2 Dead, Several Wounded in Police Firing as Thousands Defy Curfew to Protest Against Citizenship Bill in Assam
Several towns and cities in Assam have been placed under indefinite curfew, including Guwahati, the epicentre of protests, besides Dibrugarh, Tezpur and Dhekiajuli. A curfew has also been imposed in Shillong, the capital city of Meghalaya.
Protesters throw stones at police during their march against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in Guwahati. (PTI)
Guwahati/New Delhi: Violent mobs torched buildings and clashed with police in Assam on Thursday, leaving two people dead and 11 with bullet wounds, as protests against the Citizenship Amendment Bill escalated on Thursday with thousands of agitators descending on streets defying the curfew.
The police in Guwahati fired bullets and tear gas as frenzied mobs, some numbering several hundred, demonstrated in the streets, set vehicles ablaze and vandalised government buildings. Ramen Talukdar, superintendent of Gauhati Medical College Hospital, said two people had died from gunshot wounds and 11 others injured, also with bullet wounds.
An official told news agency PTI that one person was brought dead and another succumbed to injuries during treatment. However, protesters claimed three people had died in police firing.
Several towns and cities have been placed under indefinite curfew, including Guwahati, the epicentre of protests, besides Dibrugarh, Tezpur and Dhekiajuli. Night curfew has also been imposed in Jorhat, Golaghat, Tinsukia and Charaideo districts, officials said.
Incidents of police firing were reported from several places in Guwahati including Hatigaon, Lachitnagar, Bashishta, Downtown, Ganeshguri and Lalungaon.
The government says the Citizenship Amendment Bill, approved by parliament on Wednesday, is meant to protect minorities from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The bill seeks to grants Indian nationality to Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, Parsis and Sikhs who fled the three countries before 2015.
But thousands of protesters in the state of Assam, which shares a border with Bangladesh, say the measure would open the region to a flood of foreign migrants.
A man walks past damaged vehicles that were set on fire by demonstrators during a protest in Guwahati on Thursday. (REUTERS)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed for calm and sought to assuage the concerns of protesters, insisting his government was committed to safeguarding their rights.
In a series of tweets, in both Assamese and English, the prime minister said he personally and the Central government are "totally committed to constitutionally safeguard the political, linguistic, cultural and land rights of the Assamese people as per the spirit of Clause 6."
Clause 6 of the Assam Accord guarantees safeguarding local rights, language and culture.
"I want to assure my brothers and sisters of Assam that they have nothing to worry after the passing of #CAB (sic)," PM Modi wrote on the microblogging site. "No one can take away your rights, unique identity and beautiful culture. It will continue to flourish and grow," he wrote as the state plunged deeper into chaos and violence.
Notwithstanding his words of comfort, internet services in 10 districts were suspended for another 48 hours beginning 12 pm to prevent "misuse" of social media to disturb peace and tranquility, and to maintain law and order, officials said.
Internet services will also remain suspended in Lakhimpur, Dhemaji, Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Charaideo, Sivasagar, Jorhat, Golaghat, Kamrup (Metro) and Kamrup, Additional Chief Secretary (Home and Political department) Sanjay Krishna said.
In Chabua, a town bordering an Indian air force base, protesters had torched government property, including a post office, a local police official said.
A mob had also set alight the house of local lawmaker Binod Hazarika, from the BJP. "They torched it and finished it," a police official said, declining to be named as he was not authorised to speak to the media. "The situation is very bad here."
A policeman extinguishes a burning tyre left by a protester during a strike against the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in Agartala. (Image: PTI)
Protesters vandalised four railway stations in Assam and tried to set fire to them, a railway spokesman said. Train services were suspended, stranding scores of passengers.
An unspecified number of flights to the northeast including Guwahati were rescheduled or cancelled, an official of the Kolkata airport said.
"This is a spontaneous public outburst," Nehal Jain, a masters student in communications in Guwahati told news agency Reuters. "First they tell us there are too many illegal immigrants and we need to get rid of them. Then they bring in this law that would allow citizenship to immigrants," she said.
The violent protests also spread to Meghalaya, prompting the administration to impose a curfew on parts of the capital city Shillong because of fears of the law and order situation deteriorating. Mobile internet and messaging services were also suspended in Meghalaya for 48 hours since 5 pm on Thursday after incidents of vandalisation of vehicles.
Though no major incident of violence was reported from Tripura, state capital Agartala observed a shutdown, with educational institutions and offices closed.
Heads rolled in the police establishment because of incessant protests with the state's BJP government removing Guwahati Police commissioner Deepak Kumar and appointing Munna Prasad Gupta in his place.
Additional director general of police (law and order) Mukesh Agarwal was also transferred and replaced by ADGP (CID) GP Singh.
Police also opened fire at Madhavdham in Tezpur when a person allegedly belonging to a Hindu right organisation ploughed his vehicle through a group of protesters, injuring four people. Protesters overpowered the man, set his vehicle ablaze and assaulted him, prompting police firing, an official said. RSS offices were vandalised in Amolapatty in Golaghat, besides places like Dibrugarh, Sadiya and Tezpur.
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