GUWAHATI: Two people were killed and several wounded on Thursday when police in northeast India opened fire on a large crowd demonstrating against the country’s new citizenship bill.
Federal authorities deployed thousands of paramilitaries and blocked mobile internet access in the region, while local police who joined them in opposing protesters defying a curfew in Guwahati, in Assam state, opened fire both blank and live rounds.
India’s Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), passed by the upper house of parliament on Wednesday, allows for the fast-tracking of citizenship applications from religious minorities from three neighbouring countries, but not Muslims.
The two demonstrators who died on Thursday were among a large group being treated for various wounds at Guwahati Medical College and Hospital, Ramen Talukdar, a doctor at the hospital, told AFP.
Imran urges world leaders to counter Modi’s Hindu supremacist agenda
“A few of those people were brought in with bullet injuries. Two of those 21 people have died,” he said.
For Islamic groups, the opposition, rights groups and others in India, the new law is part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist agenda to marginalise India’s 200 million Muslims, something he denies.
But many in India’s far-flung northeast object because they fear the legislation, which prompted angry exchanges in parliament this week, will give citizenship to Hindu immigrants from Bangladesh.
Five thousand paramilitary troops were deployed in Guwahati, while many roads and highways were blocked to prevent the spread of protests.
Officials said 20 to 30 people have been hurt in the demonstrations in recent days, with vehicles torched and police firing tear gas and charging the crowds with wooded staffs.
Guwahati’s top police officer Deepak Kumar was removed from his post and replaced over the outbreak of violence, authorities said.
All train services to Tripura and Assam were suspended and some flights were cancelled. Several cricket and football matches scheduled to take place in Assam were also called off amid the curfew.
Without citing the unrest, Bangladesh home minister Asaduzzaman Khan postponed his Friday visit to northeastern Indian state of Meghalaya, his spokesman Sharif Mahmud Apu told AFP.
“He will visit Meghalaya at a later time,” Apu said, without giving a reason.
Modi sought to calm the situation in a series of tweets that many in the region could not read because mobile internet was mostly blocked.
“I appeal to the northeast, to Assam and every other state — every community there — to assure that their culture, traditions and language will keep getting the respect and support,” he said at a rally at eastern Jharkhand state.
“Assam is not a dustbin so that central government will keep on dumping whoever they want in Assam,” Assamese film actress Barsha Rani Bishaya said in Guwahati at a meeting of film and student bodies.
“People of Assam have woken up... this time and they will not accept the CAB.” Several leaders from Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Assam have also resigned in opposition to the legislation.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen cancelled a trip to New Delhi hours before he was due to arrive Thursday, citing domestic engagements.
The Indian Union Muslim League filed a petition in the top court, with the political party’s leader saying it was against the basic principles of the country’s constitution.
In a tweet, Prime Minister Imran Khan likened the problems being faced by Muslims in India today to the troubles minorities faced in Germany before World War II. “As in Nazi Germany, in Modi’s India dissent has been marginalised and the world must step in before it is too late to counter this Hindu supremacist agenda of Modi’s India threatening bloodshed and war,” he wrote.
He added that under Modi India was moving forward systematically with its Hindu supremacist agenda. “Starting with illegal annexation and continuing siege of IOJK (India-Occupied Jammu and Kashmir); then stripping 2 million Indian Muslims in Assam of citizenship, setting up internment camps; now the passage of Citizenship Amendment Law; all this accompanied by mob lynching of Muslims and other minorities in India,” the premier said in his message posted on his account.
“World must realise, as appeasement of the genocidal supremacist agenda of Nazi Germany eventually led to WWII. Modi’s Hindu supremacist agenda, accompanied by threats to Pakistan under a nuclear overhang, will lead to massive bloodshed and far-reaching consequences for the world.”
Published in Dawn, December 13th, 2019