Citizenship law protests: How Delhi police ensured the Red Fort march never got going

A series of tactical measures enabled the police to regulate the flow of protesters and remove them without much resistance.

WrittenBy:Ayush Tiwari
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Two protest marches were planned in Delhi today against the Citizenship Amendment Bill. The first was supposed to start at Mandi Chowk and move towards the parliament, and the second was to go from Red Fort to Shaheedi Park in ITO. 

Several prominent figures had announced that they would be at these protests. Activist Kavita Krishnan, politician Yogendra Yadav and student leader Umar Khalid had asked people to be a part of the protests at Red Fort.

At 10:30 am, the open space between Red Fort and Netaji Subhash Marg was mostly barricaded by the police. On the main road, there were about 30 protesters, who were clearly waiting to gather rather than begin the protest. There were two ways here: the road and the metro rail. Starting at Delhi Gate a couple of kilometres away, barricades had been set up at four places on the way to Red Fort. The closest metro stations – Lal Qila, Chandni Chowk, Jama Masjid, Delhi Gate – were shut. Notably, the announcement about the shutting of the metro stations came at 9:42 pm from the Delhi Metro’s official Twitter handle. The march was scheduled to begin at 11 pm.

These tactical measures enabled the police to heavily regulate traffic in Central Delhi, and confuse those travelling by metro.

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At 11 am, the police began detaining 40-50 protesters who had reached Red Fort. For this, dozens of buses were parked in the fort’s open area. Protesters were stuffed in the buses within minutes, with only a few offering noisy resistance. Journalists ran up to the buses to interview the detained protesters as they hung out the windows. “Take them to Bawana,” one police officer told his juniors on the bus.

Only a few protesters at Red Fort had to be taken to the buses with the police lifting them by their arms and legs. At one point, a group of 20 protesters, mostly middle-aged men, sat down on the road and tried to give the police a harder time. But when one of their leaders was forced to stand up and detained, the rest gave up. 

Most of the protesters, however, walked into the waiting buses like compliant tourists. Some beamed with pride, others seemed anxious. They did not organise themselves to protest at the site. “We came here to peacefully protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act,” said one Mohammad Arif. “We wanted to sit and offer our protest, but now Delhi police have detained us. My brother was here too, but I don’t know whether he has been detained and stuffed into a bus or not.”

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At one point, a foreign national got dragged into a crowd of detainees, and the police struggled to not detain him. The nervous man was then taken to a corner and asked to leave.

This walk-in-and-get-detained model remained in place for the rest of the day. Protesters had split up due to the transport restrictions. They arrived at Red Fort in batches, and the police simply detained them in batches. At no point did it become a site of mass or organised protest. The police did not have to resort to violence.

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At 12 pm, the Delhi police asked the gathered mediapersons to move to the main Netaji Subhash Marg, consequently ceasing their access to buses meant for detainees. “We have orders to move you out,” a policeman said, asking me to leave. “Shame on you!” one journalist from a South Indian TV channel told the police as he was escorted out. Police officer Sanjay Bhatia told Newslaundry the police wanted to avoid chaos and “create order”. This despite the fact that nothing drastic had happened at Red Fort all day. After being moved out, the journalists could no longer interview detainees.

“There are measures for your safety,” OP Mishra, the deputy inspector general, told the journalists over a megaphone. 

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Khalid arrived at the protest site around 12:05 pm, and was detained and taken away by 12:15 pm. He was the only prominent activist or politician to show up at Red Fort. The Rapid Action Force was deployed at around 1 pm. Across the road, the police asked the people in Chandni Chowk to go about their lives. Their movement was restricted between 12:30 pm and 1:30 pm, but it was relaxed for the rest of the afternoon. Shops were allowed to stay open.

By 2 pm, the Red Fort area was populated only by policemen and journalists. Around 20 buses were parked in front of the monument, unutilised. They were emblematic of a protest that was nipped in the bud by the shrewd planning of the police and the home ministry.

All photographs by Ismat Ara.


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