For nearly a month, hundreds of women and children sitting on a road at Shaheen Bagh in Delhi have become the face of the countrywide protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act, which makes religion a criteria for Indian citizenship for the first time. Today, the police started the process of clearing that stretch of the city following orders from the Delhi High Court on a petition citing huge traffic problems on a vital connecting road.
The police have been directed to use "persuasion" rather than force to open the Shaheen Bagh-Kalindi Kunj road, a senior official has told NDTV. The High Court ordered the police to clear the road while keeping in mind the "maintenance of law and order".
The police are in touch with religious leaders and have urged them to persuade protesters to clear the way, the official said.
Shaheen Bagh is near Kalindi Kunj, which connects Delhi to its neighbouring areas like Faridabad and Noida. For weeks, people have been forced to take a different route to bypass the massive protest. This has also caused jams on the Delhi-Noida-Delhi expressway, inconveniencing people who travel to south Delhi from Noida.
A bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice C Hari Shankar asked the police to look into the issue while also keeping in mind the "larger public interests".
"We hereby direct the concerned respondent authorities to look into the grievances ventilated by the petitioner in the writ petition about the restrictions of the usage of the road which is known as Kalindi Kunj-Shaheen Bagh Stretch i.e Road No. 13 A (between Mathura Road and Kalindi Kunj) as well as Okhla underpass and will react, in according with laws, rules, regulations and government policies applicable to the facts of the present case," the court order read.
"The concerned respondent authorities shall also keep in mind the larger public interest as well as the maintenance of the law and order," it added.
The Shaheen Bagh protest started after a police crackdown on the students of Jamia Millia Islamia university during a protest against the citizenship law. Several students were injured in the police action.
The peaceful protest at Shaheen Bagh has gained wide attention, even from the foreign media, and inspired similar protests in cities like Prayagraj. Protests have erupted in several parts of the country against the law, which aims to expedite citizenship for migrants from minority communities in three neighbouring countries, leaving Muslims out of its ambit. Critics say that the law, when implemented along with the National Register of Citizens (NRC), will threaten genuine Muslim citizens in the country.