A road in South East Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh that had been blocked for 70 days amid protests against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) was reopened on Saturday. However, with roadblocks set up by the police in Noida and Delhi, there will not be any relief for commuters travelling between the two cities.
The closure of the roads in the area, exacerbated by barricades put up by traffic police in Delhi and Noida, had been a major point of contention against the protest and has been the subject of a Supreme Court-authorised mediation. The road opened by protesters today is called Road No. 9.
Shaheen Bagh has been the epicentre of anti-CAA protests in Delhi since mid-December following a brutal police crackdown on demonstrators in the neighbouring Jamia Millia Islamia that left over 200 students and around 30 policemen injured.
While the protest, led by women, has been accused by the ruling BJP of inconveniencing residents travelling between Delhi and Noida, the police have admitted that most of the roadblocks obstructing alternative routes in the area have been set up by them to “protect” the protesters.
After the roadblock was challenged in the Supreme Court, senior advocates Sanjay Hegde and Sadhana Ramachandran were named as mediators on Monday. They were tasked with persuading the protesters to continue their agitation in another location.
The interlocutors inspected the roads on Friday and observed that the roads were barricaded by the police for “no apparent reason” and emphasised that the action of blocking the roads “defeats the very purpose of confidence-building on the part of the police”, news agency PTI reported.
“When we checked on the roads, we noticed that you (protesters) were right. Many roads are open, which were blocked by the police. I am very upset to say that the Noida-Faridabad road, which was opened on Friday, was again closed by the police. Whoever has done this is now answerable to the Supreme Court,” Ms Ramachandran said.
A Delhi police official told the interlocutors that the parallel road as well as certain other roads were kept barricaded to “give protection” to the protest site.
Speaking to PTI, a senior police officer in Noida Rajesh S said that the restrictions are a “conscious” decision of the Noida Police. He added that the day the Delhi Police decides to lift the restrictions, “we will also do it on our side”.
While saying that they have no objection to the roads blocked by the police from being opened, the protesters in Shaheen Bagh have requested that the Supreme Court pass an order ensuring their security at the protest that has seen multiple incidents of gunfire following provocative speeches by leaders of the ruling BJP.
The protesters at Shaheen Bagh say the CAA, enacted into law this year, is discriminatory towards Muslims. It promises citizenship to only non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, making religion a test of Indian citizenship for the first time in violation of the secular constitution.
Critics of the law say it can be used to target Muslims in combination with the planned National Register of Citizens. However, the government says the CAA is intended to help people who have faced religious persecution in the three neighbouring countries.