Protests escalate in northeast against citizenship bill, army called out, internet suspended

Hindustan Times, Guwahati / Agartala/New Delhi | BySadiq Naqvi and Priyanka Deb Barman
Dec 12, 2019 05:28 AM IST

Mobile Internet services were also suspended in 10 districts of Assam, the epicentre of the anti-CAB protests, for 24 hours from 7 pm on Wednesday.

A curfew was enforced in Guwahati, the principal city in Assam, where the army was called in on Wednesday night after tens of thousands of protestors took to the streets against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, or CAB, clashing with the police and paramilitary troopers, as protests raged in the northeast

Protestors burn tyres and public property on road during a protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019, in Guwahati on Wednesday.(PTI)
Protestors burn tyres and public property on road during a protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019, in Guwahati on Wednesday.(PTI)

Mobile Internet services were also suspended in 10 districts of Assam, the epicentre of the anti-CAB protests, for 24 hours from 7 pm on Wednesday. An army spokesperson said the army had deployed two columns in Tripura, one column consisting of 70 personnel.

“Curfew has been imposed in Guwahati. We have also called in the army,” Assam’s additional director general of police Mukesh Agarwal said, as in New Delhi the Rajya Sabha debated the legislation that seeks to fast-track Indian citizenship for members of persecuted minorities such as Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians, Jains and Parsis from the Muslim-majority nations of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The Lok Sabha passed the bill on Tuesday.

An army spokesperson in Guwahati said two columns of the Army had been deployed in the city and will be performing a flag march. Earlier in the day, the spokesperson said three Army columns—two for Tripura and one for Assam -- had been requisitioned.

The Centre on Wednesday also airlifted over 5,000 paramilitary personnel to northeastern states, including Assam, in the wake of the violent protests against CAB, a senior home ministry official said. The curfew was clamped in Guwahati after protests of a scale reminiscent of those that took place during the six-year movement against illegal immigrants in the state that ended with the signing of the Assam Accord in 1985.

Post-noon, as the contentious bill was tabled in Rajya Sabha, the roads of Guwahati started filling up with protestors. Hundreds of protestors including students marched to Janata Bhawan, the Assam secretariat, chanting slogans against CAB and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Hundreds gathered spontaneously at several other places in the city and blocked roads with burning tyres.

Protesters fought pitched battles with security forces across Assam,including in front of the secretariat. By the evening, the government announced that it was suspending mobile internet services in Lakhimpur, Dhemaji, Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Charaideo, Sivasagar, Jorhat, Golaghat, Kamrup (Metro) and Kamrup districts for 24 hours till 7 pm Thursday. A similar shutdown was ordered in Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh on Tuesday.

Protesters pulled down barricades on the arterial Guwahati-Shillong Road, prompting the police to burst tear-gas shells and take recourse to a baton-charge. Protesters burned tyres and blocked highways and rail lines.

Anti-CAB protesters also clashed with police in Dibrugarh, where security forces fired rubber bullets and tear-gas shells to disperse the demonstrators.

Protests also rocked Jorhat, Golaghat, Dibrugarh, Tinsukia, Sivasagar, Bongaigaon, Nagaon, Sonitpur and many other districts. In view of the protests, the Northeast Frontier Railway cancelled many trains and rescheduled some that originate from the state. At least 14 trains have either been cancelled, shortened or diverted anticipating “disruptions in train movement,” NF Railway chief public relations officer Subhanan Chanda said.

A motorcycle rally was organised against the CAB in chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal’s hometown, Chabua. Gauhati University, Cotton University and Dibrugarh University had to postpone examinations scheduled for Wednesday.

Student organizations, civil society groups and opposition parties in Assam have been at the forefront of the protests against the CAB, saying it would lead to an influx of religious minorities from Bangladesh and hurt the interests of indigenous communities. A large section opposing the bill, which proposes a cutoff date of December 31, 2014, also says it will nullify the provisions of the Assam Accord of 1985, which fixed March 24, 1971, as the cut-off date for deportation of all illegal immigrants in the state irrespective of religion.

The protesters organized an 11-hour shutdown in the northeast on Tuesday saying they oppose the bill out of concern that more migrants who came to the country illegally will move to the border region and dilute the culture and political sway of indigenous tribal people. “The people are determined and we are determined against CAB. The CAB must go,” said Samujjal Bhattacharya, the chief advisor of All Assam Students Union, said.

“People of Assam are against CAB, yet they {Centre} are imposing it on us. Whatever happened is government’s fault. Top government ministers have provoked people. The chief minister has totally failed in maintaining law and order,” said R Konwar, Assam Congress spokesperson.

“People who talk about democracy are engaging in vandalism. Is this democracy? Organisations who are leading this agitation did not appeal for peace. They should go to the Supreme Court,” said Rupam Goswami, a spokesperson for the BJP.

Meanwhile, in Tripura the internet shutdown continued amid clashes between anti-CAB protesters and security forces.

Additional director general of police Rajiv Singh said skirmishes took place in Ambassa, Kamalpur of Dhalai, and Teliamura of Khowai, among other places. Singh said the situation was under control. Chief minister Biplab Kumar Deb appealed to all parties to maintain peace.

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