Commuters across the National Capital Region (NCR) faced a harrowing time during the morning rush hour as police barricading at border areas to prevent citizens from reaching venues of several protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) here on Thursday triggered serpentine jams on arterial roads.
Metro trains ran packed, Internet services were suspended at multiple locations across Delhi, and offices and shops were shut in central Delhi as police personnel cracked down on protesters. At Red Fort, hundreds of protesters were detained, including student leader Umar Khalid and Swaraj India’s Yogendra Yadav. Buses filled with protesters were sent away to different locations in the capital.
Scores of police officials on law and order duty made sure they did not let anyone come at the protest site in front of the Red Fort without asking them about the purpose of the visit. The markets remained opened near the Red Fort but commuters faced problems as they had to walk about a kilometre two because the road was blocked by police.
The police only allowed those who claimed to be crossing the area to do so; protesters who reached the site were detained within minutes. “You can create a war zone and we can’t even scream?” a protester yelled as she was whisked away from Red Fort. “If your children get admission in Delhi University they will also have to bear batons on their chest like us,” she added.
Several protesters expressed discontentment over the authorities’ attempts to disrupt the protests. While some took to presenting police personnel with roses, others chose to express their discontentment through placards. ‘Shut Down Fascism Not The Internet’ read one placard; another bore the Bharatiya Janata Party's symbol, a saffron lotus, adjacent a Swastika with the caption ‘Orange is the New Black’.
Slogans such as ‘Jo Hitler Ki Chaal Chalega Woh Hitler ki Maut Marega’ were chanted by protesting students at Jantar Mantar. At around 12 p.m., a large chunk of protestors, some of whom who had escaped detention at Mandi House, gathered at the Barakhamba Metro Station Gates 1 and 6.
There was initially talk of the protest march starting from the Nepal Embassy but the police officials present at Barakhamba informed the public that a protest had begun at Jantar Mantar. The protesters then began moving towards Jantar Mantar at around 12.50 p.m. where hundreds had already gathered and the crowd was increasing by the minute.
Students from various universities took part in the protest in addition to professors, lawyers, political parties, members of civil society and locals alike. There was heavy sloganeering demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in addition to Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
The movement of traffic from Gurgaon to Delhi and Noida to Delhi was among the worst affected as police has barricaded the roads to detect movement of protesters. Ritu Raj, a DLF Phase-3 resident, went to drop his relative at the Indira Gandhi International Airport. She left at 8 a.m. from U Block and remained caught in a jam till 9.15 a.m. The relative’s flight to Chennai at 9.30 a.m. was missed.
The jam extended from Rajokri flyover to IFFCO Chowk, which is around 5 km from the point of barricading by the Delhi Police on the Delhi-Gurugram border. It then spread a further 5 km till the Signature Towers on the Gurugram side due to restriction on entry to Delhi.
Commuters took to Facebook and Twitter to share their experiences and caution fellow drivers headed towards Delhi. By the end of the day, over 250 people who had been held from protest venues across the city and detained at the Surajmal Stadium in Nangloi and the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium in Bawana were allowed to leave.
Those allowed to walk out of preventive custody included Sandeep Dikshit, D. Raja, Sitaram Yechury, Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav. No arrests, the police said, had been made. At Rajghat, however, hundreds of Hindu and Sikh refugees from Pakistan and Afghanistan were allowed by the Delhi Police to carry out a demonstration in support of the CAA.
Police deployed drones in sensitive areas of east Delhi to keep a watch on the area as part of precautionary measures. Internet services remained suspended in certain areas of central, south and outer Delhi between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Following protests across the city, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) shut as many as 19 stations across the network.
Metro stations, including the Central Secretariat, Jamia Milia Islamia , Munirka, Lal Quila, Chandni Chowk, ITO, Mandi House, Udyog Bhawan, Patel Chowk and Vishwavidyala among others, were closed for commuters. Rajiv Chowk, which is one of the busiest stations on the Delhi Metro network, was closed for nearly two hours.
Several commuters stranded at the Central Secretariat and Rajiv Chowk metro stations complained about the inconvenience to the public by the closing of metro stations. While some denounced the move as “draconian”, others said that the government was within its rights to impose restrictions to maintain security.