Public anger boiled over onto the streets in the north-eastern part of the country, particularly Assam, for the third day on Thursday, as protests intensified a day after Parliament gave its assent to the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019.
The amendments to the citizenship bill, which will impact the non-tribal areas of Assam and Tripura, have sparked outrage in both states. Protesters and police clashed in Guwahati and Dibrugarh in Assam on Thursday. The arterial G.S. Road in Guwahati and adjoining areas were among those affected with people turning violent in the area. The Centre has deployed five columns of the Indian Army in Assam and three columns of the Assam Rifles in Tripura to quell protests.
Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal released a video appealing to the people “to maintain peace and tranquillity". Prime Minister Narendra Modi also appealed to protesters in Assam to maintain peace and reiterated that the government would ensure their rights are protected. “I want to tell my brothers and sisters in Assam that nobody will take away your rights. Don’t let Congress mislead you," Modi said at a rally in Jharkhand’s Dhanbad on Thursday.
This had little impact. “People are angry because they fear that they will have to share their land, jobs, and resources with foreigners. It is not about Hindus or Muslims. We don’t want any more outsiders in Assam. This decision of the government will ruin our culture and language," said Sukant Sinha, a 36-year-old computer hardware professional based in Guwahati.
A delegation from Tripura, of the Joint Movement Against Citizenship Amendment Bill, met home minister Amit Shah on Thursday and discussed its concerns over CAB. “They were assured by HM that their concerns would be addressed. After his assurance they have called of their strike," the home ministry said.
“This decision of the government is very bad for people of the North-East. There are differences between different communities in the North-East but when it comes to bringing in outsiders, the entire North-East is together. States such as Tripura are overtaken by Bengalis. We don’t want more Bangladeshis in North-East. This decision will have a direct impact on our culture and language," said Chebong Konyale, a 28-year-old provision store owner from Nagaland.
“The decision is being pushed with an iron hand. It is not right. People are protesting for the past three days but the government has not cared to talk to the people. The government should intervene and discuss issues with people. This attitude of the government will only make things worse because people will not agree to the decision," said Deepak Maghi, a security guard from Guwahati.
The Indian Union Muslim League on Thursday filed a petition in the Supreme Court challenging the constitutional validity of the bill, which was passed by the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday evening and now awaits President Ramnath Kovind’s nod before becoming law.
The bill aims to provide citizenship to “any person belonging to the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, or Christian community from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan, who entered into India on or before 31 December 2014". The government has pitched it as citizenship for minority communities forced to seek shelter in India because of religious persecution or its fear in their home countries but the opposition calls it unconstitutional and discriminatory.
The amendment, however, will not be applicable to the tribal areas of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, or Tripura included in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution and in the areas covered under The Inner Line, notified under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873.
Japnam K. Bindra and PTI contributed to this story.