Worried about being attacked, Shaheen Bagh protesters drop plan to partially remove barricades
On Martyrs’ Day, protesters at Shaheen Bagh had planned to withdraw barricades at Road no.9 near the Kalindi Kunj intersection as a mark of “good faith” and to initiate dialogue with the authorities. However, the decision was revoked after a lone attacker opened fire at protesters in Jamia Millia Islamia, injuring a postgraduate student earlier that day.
On Thursday night, a group of protesters had called for a press conference to announce the partial withdrawal of barricades. However, the event was called off after another section of protesters raised objections. “We can open the road on the other side. But what if a large group of people come and attack us from that side? Women and children are sitting at the forefront here,” a protester said, requesting anonymity.
Rizwana Khatoon, a local who has been staying at the protest site since December 15—when the protests first started, said they were approached by the other protesters for a discussion on the partial withdrawal of the blockade.
“The men here do not take any decision without consulting the women protesters who have been sitting here for over a month. They proposed withdrawing barricades from Road no. 9 near Kalindi Kunj and we agreed,” Khatoon said. “But everybody started arguing over that. We didn’t want anything to affect our agitation so we called for the maintenance of the status quo.”
As the election campaign has picked up steam across Delhi, the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act at Shaheen Bagh have emerged as one of the agendas. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders, including union home minister Amit Shah, have issued statements against the protesters at multiple election rallies. This has prompted conversations in various WhatsApp groups of residents as well as among protesters about opening a section of the blockade to counter the politicisation of the issue.
“Political parties are using the Shaheen Bagh protests to further their own propaganda for the elections. They are creating an impression that we are choking Delhi traffic when, in reality, the police have barricaded multiple points, including one near Okhla Bird Sanctuary, which has blocked an alternative route to Faridabad using the Kalindi Kunj Mithapur Road,” Imaad Ahmed, a protester at the spot, said.
“Our barricades are a reaction to those of the Delhi Police. If we don’t barricade the area, commuters will go ahead and have to turn back around. As soon as the Delhi Police open up the route, so will we,” Rajesh S, DCP traffic, Noida, said.
Ahmed said the firing incident at Jamia Millia Islamia was a major reason why a section of protesters was wary of withdrawing a section of the blockade. “An attacker shot at protesters in broad daylight and the Delhi Police were mute spectators. What is the guarantee that the same incident won’t take place here where women and children are at the forefront? We can no longer take that risk,” he said, adding that rightwing groups too had issued threats to visit the protest site on February 2.
On Thursday, the lone attacker shot at a postgraduate student after brandishing a weapon amid heavy police presence at Jamia Millia Islamia. The police said the incident took place “within a split second before anyone could assess or react to what he was doing.” On January 28, another individual had come with a weapon to Shaheen Bagh, allegedly to threaten protesters to call off their agitation. He was later taken into police custody for questioning.
On Friday, the protesters also held meetings to strengthen their screening process and security measures to keep a tab on those attending the protests. They have also prepared an undertaking asking for details from those wanting to address the audience with a list of guidelines.
“The form asks for their name, identity proof, and address. The speakers will be asked to adhere to constitutional principles and will not be allowed to speak against any religion or make communal remarks. Speakers shall also be prohibited from election campaigning or speaking in favour of political parties,” a protester said, requesting anonymity.