The protest paraphernalia being removed. (Express Photo by Abhinav Saha)
Early Tuesday morning, as the anti-CAA protest at Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh entered its 101st day, the Delhi Police removed protesters and vacated the area citing the lockdown because of the coronavirus outbreak. Nine protesters, including six women, were detained after they refused to leave, said DCP (southeast) R P Meena.
“The SHO and ACP visited the site Monday evening and requested protesters to leave as a lockdown had been implemented due to coronavirus, but everyone refused. In the morning, too, we asked them to leave, but when they didn’t, coercive action had to be taken and people were detained,” said Meena. Protesters were removed from the site around 7.30 am.
A map of India made of metal with ‘Say No to NRC, CAA, NPR’ written on it, the stage, and an India Gate installation at the protest site were dismantled and loaded into trucks. Posters on the overhead bridge were also removed.
A volunteer who has been at the site since day one said, “Heavy police deployment started around 6 am and around 7 am, a loud siren played. There were five women at the site, seated at a distance of at least two metres, with sanitisers. It was a symbolic protest.”
The volunteer said all artwork around the sit-in, including photos of Bhagat Singh, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and B R Ambedkar, were removed by police.
The DCP, however, said that on Tuesday morning, “there were at least 50 people inside and outside the protest site”. He added that they had deployed around 1,500 police personnel, and companies of CRPF. “The stage and the protest paraphernalia are now case property and have been taken to the maalkhana.”
After the removal, several residents came out on the streets and watched as police dismantled the set-up.
A protester said that “only the physical protest had been removed”, and that women “will continue this on social media and return once the epidemic ends”.
Tuesday morning also police vacate the Hauz Rani protest site in south Delhi, even as protesters issued a note Monday saying they will “continue to protest against CAA, NRC and NPR without gathering in public places”. DCP (south) Atul Kumar Thakur said, “Only two-three protesters were there and they left when we asked them to. The stage has been removed and the site is clear now. No one was detained or arrested.”
The women-led protest at Shaheen Bagh started on December 15 and inspired more than 200 similar sit-in protests across India — from Mumbai and Aligarh to Hyderabad and Begusarai. At least 300 women sat day and night under the tent, and the protest had swelled to thousands during its peak.
They had found support from the farmers of Punjab who brought a delegation to the site over a month ago, as well as from civil rights activists such as Harsh Mander. Actor Swara Bhaskar took to the stage one night, as did musician Shubha Mudgal and poet Aamir Aziz. A children’s reading corner, a library and langar were also set up at the site.
The protest had come under criticism as police barricaded routes that connected Kalindi Kunj Khadar Road and Meethapur Road, leading to traffic snarls in parts of the capital.
During the Delhi assembly polls, the BJP had sought to pitch the fight between “desh bhakts” and those who “stand with Shaheen Bagh”, with Home Minister Amit Shah frequently saying that people should vote for the BJP so Shaheen Bagh “feels the current”.
On February 1, a 25-year-old man, Kapil Baisla, fired two shots 50 metres from the stage. He was arrested and a case was registered against him. In videos, the accused could be heard saying he had done it “for the country.”
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court had appointed advocates Sanjay Hegde and Sadhana Ramachandran as interlocutors to find a way to break the deadlock. On Tuesday, they released a statement: “As SC-appointed interlocutors, we had submitted two reports to the court, detailing our efforts and the situation then prevailing. Our process of interlocution has reinforced many valuable 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.”
The statement further said that “some rigours of the blockade were relaxed by the protesters clearing some peripheral roads. Today the few remaining Shaheen Bagh protesters have been finally dispersed peacefully with minimal force. We request everyone to see the issue not as a question of win or lose. The country has a grave pandemic threatening it and currently that must receive priority in terms of everyone’s attention. We request the administration and the protestors to now not do anything that will exacerbate the underlying tensions that culminated in the street protests.”