Asia - Pacific

India's northeast turns into battleground amid protests

States erupt in protest as parliament clears controversial citizenship bill

Shuriah Niazi   | 12.12.2019
India's northeast turns into battleground amid protests

NEW DELHI

India's northeastern states erupted with protests soon after the parliament approved controversial amendments to the country's citizenship law.  

The bill, which now awaits approval of President Ram Nath Kovind to become law, would grant citizenship to six minorities from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh -- all Muslim-majority nations in South Asia. 

Opposition parties led by the Indian National Congress have accused the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government of violating the constitution by granting citizenship based on religion. Also, Muslims are conspicuously absent from the qualifying list for citizenship, raising fears that this will be yet another blow to the minority group which, during this government, has faced mob attacks by Hindu vigilantes. 

The people defied curfew in Assam state on Thursday morning to stage protests as the situation remained tense with the army conducting flag march in Guwahati. 

Guwahati, the epicentre of protests, was placed under indefinite curfew on Wednesday night while the army was called in at four places and paramilitary personnel were deployed in Tripura on Wednesday as the two northeastern states plunged into chaos. 

Offices of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its affiliated wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) were attacked, a local police official told Anadolu Agency. 

A railway station was set on fire by protesters late in the night.  

The protests have swept across the states of Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh, which are close to the border with Bangladesh. Locals fear the bill essentially benefits Bengali Hindu migrants from Bangladesh who have settled in large numbers across the region, particularly in Assam.  

Populist move 

The overwhelming success in the national elections gave wings to the Narendra Modi government and they successfully abolished Article 370 of India's only Muslim-dominated state of Jammu and Kashmir that gave special status to the restive Himalayan state.  

The government then introduced the controversial citizenship bill, although it was fully aware that it would be resolutely opposed in northeast states. There are still more than 2 million Hindus in Bangladesh who want to come to India, said a member of the Indigenous Nationalist Party of Twipra, a regional political party of Tripura. 

But the people of the northeast say that if they come to India, the population of the already overpopulated northeast states will increase and they will use and exploit their resources over which the people of northeast have the right. Unemployment in the northeast is rampant and competition will intensify if more people get Indian citizenship, said Samujjal Bhattacharya of the All Assam Students Union.  

Earlier, the northeastern states supported the National Register of Citizens (NRC) because they wanted "Bangladeshi migrants" to be sent back to their country, said Dilip Sharma, a local journalist based in Assam. The register after checking documents to prove original declared 2 million citizens illegal, leaving them stateless.  

Samujjal Bhattacharya alleged that the ruling party is doing politics in the name of the citizenship bill.  

“BJP in order to give security to illegal Bangladeshi immigrants has brought this bill. Every party needs their votes. But we are not ready to accept this bill,” Bhattacharya told Anadolu Agency.  

Rajeev Yadav of Rihai Manch, a human rights group, said that the bill is an attack on poor, landless and deprived section of all the communities and casts.  

“It is a part of conspiracy. The provision of the bill grants citizenship to all but Muslims on the basis of religion which is against the basic values of the constitution,” Yadav told Anadolu Agency.  

However, Interior Minister Amit Shah said the bill does not discriminate against anyone and does not snatch anyone's rights. 

“We will have to differentiate between intruders and refugees.," he said. “The government is committed to protecting the customs and culture of the people of the northeast region."

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