New Delhi/Bengaluru: Rage and anger against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) poured out on streets across the nation on Thursday as ordinary citizens, students, writers, activists, artists, Opposition parties and film stars came out in large numbers to register their protest against the law they view as an attempt to divide India on communal lines.
Though most protests were peaceful, in some places, including Lucknow, Mangaluru, Ahmedabad and Patna, crowds turned violent. Public property was vandalised and police was pelted with stones. To disperse the crowds, police resorted to lathicharge, firing teargas shells and even firing in the air.
In Lucknow, where Chief Minister Yogi Adiyanath said the police has been asked to deal with protesters strictly, incidents of arson were also reported, with media OB vans and police vehicles being set on fire. There were also reports of a death and injuries to cops.
In Lucknow, a man died of a firearm injury he allegedly suffered while passing by a violent protest. Uttar Pradesh police chief O.P. Singh said the death was not linked to the agitation or any police action.
In anticipation of Thursday’s protests, the Centre and some state governments, particularly BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka, had raised the iron curtain by imposing Section 144 CrPC (prohibitory order against assembly of more than four people) and heavy security bandobast.
Large number of security forces and police officials in riot gear were deployed in several cities.
Mobile and Internet services, including voice calls, were also suspended for varying periods in several cities, including the national capital.
In Chennai, three universities were shut down, while in Uttar Pradesh the entire state was locked down through prohibitory orders.
Defying the imposition of Section 144 CrPC and despite the large police presence, protesters across several states marched peacefully waving the Tricolour and holding up placards against CAA and the National Register of Citizens.
In several cities they gathered at maidans to express their commitment to a secular India, in solidarity with Muslims who are being targeted by the CAA and NRC.
The protests led to massive traffic jams that paralysed parts of various cities. While central Delhi was badly affected, there was an 8 km long jam along the roads from Gurugram to Delhi as every car was being checked by the police. Several people missed their flights and airlines had to either cancel flights or reschedule them.
In other cities, including Delhi, scores of peaceful protesters were stuffed in buses and moved from protest venues by the police, only to find that more people came out on roads to oppose the CAA, NRC and police brutality in Jamia Milia Islamia, AMU and Assam.
Unfazed by the nation-wide outrage, the BJP continued to flex its muscle with the party chief, J.P. Nadda, asserting that not only will the “CAA be implemented, but the National Register of Citizens (NRC) will also be brought in.”
In Delhi, various Metro stations were shut and top leaders of the Left parties, including D. Raja (CPI), Brinda Karat, Sitaram Yechury, Ajay Maken and Sandeep Dikshit, and Yogendra Yadav (Swaraj Abhiyan) were picked up from Mandi House and Lal Quila. They were later released.
“It was a peaceful protest and suddenly we were surrounded by police. How many people can you detain,” said CPM leader Brinda Karat.
Chanting slogans and carrying placards, the protesters later gathered at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar where they continued to hold fort till late Thursday evening amid huge police presence. Water cannons and riot police were kept in readiness for crowd control but no incident was reported except touching gestures of Gandhigiri with young protesters offering roses to police officials in riot gear.
“My dad thinks I’m studying history. He doesn’t know I am busy making history,” read the placard of a young girl student.
“Kapdon se pehchano ino, bhasha se pehchano unko, nare se pechano unko, gender se pehchano inko. Fail ho gaye Modiji? To tewar se pehchaon inko,” said one of the writer protester while responding to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent statement at a rally — “You can make out from the clothes who these (anti-CAA) trouble makers are.”
“What Delhi Police did at Jamia and UP police did at AMU was very shameful. You too may have children going to universities. How will you feel when they are beaten up brutality,” several protesters told police personnel at Jantar Mantar.
“What can we do, we had to follow orders, we have a job to do,” said most of the policemen with many conceding that police action on Sunday in Jamia was “wrong.”
At Jamia, students formed a human chain around Muslims as they performed Namaz in the afternoon.
The protests on Thursday were interesting in other ways too. “Contingency Plans” were circulated among protesters, alerting them of the possibility of “miscreants” and “anti-social elements” mingling with the crowd to spoil the protest and give it a violent turn.