Curfew in Guwahati, Army on standby amid Citizenship Bill protests in Assam

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International desk, December 11: An indefinite curfew was imposed in Guwahati and mobile internet services were suspended in 10 districts of Assam in India for 24 hours on Wednesday as thousands of protesters against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill or CAB came out on the streets, clashing with policemen and plunging the state into chaos of a magnitude unseen since the violent six-year movement by students that ended with the signing of the Assam accord in 1985.Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal was among those stuck at the Guwahati Airport on Wednesday amid massive protests over CAB being debated in the Rajya Sabha two days after it was cleared by the Lok Sabha.

Mr Sonowal’s security detail, however, managed to take the Chief Minister to his residence through the city, parts of which resembled a warzone. Two columns or about 150 personnel of the army have been asked to remain on standby, news agency ANI reported, ndtv reports.

Though no party or student body has called a shutdown against the bill that will fast-track citizenship claims for immigrants from three neighbouring countries – but not if they are Muslim, protesters fought pitched battles with security forces, including in front of the secretariat, the seat of the BJP government.

While opposition parties have called the law unconstitutional for making religion a criteria for immigration, residents in ethnically-diverse northeastern states like Assam and Tripura have launched protests because it stands to give citizenship to large numbers of Hindus who have emigrated from Bangladesh in recent decades.

Police fired blank shots, tear gas shells and lathi-charged protesters, a majority of them students, in different parts of Guwahati, Assam biggest city, as several thousand demonstrators attempted to barge past security barriers to converge on the adjoining state capital Dispur. According to student leaders, many protesters were injured in police action in front of the secretariat. Several vehicles were set on fire.

All senior civil and police officials were incommunicado but, according to unofficial accounts, hundreds of protesters have been detained in Guwahati and other places like Dibrugarh and Jorhat, news agency PTI reported.

A large number of students blocked the road near the secretariat complex and pulled down the barricade erected on the arterial G S Road, provoking police action.

They also damaged a stage erected on the road for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s proposed summit meeting with his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe on Sunday, PTI reported. Hoardings and banners advertising the government’s schemes were pulled down and set afire in front of the secretariat.

“This is a barbaric government led by Sarbananda Sonowal. We will not succumb to any pressure till the CAB is repealed,” a student leader was quoted as saying by PTI.

“The bill will take away our rights, language and culture with millions of Bangladeshis getting citizenship,” Gitimoni Dutta, a college student at the protest, told news agency Reuters.

Anti-CAB agitators also clashed with police in Dibrugarh where rubber bullets and tear gas shells were fired to break up protests. A journalist was reported injured in stone throwing.

Protests were reported in Jorhat, Golaghat, Tinsukia, Sivasagar, Bongaigaon, Nagaon, Sonitpur and many other districts since the morning.

To stop protesters from “misusing social media”, internet services were suspended in Lakhimpur, Dhemaji, Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Charaideo, Sivasagar, Jorhat, Golaghat, Kamrup (Metro) and Kamrup districts, a government notification said.

A motorcycle rally was organised against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal’s hometown Chabua.

Gauhati University, Cotton University and Dibrugarh University postponed examinations scheduled for Wednesday. The campuses were deserted with hardly any student around.

The Northeast Frontier Railway was forced to cancel many trains and rescheduled some that originate from the state.