A mini Shaheen Bagh materialised in Chennai's Old Washermenpet area late Friday night, following police action on protesters agitating against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act. As protests demanding 'azaadi' rented the air, close to a thousand men and women from Muslim communities in and around the area joined a sit-in along the bylanes of Thiruvottiyur High Road. Condemning the police decision to lathi charge at protesters who had gathered there earlier in the day, they also demanded a repeal of the CAA, which excludes Muslims from its ambit.
According to protesters, they had gathered for an agitation in the area, following the offering of Friday prayers at the local mosque. When police came to the venue in the evening, protesters allege that force was used in an attempt to disperse the demonstration. Heavy police presence was deployed in the area as protesters continued to agitate well into the night.
Speaking to TNM, Sahiya, a protester who was allegedly roughed up by the police, said, “When we refused to leave, they pulled us by the hair and dragged us from the road. When we questioned them, they carried us bodily with two people holding our feet up.”
She alleged, “I told them I was wearing a saree and it would be embarrassing because people were taking videos. But they slapped me for saying this, dragged and pushed me into the van. There were five women and 20 men in the van. They took us round the block for sometime and then let us go. We are wounded from being manhandled. They threatened to remand us at the Trichy jail.”
Police excess allegedly began earlier on Friday evening, leading to several injuries amongst protesters. One woman police officer reportedly sustained injuries.
Visuals from the area at around 8 pm show over dozens of policemen dragging protesters away from the main site of the agitation. The policemen can be seen manhandling, kicking and even beating them as they are forcibly dragged away. The Hindu quoted the police as saying that there had briefly been stone throwing and that this swiftly brought under control.
“Are we disturbing the public? Are we creating any trouble? Then why is the police beating us up? Several people have been injured. They have taken our boys somewhere as well,” asked Fathima, who was present during the police clampdown.
“We are protesting inside our area for our rights. The Prime Minister doesn't want Hindus and Muslims to be friendly. We have fought hard for the rights that we have. We are following the Gandhian way of fighting for our rights. This is our country and we are not going anywhere,” she added.
The police action reportedly prompted protests in Coimbatore, Erode and Thiruvannamalai districts in addition to another demonstration in Chennai at Anna Salai.
Chennai city police commissioner AK Viswanathan held talks with representatives of Muslim groups, following which the detainees in Washermenpet had been let go.
Meanwhile, an image of a 70-year-old Muslim man who passed away during the time of the protest has been doing the rounds on social media. The city police said that “the death of the elderly man due to natural causes is being deliberately, falsely spread by a few as fake news that it is a death during the CAA protests.” The police urged citizens not to believe it.
Speaking to TNM, CoP Viswanathan said, “None died in police action. A 70-year-old man living streets away died of natural causes.”