Truck driver killed in protests against citizenship act, Assam CM Sarbananda Sonowal appeals for peace
The empty oil tanker was on its way from Sipajhar in Udalguri district when it was set ablaze by protesters at Dhekiajuli in Sonitpur on Friday night, police said.Updated: Dec 15, 2019 02:37 IST
A truck driver died in central Assam’s Sonitpur district on Saturday after rampaging protesters set his vehicle on fire as Assam’s chief minister appealed for calm to contain violent clashes that have roiled the north-east over changes to India’s citizenship laws.
The empty oil tanker was on its way from Sipajhar in Udalguri district when it was set ablaze by protesters at Dhekiajuli in Sonitpur on Friday night, police said. The driver of the tanker was taken to a private nursing home where he succumbed to severe burn injuries on Saturday morning, they said.
This came as student groups across the north-east organised sit-ins and road blockades, and the All Assam Students Union – which is spearheading the demonstrations – announced a three-day “satyagraha” starting Monday.
These groups are opposing the Citizenship Amendment Act -- which grants citizenship to Hindus, Buddhists, Parsis, Sikhs, Christians and Jains from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. They feel that the region, which has for long demanded separate protections to safeguard its cultural identity, will be overrun by refugees if the new act is implemented.
The AASU have agreed to scale back demonstrations and not hold any events after 5pm after two men died in violent clashes on Thursday.
On Saturday, authorities relaxed curfew and prohibitory orders in Dibrugarh and Guwahati, which saw long queues at the ATMs and fuel stations as locals stepped out to buy essentials.
Workers could be seen cleaning the roads of soot, iron rails and stones – remnants of violent protests that saw thousands torch vehicles, uproot railings and clash with police and officials.
To douse the simmering anger, chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal suggested on Saturday that the number of people benefitting from the amendments was likely to be low.
“People living with us for decades will be able to apply for citizenship through the CAB. This is certain that their number will be extremely less,” said Sonowal. Protests were also reported from Meghalaya and parts of Nagaland, and staff at the Assam secretariat announced a work boycott next week.
The ban on mobile and broadband internet, which was clamped on December 11, was extended until 7pm Monday.
In Tinsukia and Dibrugarh, two of the worst-affected districts in Upper Assam, even the services of the state-run BSNL broadband was blocked, a senior state government official confirmed.
A second official said that the government was considering relaxing the curfew for an additional two hours on Sunday.
“We are not against democratic protests. But any violence, hooliganism and vandalism will be crushed. The Government is trying to assess the damage to public property and people are involved will soon be apprehended and necessary strong action will be taken,” said Kumar Sanjay Krishna, additional chief secretary, home.
“We are hopeful that soon full normalcy will be restored,” he added.
Protests began soon after the amendments passed the Lok Sabha last week, and police said that at least 2,000 people had been apprehended for their suspected role in the violence.
One of those was activist Akhil Gogoi, who was picked up Assam Police on Thursday. He was booked by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), according to a top police officer, and likely to be taken out of Assam soon.
The protests have singed several political parties, and on Saturday, at least 200 office bearers of the party in several Upper Assam districts resigned after angry demonstrations.
Sonowal tried to allay fears about the CAA.
“In the middle of these protests many people have tried to create apprehensions amongst people with wrong facts through a misinformation campaign…They are creating terror amongst people,” he said.
State BJP president Ranjeet Dass blamed the Congress for the violent clashes. “In Upper Assam, Congress members in the name of student organisations have forcibly entered the houses of our elected representatives and forced them to resign,” Dass said.
The Congress denied the allegations. “People came out spontaneously. Upper Assam will be affected by CAA so the people protested,” said R Konwar, spokesperson for the Assam unit of the Congress.
(with agency inputs)