"The police let loose goons from the Bajrang Dal and the Shiv Sena on us. They were hand in glove with each other," activist Gautam Navlakha told DNA on a day his face was blackened with mud at Jantar Mantar. He was among those present at the venue to register their protest against death penalty, especially in a case like Afzal Guru's which allegedly has many loopholes.
Human rights and civil society groups, student groups, as well as individuals, many of them Kashmiris, gathered at Jantar Mantar to protest the death penalty to Guru. However, they discovered that there was no difference between the Delhi Police which is supposed to protect them, and goons from right-wing groups who were there to heckle them. The protesters were pushed around, abused and beaten up while the Delhi Police looked on and tore away their posters.
Shehla Rashid, a Delhi-based Kashmiri who was very active in speaking out against the recent fatwa against Kashmir's all-girl music band, said, “I have been at Jantar Mantar earlier too when the anti-rape protests happened. At that time too, the police were insensitive but not like this. There is no space for nuance, no one is trying to understand why we are opposing death penalty. Just because it is an issue involving Kashmir, I don't have the right to protest."
What disturbed those present the most was the collusion between the police and right-wing elements. "They did not arrest a single person who was attacking us, and instead detained those of us where were protesting against death penalty,” Navlakha said. He added that women were abused, heckled and abusive language was used against them. “The Delhi police protected goons in saffron and detained us instead. The police tore off our posters and asked us to stop,” wrote a blogger who was at the venue.
At least 21 people were detained at Mandir Marg police station for a few hours before being released.
Umar, a JNU student who was among those detained, said the police asked them to go home as they won't be able to protect them against those who were out to attack them. "We told them you are here to protect us but they said they won't be able to stop them."
The People's Union For Civil Liberties (PUCL) issued a statement saying, "We are concerned by reports that right-wing goons were permitted by the police to use violence against the protesters. PUCL asserts the right of citizens to dissent and express their opposition to capital punishment in a peaceful manner. "