Around mid-afternoon on 17 December, Mohammad Zakir, a 48-year-old labourer, was standing outside a godown in north-east Delhi’s Seelampur area, when some men came running and went straight inside. Before he could react, two Delhi Police personnel, who had been chasing the men, caught hold of Zakir. The policemen started beating him and dragged him to the street in front of the godown. Zakir told us, “I kept telling them that I am not a part of the protestors, but they kept hitting me. On the street, at least fifteen policemen kept beating me with dandas.” The godown Zakir works at is in Seelampur’s Gali Number 21. “The police kept beating me as they dragged me from Gali Number 21 to Gali Number 15 and when I fainted, they left me there because they thought I was dead,” he said.
That day, the residents of Seelampur had organised a protest against the recently passed Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019. Seelampur is an assembly constituency of Delhi which was a Muslim-majority locality till 2008, when delimitation evened out the demographic. Mohammad Javed, a resident of Seelampur who is in his late twenties, told us, “The people were holding a peaceful protest against this law. The police had put up barricades on the way and so people sat down on the road.” He added, “We were born in Hindustan and we will be buried in its soil only. If they like some other land, they can leave this country and go, we will not go. Till we are alive, we will fight. They have to revoke this bill come what may.”
A young man in his mid-twenties, who was standing with Javed, said, “The people whose ancestors are buried here are being asked to prove if they are Hindustani and not Pakistani or Bangladeshi.” He said that the CAA was brought in to distract people from the “real issues.” He added that the act was brought in because “the country’s economy is bad so they want to turn people’s attention away from it.”
According to media reports, the Delhi Police lathi charged the protestors after they started pelting stones and damaged some Delhi Transport Corporation buses. The local contested this version of events. Amir Qureshi, a resident of Seelampur who was part of the protest, said, “If we wanted to fight, why would we come unarmed? After all, the police came armed with their weapons.” He told us that a stampede began the moment the police started lathi charging the protestors.
We were standing with Qureshi outside a shop in Seelampur that had been destroyed during the violence. He showed us a video, recorded during the protest, which revealed police personnel lifting the shutter of that shop and destroying the merchandise inside. Qureshi said that a middle-aged man, known as Qadir bhai, sells flowers right outside that shop. “When the lathi charge started, Qadir bhai ran inside the shop to save himself. Look, you can see the police beating Qadir bhai with dandas,” he said. Later, other residents told us that Qadir was in the hospital because his eye was injured in the beating.