Hundreds of protesters kickstarted the new year by taking a mass pledge to "defend the Constitution" against the amended Citizenship Act at New Delhi's India Gate on Wednesday. Even as slogans against the controversial law and the impending National Register of Citizens rent the air, traffic on roads circling the area slowed to a crawl.
Although five Metro stations in the vicinity were shut, authorities said it was more to ease passenger rush on New Year's Day than to control the protest itself. "The entry and exit gates of the Central Secretariat, Udyog Bhawan, Pragati Maidan, Khan Market and Mandi House stations are closed. Interchange is available at Central Secretariat and Mandi House," the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation tweeted. The Metro stations reopened after an hour.
Protests were held at two other parts of the national capital too. While an all-women's protest at Shaheen Bagh entered its seventeenth day at New Year midnight, a citizen's group held a separate demonstration at the Constitution Club of India on Parliament Street.
The Citizenship Amendment Act, for the first time, makes religion the test of citizenship in India. The government says it will help minorities from three Muslim-dominated countries get citizenship if they fled to India because of religious persecution before 2015. Critics say it is designed to discriminate against Muslims and violates the secular principals of the constitution.
"We are protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act, National Register of Citizens and the National Population Register. Our New Year resolution is to defend the constitution," one of the protesters told NDTV.
After launching the New Year with the reading of the preamble, the protesters jointly vowed to "not show any document" to the authorities if approached for the National Register of Citizens and the National Population Register. "We, today on 1st January 2020, reiterate our resolve to give ourselves a society that will be free of oppressors and take an oath to not show any document to prove our citizenship and we will observe and propagate complete non-cooperation with anti-constitution and anti-India forces," they recited together.
"In no way are we going to discriminate against our fellow countrymen on the basis of gender, race, colour, language, sex, caste or religion. Equality and justice, politically, socially and culturally is what we want to assure each other," news agency PTI quoted former JNU Students Union President N Sai Balaji as saying.
Police were deployed at the spot in large numbers to avoid any untoward incident. Similar protests were held at other parts of the country, including Chandigarh, Chennai and Bengaluru.
(With inputs from PTI)