On the evening of 15 December, around thirty people gathered in Delhi’s Batla House locality, near Jamia Millia Islamiya, for a candlelight protest to mark the anniversary of police brutality inside the university campus. Exactly one year ago, amid protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, the Delhi Police had stormed the university to launch a brutal attack on students, lobbing teargas shells inside the campus, breaking into the library and indiscriminately assaulting individuals inside with lathis. The protesters sought to conduct a peaceful march to a nearby mosque, and mark the incident a “black day” in history. But they said that soon after they assembled, the Delhi Police surrounded the peaceful protesters and began detaining them without offering any explanation or information about where they were being taken.
Faroaghul Islam, a Jamia graduate who participated in the protest, said that the initial plan was to assemble in Ghafoor Nagar, around one kilometre from Batla House, and march to Gate 13 of Jamia Millia Islamia, from where the police had launched their attack last year. The protesters assembled at Ghafoor Nagar first, by around 6 pm. Everyone we spoke with underscored the heavy police presence at the site, several of them adding that the police were over double the protesters in strength. “I did not understand why there were so many police present in and around the area, especially with riot gear,” Sneha Mukherjee, an advocate who was trying to secure the release of the detainees, told us.
According to Islam, the police were intimidating the protesters, which led them to drop their plan to march to Jamia Millia. They instead decided to reassemble at Batla House and march to the nearby Hari Masjid. “They were literally threatening all the shopkeepers in the area and the citizens around there, and they were asking them to shut down the shops and move away from the area,” he told us. A protester who was later detained, and spoke to us on the condition of anonymity, said, “They were terrified of the march for some reason, and it is tough to understand why they are so insecure.”
Wasim Ehsan, another protester and a resident of Batla House, told us that the candlelight march was also a protest against the atrocities that Muslims have faced since the start of the anti-CAA movement, including detentions under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. “It is our right to remember what happened a year ago to all of us as a community,” Ehsan said. “They are violating our rights by trying to stifle this.” Several eyewitnesses told us that the participants raised slogans against the CAA, and in support of the protesting farmers and political prisoners arrested for the anti-Muslim violence in Delhi in February this year. “They have served over fifty notices under UAPA to Muslims, and are not calling out the main perpetrator of the Delhi riots. Why are they treating him like Voldemort and not naming him, we know it is Kapil Mishra.” The Bharatiya Janata Party leader Mishra had given an incendiary speech hours before the communal violence began in northeast Delhi.
Shortly after 6 pm, the protesters reassembled at Batla House and began raising slogans. When the slogans were first raised, Ehsan said, the police blocked off two sections of the street, from the front and the back, blocking off the only routes that the protestors could have taken. “There were over sixty policemen, almost two policemen for every protestor,” he said. The Delhi Police then began detaining protesters. “They used excessive force against us,” Ehsan added.