast Delhi, deploying drones, police forces from adjoining districts, and 15 companies of paramilitary personnel to “keep a vigil on the situation”.

UP Bhawan was chosen as a site of protest as at least 18 anti-CAA protestors have reportedly been killed by police firing in Uttar Pradesh.

Sources told The Citizen that in Lucknow alone, 130 civilians are still in jail and another 150-200 have been detained, with no one supplying details of their whereabouts.

While a few prominent protestors have been arrested, such as former inspector general of police S.R.Darapuri and teacher-activist Sadaf Jafar, sources said the police have targeted mostly workers and labourers, who were “picked up” from Husainabad, Maulviganj and other parts of Old Lucknow.

“Seedhi laga laga ke ghar mein ghuske nikala,” sources said. The police used ladders to climb inside people’s homes and pull them out.

“The jail has become a bigger fortress than before, and lawyers are finding it difficult to meet the young people detained. The jail manual says lawyers can meet their clients thrice a week, but now it is very difficult to meet them even once,” sources told The Citizen.

On December 26, members of the People’s Union for Democratic Rights addressed the media at the Press Club of India on December 26 to present a fact-finding report on allegations of police brutality and violence at the Jamia Millia University in Delhi. A group of activists also presented testimonies from nine districts in western Uttar Pradesh.

According to the PUDR, incidents on December 13 when Jamia students had planned to rally to Parliament set the precedent for what happened on the 15th.

PUDR secretary Harish Dhawan said that “Students were stopped in their tracks and barricades were put up which some began to climb. After this a lathi charge broke out and soon tear gas shelling began.” According to the PUDR’s report, 50 students were detained that day.

The organisation received many student accounts of police brutality on December 15 and Dhawan said the use of excessive force on students was clear.

“The use of firearms with live rounds by the police is without authorisation and without the necessary safeguards. More serious is the attempt to deny and to obfuscate this serious transgression,” he told the press.

The activists also said that police forces launched unprovoked and brutal attacks on students and staff in the library, mosque and other parts of the university campus.

“The police knew exactly what it was doing was illegal, so it proceeded to destroy CCTV cameras at the gate, inside the campus, and inside the reading rooms and library to clear evidence,” Dhawan said.

The PUDR claims in its report that the police detained students illegally, denying medical aid to those injured or unwell. It also holds the police responsible for massive destruction of property.

The organisation has called for the higher judiciary to take suo moto action against the Delhi Police for the brutality perpetrated on unarmed protestors.

Also at the press conference were Yogendra Yadav, president of the Swaraj Abhiyan, social activists Harsh Mander and Nadeem Khan, and secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association Kavita Krishnan, who presented a report of eyewitness testimonies of police brutality in Uttar Pradesh.

Yadav said that what was happening in the state could only be described as a “reign of terror.”

Krishnan recounted the team’s experience in Meerut: “Six people have died due to the police violence that took place in Meerut on December 20. Of these we met with four families and all four of the deceased come from poor, working-class homes who were not out protesting, but just making their daily commute.”

She went on to say that the authorities were spreading “falsehoods” about these cases.

Khan claimed that filing unnamed FIRs had become a regular practice in the state, with 22,500 FIRs filed in Kanpur, although many told the team that people were never present in such numbers at any rally.

The team visited nine districts in Uttar Pradesh: Kanpur, Bijnor, Muzaffarnagar, Gorakhpur, Meerut, Sambhal, Lucknow, Varanasi and Rampur.

They found a total of 613 citizens had been arrested, with 750 named detainees and 28,700 unidentified people booked by police.

They also reported that 12 people died, including eight-year-old Mohammad Sageer who “the police contends passed away in a stampede, but media and ground reports say otherwise”.

Their report alleges instances such as when 70-100 policemen broke the lock of 74-year old Anwar Ilahi’s home and completely destroyed the property in Muzaffarnagar. The Hazratganj police detained a journalist, Omar Rashid of The Hindu, and his friend in Lucknow.

Bollywood celebrities Swara Bhasker and Zeeshan Ayyub were also present at the press conference. They appealed to authorities and the establishment to start an independent inquiry into the violence taking place in various parts of India, especially Uttar Pradesh, and to express their stance against the CAA-NRC laws.

They circulated a clip of other members of the film industry in support of their appeal. This includes Aparna Sen, Konkana Sen Sharma, Vikramaditya Motwane and Anurag Kahyap, against whom the CBI recently launched a financial probe.

On December 24, a press conference was called in Delhi to ‘Stop State Repression, Police Violence and Targeting of People’s Organisations in Uttar Pradesh’.

Senior advocate Mehmood Pracha, who is reportedly legal advisor to the Bhim Army, called for the resignations of union home minister Amit Shah and Yogi Adityanath, chief minister in the government of Uttar Pradesh.

“This process [triggered by the CAA and police violence] is not against Muslims alone, but SCs STs and OBCs as well. It’s against the whole nation,” said Pracha.

He described the nationwide protests against the CAA-NRC as a spontaneous movement that will not stop until the CAA is withdrawn, the law governing the NRC amended, and Shah and Adityanath resign.

“Many of our SC brothers across the nation are being martyred by their bullets, but the government is hiding their names. They are facing lathis and bullets, being injured in the hundreds and thousands, but this is being hidden so the incidents can be portrayed as Muslim provocation,” Pracha alleged.

Bhanu Pratap Singh, Supreme Court advocate and president of the Rashtriya Janhit Sangharsh Party, Raghavan Srinivasan, president of the Lok Raj Sanghatan and Parvez Ahmad, Delhi president of the Popular Front of India were also present.

“All UP officers must listen,” said Pracha. “Whoever acts against the law, whether the president, prime minister, DGP, an IAS officer or the cabinet secretary, anyone, even a police SSP – if they act against Indian law and the Constitution, it is illegal and an offence just as it would be with any ordinary person.”

Describing “the police action going on right now… they have set western UP on fire” Pracha said, “We will target those senior police officers responsible, file cases against them and send them to jail if they are found to be carrying out illegal orders issued by the RSS, or Yogi, or Amit Shah… We will file writs against them in the High Court and target each officer one by one.”

“We give you this warning: you must follow the law of Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar's Constitution, and must not obey any illegal, government or RSS instructions, or you will be violating the law,” Pracha said.

“Only the Constitution will work, no Manuvadi law will work… Remember what you were taught at the Police Academy, to protect the Constitution and serve the nation’s people… Follow the oath you swore or you will all meet in jail.”

On December 21 after a large demonstration at the Jama Masjid in Delhi, Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan courted arrest telling the media, “We are here to protect India’s Constitution… It’s not just Dalits and Muslims, the whole nation has come together, no one’s looking at each other’s caste here.”

“We will start a jail bharo movement and fill up all the detention centres and jails in the country,” said Ravan. “If they try to snatch away our rights, finish the Constitution, bring in black laws, we will fill their jails… The police said they’d hang me upside down if I talk about Muslims. I said hang me upside down, kill me, I will talk about it.”

“They are BJP and RSS agents, following the government’s orders, all of us get that. They’ve only ever ruled on the basis of religion, they have nothing to do with the nation, they are not nationalists. They are the people of the RSS and Savarkar’s ideology.

“They always supported the Partition. We are against Partition. Resign, sit at home, we don’t need liars like you,” Ravan told the media.

The protestors detained at UP Bhawan were taken to the police station, but this did not deter their spirits as the video below shows: