As the sit-in demonstration against CAA-NRC dubbed `Mumbai Bagh’, entered its fourteenth day on Saturday, the Mumbai police were handing out preventive notices under Section 149 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) to protesters entering Morland Road, Nagpada, warning that if any law and order situation were to erupt, they would be held responsible and arrested. Section 149 of the CrPC gives powers to the police to take measures to prevent cognisable offences.
On Friday night, acting on a complaint from the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, the Nagpada police had registered a First Information Report against the protesters for wrongful restraint. In his complaint, a BMC assistant commissioner had stated that the civic body was not able to carry out construction work on the Morland Road as the protesters had set up a stage and put chairs on the road, and also obstructed traffic movement in the area.
On Saturday, policemen deployed outside Mumbai Bagh at Nagpada were sitting with multiple copies of the 149 CrPC notices, and were handing them out to women who were trying to enter the gates. The women protesters were refusing to accept the notices, and sat right in front of the police, who did not allow anyone to enter the protest site without accepting the notice.
"If one wants to enter, we are not stopping them, but just sending them with a notice, highlighting that they could be prosecuted in case the protest turns violent,” said Abhinash Kumar, Deputy Commissioner of Police Abhinash Kumar (Zone 3).
The protesters, however, remained adamant that their demonstration would continue till the state government passes a resolution against the imposition of the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizenship (NRC).
Tarannum Baig, who is a local resident and a regular visitor at the protest venue said, “The BMC works had stopped weeks before the protest began. They are just mentioning the delay as an excuse to move us from this place.”
Echoing her sentiment, Ayesha Siddiqui, a college student said the police had lodged the FIR under political pressure.
“The police officers are acting under political pressure. The officers present didn't ask us once to vacate this place. Rather, they have been cooperative and helping our volunteers in managing the traffic congestion,” said Siddiqui.
Social-activist, Feroze Mithiborewala, who is spearheading the protest since January 26, said the BMC’s complaint was an 'unnamed complaint' and doesn’t specify against whom the complaint is lodged.
“The case lodged by Mumbai Police does not have anyone's name on it. These actions are being done to scare and break the morale of the women. The police have issued notices to the women who voluntarily came to the venue, and are innocent. If someone is to be held responsible, then it should be us (the leaders of the protest), but the police are not doing so. Rather, they are targetting the women.”
Meanwhile, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) legislator, Vidya Chavan visited Morland Road on Saturday, and assured the women that she would take up the matter with the Chief Minister and Home Minister, and condemned the police action.
“I will meet the home minister of the state and ask him why the police are sending them notices. In a democracy, everyone has a right to express their opinion and it will be undemocratic to forcefully move the women from Morland Road,” Chavan said.