Protests against the new citizenship law took a violent turn in northeast Delhi’s New Seelampur on Tuesday, with police being pelted with bricks and stones and two buses being vandalised. At least 12 police personnel were injured.
The epicentre of the violence was the New Seelampur Chowk, where a large crowd gathered in the afternoon responding to a call for a protest. The crowd of over 2,000 mainly comprised local youth, workers and traders of the area.
While protesters initially stuck to sloganeering against the new law and the central government for around an hour, as things began to wrap up, a few unidentified, bare-chested youths hurled bricks at police personnel who were keeping an eye on the gathering.
Soon, some from the crowd vandalised buses, triggering police to retaliate with lathi-charge and teargas. A public toilet next to a police picket was also set on fire.
Local residents said the area had been witnessing protests over the issue, albeit on a smaller scale, over the last three days. They insisted that ‘outsiders’ had indulged in Tuesday’s violence.
A resident of Seelampur who was present at the protest said several stone pelters had their faces covered.
Former Seelampur MLA Mateen Ahmed (Congress) had also called a bike rally against the new law on Tuesday. When contacted, he said: ‘My protest was primarily in the lanes. My supporters did not go to the main road where violence broke out. Our march started at 1.30 pm and ended at 3 pm. There are CCTVs everywhere and footage can prove I was not part of the mob.’
According to locals, the crowd that gathered at New Seelampur Chowk had started from two areas — New Seelampur and Jaffrabad. Traders said the last time this area witnessed clashes was in 2007 in the wake of a sealing exercise.
The Nehru Market area, where roads were strewn with bricks and shards of glass after the clashes ebbed, has one mosque and two temples.
Amid the violence, clips of police lathi-charge began doing the rounds, which further instigated the crowd.
As traders started downing shutters, those fleeing from the police tried to enter the shops. Six people, including passersby, received injuries. Raees, 50, said he was passing through the area when he saw a ‘shell’ coming through the air. To shield himself, he raised his right hand and the shell exploded, said Raees, who works at an eatery in Jamia.
His mother Fehnusha said: ‘My son was going to his restaurant and had nothing do with the protest. Doctors are telling us he might lose his hand; how will we manage then?’
Alok Kumar, JCP, eastern range, said, ‘Police teams used teargas shells when some protesters pelted stones… the protesters had dispersed and we suspect a shell might have hit other civilians as well. The shell can cause burn injury on skin; we are checking medical reports and probing the matter.’
Metro stations across the area, including Seelampur, Welcome and Jaffrabad, were shut in the wake of the violence. In the afternoon, a large number of policemen and Rapid Action Force personnel were deployed in the area, even as sporadic protests broke out every few minutes.
In an effort to maintain peace, calls to stop violence were made through the mosque’s speakers. By 4.30 pm, the situation was largely under control.
Around 6 pm, some locals gathered outside Jaffrabad police station demanding ‘release of detainees’.
Alok Kumar, Joint CP, East, said: ‘Over 3,000 people were marching towards Seelampur. Our teams were there and had put barricades. We tried to stop them and told them to conduct a peaceful protest. For around 45 minutes, they were there, but when the crowd dispersed, a few of the men started pelting stones at policemen. We used teargas and pushed the protesters back. They destroyed two buses, a few bikes and also broke the windows of a Rapid Action Force vehicle… this lasted for an hour, after which we took the help of locals. People from mosques, madrasas and RWAs appealed to the protesters to maintain peace. Some policemen were also injured.’
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