At around 9 pm, on the evening of 20 December, Shahid Ali, a 55-year-old man, waited outside the Daryaganj police station in central Delhi. He was there to inquire about his 19-year-old son, who had been detained by the police earlier that day. But Ali was not allowed to enter the police station. The station’s main gate was locked and he couldn’t find any police personnel to answer his questions. Two hours earlier, Ali’s son had called him over the phone and asked him to come to the police station with his identification documents as soon as possible. He told Ali that police had accused him of rioting and detained him. Since then, Ali had been unable to speak to his son.
Ali earns his livelihood by selling warm clothes on a footpath around the Red Fort. His son helped him in the business. Ali was among a dozen others who had gathered at the Daryaganj police station to inquire about their children. Their sons had informed them of their detentions before going incommunicado.
These detentions were part of a police crackdown on a protest march against the Citizenship Amendment Act on 20 December. The Delhi police’s conduct was symptomatic of a police state that has little accountability to its citizens and the law of the land. For over two hours, they refused to let lawyers and doctors gathered outside to meet detainees or provide first aid to the injured among them. It eventually took a battery of around thirty lawyers and an order from central Delhi’s chief metropolitan magistrate for the police to allow a lawyer and a doctor to meet the detainees. Tara Narula, the lawyer who was allowed inside, confirmed that 31 adults and eight minors had been detained. I visited the police station that night and met the families of several of the detainees, all of whom were residents of the Daryaganj area.
The people I spoke to were labourers, cart vendors and glass cutters. Others sold clothes for a living. Most of the detainees helped their respective families in their businesses, while a few attended college in their spare time. All the detainees were between 19 and 24 years old. The families of the detainees had been outside the police station for over two hours. Violating due process, the police had not yet confirmed to them that their kin had been detained. They told me that would never have known about the detentions if their sons had not called them.
Earlier that day, the residents of Old Delhi, a part of the Central Delhi district, had gathered on the steps of the Jama Masjid after the Friday prayer to observe a peaceful sit-in against the CAA. The Bhim Army leader Chandrashekhar Azad had also joined the protestors. Later in the evening, the number of the protestors swelled from the mosque to the Delhi Gate in Daryaganj. The protestors then attempted to march towards Jantar Mantar. In a statement, the Delhi police said they tried to “persuade” the crowed not to march to Jantar Mantar. When the crowed did not heed the “police advice,” the police said they used “water canon and minimun force to push them back.” Meanwhile, a private car parked at Subhash Marg in Daryaganj was set ablaze. The police also claimed the protestors were pelting stones that injured senior officers.