Protesters at Azad Maidan on Saturday. (Express Photo by Nirmal Harindran)
A DAY after protesters gathered to oppose the new citizenship law were detained and later released by the Marine Drive police, protests against the contentious legislation continued with Assamese students gathering at the Azad Maidan on Saturday morning. Another protest, organised by the Samajwadi Party (SP) at the same site, saw former Jawaharlal Nehru University student leader Umar Khalid in attendance.
A special force of over 100 police officers, with many in riot control gear, was deployed at Azad Maidan after the police came to know of the two protests.
Around 300 people participated in the three-hour protest by Assamese students. The students started pouring in at Azad Maidan from 9 am. After their attempt to hold a protest in south Mumbai on Friday was curtailed by the police citing lack of prior permission, a protester said: “This time we were ready and have taken all the necessary permissions.”
Jit Hazarika, a student at Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), said: “I have come here to study and my parents stay in Assam. I alone know how much I have been struggling to get in touch with them. Due to the law and order situation, people are dying in Assam, Internet services have been suspended and main highways that connect surrounding states have been blocked. The action taken by the government is not only affecting the Assamese but also the neighbouring states.”
Scores of people from Guwahati landed in Mumbai late Friday so that they could be a part of the protest. A protester said, “The protests happening in Mumbai has a bigger impact than those in any other state. This is why they have come and joined us.”
A group that included students, office-goers and senior citizens, played music and sang ‘Aah Aah Ulai Aah Ozaag Jonota (come out and fight for your rights)’ written by Assamese singer Bhupen Hazarika. Singer Papon and several other musicians were also part of the protest. Many were seen carrying placards containing messages like ‘Assam believes in harmony’ and ‘Hindu Muslim bhai bhai, CAB bye bye’.
The protest by Samajwadi Party workers saw protesters arriving in buses from Deonar and Govandi. In attendance were three-time MLA Abu Asim Azmi, Umar Khalid and former IAS officer Kannan Gopinatha, who had resigned in August after Article 370 was diluted and Jammu and Kashmir was made a union territory.
The protest saw more than 600 people. Protesters raised slogans like ‘Citizenship Amendment Bill vapas karo’ and ‘Citizenship Amendment radh karo’ while carrying placards with messages ‘Reject CAB! Boycott NRC!’ and ‘Ready to die, but not ready to accept CAB’.
Khalid, in his 22-minute speech, appealed to the people to boycott the law. “We will refuse to show them any document that proves that we are citizens of India. The population of this country is 130 crore... even if only five crore of us refuse to produce such documents, they will be forced to take back the legislation.”
Alleging that the government is not concerned with farmer suicides, country’s GDP, the ever increasing unemployment and crime against women, Khalid said it has instead come up with a law that will affect the harmony of the country. He ended his speech with a pledge, “We are proud of the togetherness of the country and we will not discriminate on the basis of one’s caste, religion, gender etc. We will boycott this Act and we pledge that we won’t produce any document.”
Kannan Gopithan spoke against the law and also about the illegal detentions in Jammu and Kashmir.