Anti-Citizenship Bill protests: Army deployed in Assam, Tripura; Internet suspended

Assam follows Tripura in suspending mobile internet in 10 districts for 24 hours.

December 11, 2019 05:26 pm | Updated June 08, 2020 10:35 pm IST - GUWAHATI/AGARTALA

College students take out a procession on the streets of Guwahati against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill on Wednesday.

College students take out a procession on the streets of Guwahati against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill on Wednesday.

Two columns of the Army were deployed in Guwahati and in Kanchanpur and Manu areas of Tripura on Wednesday as protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB), 2019, continued for the second day.

Another column, requisitioned in western Assam’s Bongaigaon district, has been put on standby and the paramilitary Assam Rifles have been deployed in the Ananda Bazar area of Kanchanpur, where the situation remained tense following Tuesday’s protests.

The security personnel will stage a flag march later in the night to control.

As the debate on the Bill commenced in Rajya Sabha, a relatively quiet morning was shattered by violent clashes across Assam’s Brahmaputra Valley, including capital Guwahati.

The State government has imposed curfew in the city from 6 p.m. “till further notice”. Mobile Internet and data services were also suspended for 24 hours in 10 districts of the Valley, including Kamrup (Metro), Dibrugarh, Tinsukia, Lakhimpur and Jorhat.

Also read | CM Sarbananda Sonowal stuck at Guwahati airport amid protests

Though no party or student body has called a shutdown, protesters, a majority of them students, fought pitched battles with security forces, including in front of the State secretariat.

Two Army columns were deployed in Tripura in Kanchanpur and Manu areas while an Army column, requisitioned in western Assam’s Bongaigaon district, has been put on standby.

The Centre also airlifted 5,000 paramilitary personnel for deployment in the Northeastern States, officials said. Nearly 20 companies (2,000 personnel) have been withdrawn from Kashmir.

Govt. staff too join

Unlike Tuesday, when people responded to a shutdown called by the North East Students’ Organisation, hundreds of people, led by college and universities students, poured onto the streets across the State, protesting against the CAB. The protests soon went out of control as vehicles and public structures were vandalised or set on fire. Police resorted to baton charges and teargas.

Protesters said the government had underestimated the sentiments of the people. Later in the day, government employees — mostly from the State Secretariat — joined the protests. Podiums erected in Guwahati for the summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe, scheduled from December 15-17, were pulled down.

Hoardings and banners advertising the government’s welfare schemes also pulled down and set alight before the secretariat. 

“This is a barbaric government led by Sarbananda Sonowal. We will not succumb to any pressure till the CAB is repealed,” a student said.

At least two dozen people, including two television journalists, have been injured in the clashes. 

Among those who were stranded by the spontaneous and sudden outpouring of anger was 

Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal was stuck at Guwahati’s Borjhar airport for more than three hours as protesters lit bonfires of tyres, police barricades and anything else they could lay their hands on along the 25 km stretch into the city.

“This is not a protest led by any party or organisation. This is the people’s protest and the government must keep the existence of the indigenous people in mind while batting for people from other countries,” a protestor said as the spontaneous crowds grew.

The CAB seeks to fast-track the citizenship process for six non-Muslim groups, including Hindus, Sikhs and Christians, perceived to have fled religious persecution in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan till December 31, 2014. 

Anti-CAB protestors, led by the All Assam Students’ Union which had led an anti-foreigners’ agitation from 1979-1985, claim the Bill will make the National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise and the 1985 Assam Accord redundant. The NRC, published on August 31, excluded 19.06 lakh out of the 3.3 crore applicants while the Accord had prescribed March 24, 1971 as the cut-off date for detecting and deporting foreigners.

Mr. Sonowal, reiterating that misinformation about CAB was fuelling the protests, called for calm and claimed that citizenship for “less than five lakh” non-Muslims would in “no way put our community, land, hearth, heritage, culture and existence in danger”.

As violence spiralled, Additional Chief Secretary (Home and Political) Kumar Sanjay Krishna issued an order suspending mobile internet service because of “probabilities” of such protests “intensifying” and following reports that the “protesters are involved in vandalism”. “Curfew has also been clamped (from Wednesday evening) till further notice,” he told  The Hindu .

Several tourists were stranded in Kaziranga National Park and other tourist destinations in Assam and elsewhere in the northeast. The Northeast Frontier Railway cancelled or short-terminated 24 trains.

All long distance and local train services remained suspended while traffic on Assam Agartala national highway and important highways remained stalled for past three days.

A policeman attacks students who took out a procession on the streets of Guwahati against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB) on Wednesday.

A policeman attacks students who took out a procession on the streets of Guwahati against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB) on Wednesday.

Police in Tripura arrested a few hundred protesters of the Joint Movement against CAB (JMACAB) for blocking the road leading to the secretariat in Agartala. Major indigenous parties, forums and students’ groups have joined to form the form the JMACAB. 

 JMACAB Convenor Antony Debbarma announced that the agitation would continue till Tripura was exempted from purview of the Bill. He however condemned violence and attacks on markets while asserting that the movement would remain peaceful.

The Youth Congress has called for a 24 hour strike in Tripura on Thursday to protest alleged police brutality on a party procession on Wednesday evening. Chairman of PCC Adhoc Committee and senior advocate Pijush Biswas, senior leader Baptu Chakraborty and several others were injured after police resorted to baton charge.

Other States calm

However, other northeastern States, “exempted from the purview of CAB” because of Inner Line Permit regulation or Sixth Schedule status, remained calm. There were reports of sporadic protests in Tripura, where the BJP-led government had suspended mobile internet and SMS form 48 hours on Tuesday. 

(With inputs from Syed Sajjad Ali and PTI)


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