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Anti-Citizenship Act protests turn violent in West Bengal, Assam situation eases

Vehicles set afire at Santragachi in Howrah district of West Bengal on December 14, 2019.

Vehicles set afire at Santragachi in Howrah district of West Bengal on December 14, 2019.   | Photo Credit: PTI

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Trains, buses torched over new citizenship law; Mamata Banerjee appeals for calm.

The protests against the Citizenship Act took a violent turn in West Bengal on Saturday, even as the situation eased in Assam.

As protesters torched railway stations and buses, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee appealed for people to shun violence.

Protesters targeted railway property and public buses and held road blocakes in different parts of the State.  Empty train coaches were set on fire at Krishnapur and Lalgola stations in Murshidabad. In certain areas like Suti protesters tried to uproot the railway track.

According to reports, trains were set on fire at five locations in these two stations.

Protesters had targeted Beldanga railway station on Friday evening which resulted in train services being suspended from Beldanga to Plassey. On Saturday protesters blocked national highway at Raghunathganj and set a bus of a public transport corporation at Suti in the district.  Violence over the Citizenship Act was reported in Howrah near Garfa Bridge on Kona Expressway where protesters attacked several buses and set them on fire. In the same district, a ticket counter at Sankrail was set on fire on Friday. Protests and road blockades by burning tyres was also reported from at Domjur and Bauria. At several places in the district protests and disruptions were reported at different railway stations.

 

 More than half a dozen long distance trains of South Eastern Railways were cancelled and trains remained stuck at various stations. Surburban railway services in Sealdah Hasnabad section in North 24 Parganas were affected as protesters squatted on the railway track. There were reports of protests from several places in the district as also from Murari in Birbhum district and a few places in Paschim Medinipur district. 

In Kolkata there were protests at Park Circus but there was no report of any violence in the city. Despite widespread protests that turned more violent on the second day there were no reports of major injuries or casualties.

Ms. Banerjee assured the people neither the Act nor the National Register of Citizens (NRC) would be implemented in West Bengal. “Please do not block roads and do not take the law in your hands. People have to suffer due to such protests... Let us all come together and protest against this in a peaceful manner,” the Chief Minister said.

 

Ms. Banerjee, also warned the violent protesters of action. “Those who are creating disturbances, hitting the streets to take the law in their hands, none of them would be spared…We will take steps as per the law against those torching buses, stoning trains and destroying government property,” she said. She accused some “political parties with communal intentions” of deliberately stoking chaos and violence.

 A number of public intellectuals like poet Joy Goswami and painter Shuvaprasanna held a press conference in Kolkata urging people to shun violence while protesting against the Act. “Violence has never created any solutions,” Governor Jadgeep Dhankar said, urging people to shun violence.

BJP blames Mamata govt

 Meanwhile, the State leadership of the BJP accused the ruling Trinamool Congress government of not taking action against those indulging in arson and destruction of public property for the sake of “vote bank” politics.

“Where are the police, where is the administration? If the BJP tries to bring out a procession, the Rapid Action Force is deployed… But in this case, the State has been on fire for a couple of days, public property is being destroyed, stations are being torched and vandalised... they want this to happen, in order to secure their vote bank,” BJP State president Dilip Ghosh said.

 

In Assam, Armed Forces personnel continue to patrol sensitive areas.

Unrest over the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Bill in several Brahmaputra Valley districts since December 11 led to the death of three people, including a school student, in police firing in Guwahati. Arson claimed the lives of two others, one of them in eastern Assam’s Tinsukia district.

“Many anti-social elements involved in the violence and destruction of public property have been identified from extensive video footage. None will be spared and a few arrests have already been made,” the State’s Director General of Police Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta said. Among those arrested for “instigating violence” was Jiten Dutta, leader of the pro-talks ULFA faction from eastern Assam’s Dibrugarh. His arrest followed that of Akhil Gogoi of peasants body Krishak Mukti Sangran Samiti. 

The protesters, led by AASU, popular artists and civil society leaders, said the crackdown by the government would not deter them. “The battle will be legal from now on, but at the same time we will continue with peaceful forms of protest during the day without affecting public life,” AASU president Dipanka Kumar Nath said.

 

The AASU has called for a mass satyagraha across the State from December 16 to 18, awareness meetings in villages and mass rallies from December 24.

On Saturdays, long queues formed outside fuel stations. People rushed to stock perishables, which began to sell for double the usual prices. With many ATMs out of service, a few mobile ATMs were pressed into service by some banks.

Many passengers were stranded in the Guwahati station, where long distance trains terminated. Nine flights were cancelled.

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2020 4:42:39 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/protests-against-citizenship-law-continue-in-bengal-road-and-rail-blockade-at-several-places/article30304513.ece

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