Trying to recreate history, protesters court infamy

NEW DELHI: ‘Qila Fateh’ is the stuff of legends for the Sikhs. The raising of the Nishan Sahib at Red Fort by a section of the protesting farmers on Tuesday appeared to reverberate with the emotions treasured by the community about the 1783 breaching of Qila-e-Mualla, as Red Fort is known in Sikh history. Historians, of course, aren’t certain about the authenticity of the Sikh claim. There is an instance of the Sikh army at the walls of Delhi, but the entry into the fortified residence of the Mughal emperor “was developed in Sikh legends and historical veracity is missing even in the work of historian Jadunath Sarkar”, pointed out Swapna Liddle, historian and author of Chandni Chowk, the Mughal City of Old Delhi.

Historically correct or not, the said breaching of the fort continues to inspire the Sikhs. In 2018, Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee decided to annually celebrate Delhi Fateh Diwas, when it is held the Sikh standard, the Nishan Saheb, was first unfurled on the ramparts and the army led by Baghel Singh Dhaliwal penetrated right up to Diwan-i-Aam to lay claim to the city where they later built iconic gurdwaras.

On Republic Day, historical proof wasn’t on the minds of the rampaging Sikhs. They wanted to replay what they consider an epochal episode in their community legend. Atop tractors, the protestors asserted they would unfurl their flag at Red Fort. As Kanwaljeet Singh, a young protestor from Kurukshetra, belligerently declared, “Red Fort is the symbol of power, and the Prime Minister speaks from its ramparts. We want to capture it and make the PM hear our voice.”

On Wednesday, the remains revealed the chaos of the previous day. There was heavy police presence there and when the damages were assessed, the overturned police jeep near the ticket counter was a start remnant of the violence. Several metal detector gates lay broken, as did automated fare collection gates, conveyor belt, metal detectors and other items. In the audio room, where headphones are provided to tourists in different languages for information on the medieval fort, the chaos was in easy to see.

The moat, into which many police personnel jumped to escape the protestors’ attacks, was strewn with broken helmets, police boots, even a forlorn Aadhaar card and a bloody handkerchief. Some of the Republic Day tableaux, include of CPWD, were found ruined.

The Archaeological Survey of India did not comment on the damages incurred in the fort.

On Tuesday, the protestors surged in and tried to breach the gates leading to the Naubat Khana. When police used force to deter them, the farmers retaliated. Police personnel, outnumbered, jump off the walls to escape them, leaving the field free for vandalising.

After smashing CCTV cameras and uprooting the fencing, the young protesters assembled outside the World Heritage Site’s ticket counter and in minutes, using rods, sticks and rocks, shattered the glass structure. They went on to wreck the toilets and ransack some rooms, which held files and documents. The security room, with its metal detectors and monitors for CCTV cameras, was also damaged.

On Wednesday, ASI said Red Fort would be shut for the public till January 31. Usually, the monument is closed from January 21 to 27 for the Republic Day events. Having suffered damages, ASI is closing the fort for a few more days.

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