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Unrest over citizenship law echoes in Capital; North-east tense

Thousands of protesters clashed violently with police in Meghalaya’s capital Shillong on Friday evening that left at least 63 people injured, the latest in a series of massive demonstrations against India’s new citizenship laws that have roiled the North-east and opened old fault lines of ethnicity and religion.

In the Capital, protesting students were lathi-charged by police at Jamia Millia Islamia university, after which 50 people were detained and large gatherings banned in the area.

The protesters in Shillong marched towards the governor’s house and hurled stones at the mansion against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) passed by Parliament on Wednesday.

To disperse the fast-gathering crowd, police fired tear-gas shells and baton-charged them.

Three policemen were injured in the incident that came a day after two men were killed during the protests in Assam. Hospital authorities said three others remained admitted in critical condition. Mobile and broadband internet continued to be suspended in large parts of the North-east.

“They were demanding the immediate scrapping of the CAA and implementation of the inner-line permit regime in the state,” said a senior state police official. The protesters also asked for a new law to check the inflow of illegal migrants into the state.

The renewed clashes came on a day the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), the body leading the protests in Assam, scaled back demonstrations and announced that no events will be held after 5pm.

AASU filed a petition against the CAA in the Supreme Court on Friday. Two more non-governmental organisations, the Asom Sahitya Sabha and Assam Public Works, also said they will challenge the law in the apex court.

“Assamese people will never accept the amended citizenship law. We will continue our street protests along with legal measures to ensure the CAA is withdrawn,” said AASU chief adviser Samujjal Bhattacharya.

Violence also broke out in West Bengal as protesters vandalised and set fire at railway stations, disrupting train services. In Beldanga in Murshidabad district, a mob torched the station master’s cabin and ransacked the ticket counter before setting it on fire.

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee said she will not allow the implementation of the law in the state “under any circumstances” The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leadership, however, alleged that the CM was supporting the infiltrators to “secure her vote bank”. West Bengal governor Jagdeep Dhankhar, meanwhile, appealed for peace and asked people to believe in the rule of law and the laws passed by Parliament.

Protests against the CAA have rocked the North-east for nearly a week now and even triggered a political debate with voices of dissent in the BJP-Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) alliance, which is in power in Assam, growing stronger every day.

Several functionaries of the ruling alliance resigned from their posts with some saying that the state government had failed to gauge the mood of the people against the new law that allows citizenship to migrants from Hindu, Parsi, Sikh, Jain, Christian and Buddhist communities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

Senior BJP leader Jagadish Bhuyan, who was also the chairman of state-run Assam Petrochemicals Limited, resigned from the party and said. “When I saw the revised CAA was against Assamese people, I decided to quit. From now I will take part in anti-citizen law protests.”

While former assembly speaker Pulakesh Baruah announced his resignation from the BJP, the party’s MLA from Jamugurihat, Padma Hazarika, said on Friday that he will quit his post if voters of his constituency, who are opposed to CAA, ask him to do so.

“The state government has failed to gauge the situation. It is a failure of the state’s intelligence department,” said former chief minister Tarun Gogoi.

In Assam’s capital Guwahati, activists and civil society organisations held a massive show of force at a prominent field in the city — attended by artists, writers and icons of Assamese society — a day after two people were gunned down in police firing during protests against the law.

The law has roiled the North-east, which has for long demanded separate protections to safeguard its cultural identity. The CAA will open the floodgates for Hindu refugees, the activists feel.

In Guwahati, shops opened for the first time in three days, when violence had lashed the city and forced all establishments shut. Over the past two days, mobs have blocked roads in different parts of Assam, burnt tyres, and attacked vehicles with sticks and stones. Two railway stations were torched while houses of several legislators, including the private residence of chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal, were attacked by mobs.

Sonowal warned on Friday of strong action against people involved in arson and violence and said he was committed to protecting the rights of the indigenous people of the state. “We will not tolerate any violence. Strong action will be taken against anyone who is involved in vandalism,” he said.

The state police have detained close to 300 people in Assam. The indefinite curfew imposed since Wednesday was relaxed for six hours in Dibrugarh, Dhemaji and Tejpur towns, from where no violent protests were reported in the past 24 hours.

Bhaskarjyoti Mahanta, director general of police in Assam, told a press conference that some suspected external elements had infiltrated the protests. “We have photos and visuals. They will face the law,” he added.

The government on Friday announced the postponement of examinations in various government and private universities till further notice. All schools and offices in Guwahati and other major towns remained closed.

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