Violence over the amended citizenship act rocked the national capital on Sunday, with public buses being set on fire in a busy south Delhi colony and police using tear gas on protesters gathered near Jamia Millia Islamia, an area that has remained tense following Friday’s clashes over the new law that has also roiled the North-east over the past week.
The police said people agitating against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) set fire to at least four buses and several two-wheelers in New Friends Colony, following which they fired tear gas shells and lathi-charged the protesters to disperse them. The university said its students were not behind the violence, and that people from outside the campus were involved in the clashes with the police.
Jamia Millia Islamia chief proctor Waseem Ahmed Khan said the police entered the university by force and beat up staff members and students, who were forced to leave the campus. Students could be seen coming out of the university campus with their hands raised as the police escorted them. Rumsha, an undergraduate student at the university, said: “They [police] barged inside the library’s reading room and beat up students, dragging them out. We were not a part of the protests.”
The violence came two days after protesting students were lathi-charged by police at the university, after which 50 people were detained and large gatherings banned in the area.
On Sunday, dozens were injured in the clashes over four hours in the area surrounding Jamia Millia Islamia, police said. A witness said the protesters and police could be seen hurling stones at each. Agitators also vandalised property at some places, he said.
The police shut at least 16 Metro stations and several roads across the national capital to prevent students from gathering at venues such as the police headquarters. A large group, however, collected outside the Delhi Police headquarters near ITO around 9pm to protest the force’s handling of the situation. They raised anti-police slogans in an agitation call by the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) students’ union and other students’ bodies.
Violent clashes have continued over the past week in the North-east over the new law, which gives citizenship to Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Christians, Parsis and Jains who entered India from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan on or before December 31, 2014. Government says the law does not include Muslims on the grounds that they are part of the majority communities in those countries, and therefore not persecuted. North-eastern groups feel the draft legislation will legitimise the influx of illegal immigrants into the region.
Two people succumbed to bullet injuries since Saturday night, taking the total death toll in police firing to four in Guwahati. Another person was killed as the oil tanker he was driving was set on fire during violent protests on Saturday in central Assam.
A police officer said about 2,000 protesters gathered near Jamia Millia Islamia on Sunday afternoon and tried to approach Ring Road, when they were stopped by police. “We can’t say whether it was a mob of students or locals… They were also stopped at the barricade in New Friends Colony area and then they went towards the Ring Road and burnt DTC buses… We had to push them [back after they turned violent],” said Chinmoy Biswal, south-east deputy commissioner of police.
Delhi deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia, however, said there should be a fair probe into allegations that policemen had poured something into the DTC buses before they were set on fire. He shared an image on Twitter that showed a man tilting a canister into a bus as he was surrounded by policemen.
“On whose direction was this done? The photo clearly shows that the Bharatiya Janata Party has indulged in dirty politics by getting the police to set fire to the buses,” the deputy CM said, adding a political hue to the violent protests.
The BJP’s Vijender Gupta earlier alleged that Aam Aadmi Party MLA Amanatullah Khan was behind the violent protests in the Capital. Khan, however, denied any involvement in the violence.
The Congress’s Randeep Surjewala criticised the central government over Sunday’s police action. “Is the move by the BJP government to enter the library and hotel of Jamia Millia Islamia and fire tear gas shells justified?” he said.
The remarks came after Prime Minister Narendra Modi accused the Congress and its allies of fuelling violence over CAA. He said the opposition party’s action proved that the decision to pass the bill was “1,000% correct”, and those indulging in arson “can be identified by their clothes”.
“The Congress and its allies are stoking fire over the Citizenship Act, but people of northeast have rejected violence,” he said during an election rally in Jharkhand.
Those injured on Sunday included students, local residents, police personnel and journalists hit by tear gas, lathi-charge and stone-pelting.
“So far, around 25 people have been brought to the hospital. Most of them had minor injuries like bruises and lacerations. They have been given first-aid. Three people are admitted, two people from the police department and one from the general public,” Reverand Fr George, director of Holy Family Hospital, said. While the police did not give an official number on those injured, Jamia students said about 60 people were taken to different hospitals in the area.
A video being circulated on social media showed gunfire by the police but Biswal said “these are all rumours”. “There was no firing whatsoever by the police. If anyone has been shot and injured, it must be the work of the protesters. We don’t have any information on it,” he said.
Biswal said that the police’s entry into the Jamia campus was necessary as many protesters ran into the varsity premises while being chased by the police. “They needed to be brought out and the campus secured,” he said, denying that the police targeted students inside.
The Jamia Millia students’ community as well as the teachers’ association distanced themselves from the violence and arson.
The violence and protests also triggered massive traffic snarls in south Delhi, particularly Mathura Road and Ring Road. Vikas Marg also remained choked on Sunday night because of the protests outside the police headquarters.
MS Randhawa, Delhi Police spokesperson, said that the situation was controlled by 8.30pm and the police were monitoring the situation. “We will soon identify the anti-social elements and take stringent action against them,” he said.
The Delhi government announced that schools in south Delhi areas such as Okhla, Jamia Nagar, New Friends Colony and Madanpur Khadar were being shut on Monday to ensure safety of students.