Three killed in police firing as CAB protests flare across the Northeast

Security personnel douse flames rising out of a burning tyre during a protest against Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, in Agartala. Photo: PTI
Several parts of the Northeast continued to burn for a second day on Thursday, as people defied curfew in Assam to protest the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, leaving at least three dead in police firing in Guwahati.

The police opened fire to disperse protesters at Lalungaonn area in Guwahati. There were reports of people getting injured. Police also fired in the air in several other areas of the city, including the Guwahati-Shillong Road that turned into a war zone as protesters vandalised shops and buildings, burnt tyres, and clashed with security forces, PTI reported.

The All Assam Students Union (AASU) and peasants’ organisation KMSS called for a mega gathering at Latashil playground in the city, which was attended by hundreds of people. Several prominent personalities from the film and music industry, including icon Zubeen Garg, joined the gathering along with college students. “Prime Minister Narendra Modi and CM Sarbananda Sonowal have betrayed the people of Assam by ensuring passage of the Bill,” AASU advisor Samujjal Bhattacharya said.

Airlines cancelled their flights, with hundreds of passengers stranded at the Guwahati airport, and the railways suspended plying of trains beyond Guwahati. Schools will remain shut in Assam until December 22. Internet services remained suspended in the state, and were stopped in Meghalaya for 48 hours.

Bangladesh Foreign Minister A K Abdul Momen cancelled his scheduled visit to India because of the current situation, sources said. However, India’s Ministry of External Affairs claimed the visit was cancelled because of domestic reasons in Bangladesh. PTI quoted a diplomatic source as saying that Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan has also cancelled his three-day visit to Meghalaya.

There was uncertainty over Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosting Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe in Guwahati for the annual India-Japan summit between December 15 and 17. There is also uncertainty over Home Minister Amit Shah’s visit Northeastern Police Academy in Shillong on Sunday.

Kamrup witnessed a shutdown with offices, schools, and colleges closed for the day. Shops were also shut, with no transport plying as all major roads being blocked. Police said they had to fire three rounds in the air in Rangia town as protestors threw stones and burnt tyres. Agitators were baton-charged at several places in the town. Police fired in the air in Golaghat district to disperse protesters who blocked the NH 39, officials said.

Tea garden workers stopped work in Lakhimpur and Charaideo districts and also at Numaligarh in Golaghat district and some areas in Tinsukia district. Five columns of the Army have been deployed in different parts of the state and are conducting flag marches in Guwahati, Tinsukia, Jorhat and Dibrugarh, officials said.

A day after his party’s lone MP in the Rajya Sabha voted for the Bill, Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) chief Prafulla Kumar Mahanta said the Bill was a “divisive tool” that would damage the composite culture of the Northeast.  Assamese singer Papon cancelled his concert in Delhi, saying he won’t be able to entertain fans when his state was “burning, crying and under curfew”. Footballer-turned-politician Bhaichung Bhutia said future of next generation of Sikkimese people could be in danger once the Bill comes into force.

In a tweet, the PM said: “I want to assure my brothers and sisters of Assam that they have nothing to worry after the passing of the Bill. I want to assure them — no one can take away your rights, unique identity and beautiful culture. It will continue to flourish and grow. The Centre and I are totally committed to constitutionally safeguard the political, linguistic, cultural, and land rights of the Assamese people as per the spirit of Clause 6.” 

Assam Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said implementation of Clause 6 of Assam Accord promised by Home Minister Shah would create new hope of political stability in Assam and that the Bill would not adversely affect Assam and help refugees facing religious persecution. Assam Governor Jagdish Mukhi appealed for peace.

In Guwahati, stones were thrown at Assam police chief Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta’s convoy. The headquarters of AGP in Guwahati’s Ambari area were attacked by protestors and vehicles parked outside vandalised.

In Assam’s Chabua, MLA Binod Hazarika’s residence was set ablaze, vehicles torched by protestors and circle office was burned down. Schools and colleges were closed, offices shut and vehicles remained largely off roads in Tripura amid shutdown call by the Congress. The Left parties announced joint nationwide protests against the BIll on December 19. The Congress is holding a protest in the Delhi on Saturday. Assam’s ADGP (law and order) Mukesh Agarwal was shifted as ADGP (CID) and GP Singh appointed in his place. Guwahati Police Commissioner Deepak Kumar was also removed amid protests. Munna Prasad Gupta is the new city police chief. 

The Indian Union Muslim League has moved the Supreme Court challenging the Bill, saying it violates the Right to Equality enshrined in the Constitution.

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