CAA protesters face off at Jafrabad

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Published on Feb 23, 2020 11:53 PM IST
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ByShiv Sunny, New Delhi

In north Delhi’s Jafrabad on Sunday, a wall of policemen was stationed between two protesting groups — one that was for the new citizenship law and the other against it. Just hours earlier, a few people had pelted stones at each other.

By Sunday evening, more than 1,500 other police and paramilitary personnel stationed themselves at “strategic locations” in the neighbourhoods around to prevent any further violence. Even as this was going on, senior police officers engaged in “continuous dialogue” with both groups in a bid to have them call off their agitation.

Alok Kumar, joint commissioner of police (Eastern range), said he was uncertain if the police’s efforts would lead to both groups vacating the road passing under the Jafrabad metro station. This may throw the Monday morning traffic off gear. He, however, said that further violence was unlikely.

Kumar said that around 3pm, about 6,000 people protesting the citizenship amendment act (CAA), and about 4,000 in support of the law had gathered under the metro station. “At that time, only one carriageway was blocked, while vehicles plied on the other,” he said.

But from 4.30 pm, some people began pelting stones, leading to both carriageways being blocked.

In the next half hour, small groups of men had begun pelting stones in different parts of Jafrabad and Maujpur. “We used minimum force to contain the situation and disperse them,” said Kumar. The police also used their batons to “push back” the violent protesters, but Kumar said there was “no organised lathicharge”.

Kumar said he couldn’t comment on which protesting group pelted stones and who their targets were. While the number of civilians injured remained unknown, Kumar said that at least three policemen were injured in the stone pelting.

Once the situation was contained, the police went about attempting to ensure the violence did not start again. It began with the central spot of the protest where about 2,000 anti-CAA protesters and about 500 pro-CAA agitators continued to occupy the road under the Jafrabad metro station.

“Our men are standing between them to ensure they are well separated. Alongside, we are talking to them continuously to convince them to return to their homes or protest at another place where the general public won’t be inconvenienced,” said Kumar.

With BJP leader Kapil Mishra, issuing a three-day ultimatum to the police to clear the roads in Jafrabad and Chand Bagh, locals said the situation in the area is tense. Police are also speaking to religious leaders and influential citizens in these neighbourhoods in a bid to clear the road. “On Saturday night, the imams urged the protesters to call off the agitation,” said Kumar.

The absence of visible leaders among the anti-CAA protesters reduced the effectiveness of this dialogue process, he said.

In the neighbourhoods, meanwhile, groups of policemen have been deployed at specific locations which could possibly witness large gatherings or any kind of trouble. “They have been instructed to think on their feet and react quickly on sensing any trouble even as they have been cautioned to use minimum force if the need arises. The primary aim is to prevent any swelling of crowd at other locations,” the officer said.

Kumar said that the density of these neighbourhoods is what will pose the biggest challenge to the police as they will remain watchful through the night.

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