Police in New Delhi broke up the longest-running protest against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s citizenship law yesterday, citing a ban on public gatherings because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Dozens of people, many of them women, have been staging a sit-in protest since early December on a street in the Shaheen Bagh neighbourhood, which has become a focal point for opposition to the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) seen as discriminating against Muslims.
Hundreds of police in riot gear surrounded the protesters early yesterday and told them to leave, said Delhi’s Joint Police Commissioner D C Srivastava.
“It is a dangerous environment, with this coronavirus, we urged them to leave,” he told reporters.
Some demonstrators resisted the police and at least nine people had been detained, six of them women, Srivastava said, adding there was no violence.
“The Delhi police used coercive force to dismantle our protest site even though it had been scaled down to symbolic form considering Covid-19 precautions,” the protest organisers said on Twitter.
Television showed police taking down tents and billboards at the protest site with bulldozers.
“All protest sites have been cleared – Jaffrabad, Jamia and Turkman Gate. Some persons detained in all these places as well,” the police tweeted.
Sources in police said: “A team of senior police officers reached the site at 6.45am. First, they tried to pacify the protesters. At that time around a dozen persons were present. Usually, very few women protesters remain there during the mornings. And because of the lockdown, their number already was very less.”
The police arrived with trucks and JCB machines and dismantled all the structures and seized the tents.
The entire country is under a 21-day lockdown starting today to halt the spread of the virus and public gatherings of more than five people have been banned.
The CAA, which eases the path for non-Muslims from neighbouring Muslim-majority countries to gain citizenship, triggered weeks of sometimes violent protests against Modi’s government after it was passed in December.
At least 78 people have been killed in demonstrations triggered by the law across the country, a large number of them in another part of Delhi in clashes between Hindus and Muslims.
Critics say the law discriminates against Muslims and it has deepened concern that Modi’s administration is undermining India’s secular traditions.
Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party denies any bias against India’s 180mn Muslims.
Even before the coronavirus epidemic, the protest at Shaheen Bagh had become a thorn in the government’s side, and there had been calls by hardline Hindu groups linked to Modi’s alliance and residents in the area to clear it out.
Two interlocutors appointed by the Supreme Court to hold talks with the protesters asked them well as the authorities not to do anything that would escalate matters due to the virus.
On February 17, senior lawyer Sanjay Hedge and advocate Sadhana Ramachandran were appointed interlocutors by a bench comprising Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and K M Joseph to urge the protesters to vacate the public road at Shaheen Bagh and find an alternative site to continue their protest.
“A grave pandemic is threatening the country and it must receive priority in terms of everyone’s attention. We request the administration and the protesters to now not do anything that will exacerbate the underlying tensions that culminated in the street protests,” the two interlocutors said in statement.
“As Supreme Court appointed interlocutors, we had submitted two reports to the court, detailing our efforts and the situation prevailing then,” they said and emphasised that the process of interlocution has reinforced many invaluable lessons, including the need for continued dialogue at all times.
“We believe that the Supreme Court-mandated interlocution kept Shaheen Bagh protests peaceful even while violence erupted in other parts of Delhi. Some rigours of the blockade were relaxed by the protesters, clearing some peripheral roads. Today, the few remaining Shaheen Bagh protestors have been finally dispersed peacefully with minimal force,” they added.
** Even as anti-CAA protests in Lucknow and Deoband in Uttar Pradesh have been called off in view of the virus scare, women protesters have continued their agitation, ignoring the appeals issued by religious leaders.
Hundreds of protesters gathered at the Eidgah in Moradabad on Sunday during the Janata Curfew call given by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
At 5p., when the entire country rang bells and beat pots to express their gratitude to corona warriors, the protesters in Moradabad beat pots to express their protest against the citizenship law.
The Moradabad police have now decided to book the protesters who had gathered at Eidgah on Sunday.
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