Thursday 23 January 2020
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Three dead as protests escalate over citizenship law in India

Ag AgenciesGUWAHATI/ISLAMABAD: India: Violent mobs in India s northeastern state of Assam torched buildings and clashed with police on Thursday, leaving three dead and 11 with bullet wounds, as protests grew over a new citizenship law for non-Muslim minorities from some neighbouring countries.Prime Minister Narendra Modi s Hindu nationalist government has said the Citizenship Amendment Bill, approved by parliament on Wednesday, was meant to protect minorities from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The law 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. Others said the bigger problem with the new law was that it undermined India s secular constitution by not offering protection to Muslims. Police in Assam s main city of Guwahati fired bullets and tear gas as groups of protesters, some numbering several hundred, demonstrated in the streets, defying a curfew imposed on Wednesday.Ramen Talukdar, superintendent of Guwahati Medical College Hospital, said two people had died from gunshot wounds and 11 others injured, also with bullet wounds.The turmoil in Assam comes days ahead of a summit Modi plans to host there for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as part of his campaign to move high-profile diplomatic events outside Delhi to showcase India s diversity.Raveesh Kumar, a spokesman for India s Foreign Ministry, told reporters that he had no update on whether the summit would go ahead as planned or be held elsewhere. In Tokyo, the Japanese foreign ministry said it is keeping a close eye on the local security situation in Guwahati, but that it has no plan at the moment to make changes to Abe s trip.Hostility to illegal migrants has simmered in tea-growing Assam for decades, and resentment has sharpened in recent days despite assurances from the federal government.Modi urged calm and said the people of Assam had nothing to fear. I want to assure them - no-one can take away your rights, unique identity and beautiful culture. It will continue to flourish and grow, he tweeted.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 Modi s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). They torched it and finished it, the police official said, declining to be named as he was not authorised to speak to the media. The situation is very bad here. 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. IndiGo said it had canceled flights because of the unrest. This is a spontaneous public outburst, said Nehal Jain, a masters student in communications in Guwahati. 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.More troops have been deployed to Assam to restore peace and mobile internet was suspended in 10 districts, the government said.A curfew was also to be imposed in parts of the capital city of the neighbouring state of Meghalaya, a government official said, because of fears of the law and order situation deteriorating.The new law is also raising concerns that Modi s government is pushing a Hindu-first identity for India and fanning fears for the future of Muslims, the biggest minority group.The government has said the new law will be followed by a citizenship register that means Muslims must prove they were original residents of India and not refugees from these three countries, potentially rendering some of them stateless.Members of other faiths listed in the law, by contrast, have a clear path to citizenship.For Islamic groups, the opposition, rights groups and others in India, the new law is part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi s Hindu-nationalist agenda to marginalise India s 200 million Muslims, something he denies. But many in India s far-flung northeast object because they fear the legislation, which prompted angry exchanges in parliament this week, will give citizenship to Hindu immigrants from Bangladesh.Guwahati s top police officer Deepak Kumar was removed from his post and replaced over the outbreak of violence, authorities said.All train services to Tripura and Assam were suspended and some flights were cancelled. Several cricket and football matches scheduled to take place in Assam were called off amid the curfew.Modi sought to calm the situation in a series of tweets that many in the region could not read because mobile internet was blocked in some areas. I appeal to the northeast, to Assam and every other state -- every community there -- to assure that their culture, traditions and language will keep getting the respect and support, he added at a rally at eastern Jharkhand state. Assam is not a dustbin so that central government will keep on dumping whoever they want in Assam, Assamese film actress Barsha Rani Bishaya said in Guwahati at a meeting of film and student bodies. People of Assam have waked up against the CAB this time and they will not accept the CAB. Several leaders from Modi s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Assam have also resigned in opposition to the legislation.Meanwhile, Bangladesh Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen cancelled a trip to New Delhi hours before he was due to arrive Thursday, citing domestic engagements. He had on Wednesday pushed back against the Indian government s claims the legislation was meant to help those persecuted in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, telling local media his country did not oppress minorities.It is not yet clear if the legislation, after being signed off by the president, would survive a constitutional challenge in the Supreme Court.The Indian Union Muslim League filed a petition in the top court, with the political party s leader saying it was against the basic principles of the country s constitution. The constitution says there will be no differentiation based on caste, religion or anything. Here, the citizenship is being given on the basis of religion, PK Kunhalikutty said. The CAB won t stand in front of the law. The petition states that they do not have any grievances in granting citizenship to migrants but the petitioners grievances is directed against discrimination and unreasonable classification based on religion. Amnesty International said the law was bigoted and called for it to be immediately repealed. In a secular country like India, slamming the door on persecuted Muslims and other communities merely for their faith reeks of fear mongering and bigotry, the global rights groups said in a statement Wednesday. They also run absolutely foul of India s international obligations. Meanwhile, critics say the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which passed the upper house of Parliament Wednesday, would lead to a flood of immigrants into Assam and other northeast states, and would marginalise India s minority Muslims, which they claim is a goal of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist government.Opponents also say the bill is a ploy by Modi and the BJP to weaken the secular foundations of India s democracy.The bill will make six religious groups -- Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Parsis and Buddhists -- who came to India from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan before December 31, 2014, eligible for Indian citizenship.Meanwhile, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday warned that India under Modi, following genocidal Supremacist agenda of Nazi Germany, will lead to massive bloodshed and far-reaching consequences for the world.In a series of tweets the prime minister tweeted, India, under Modi, has been moving systematically with its Hindu Supremacist agenda. Starting with illegal annexation continuing siege of IOK; then stripping 2 million Indian Muslims in Assam of citizenship, setting up internment now the passage of Citizenship Amendment Law. All this accompanied by mob lynching of Muslims other minorities in India. World must realise, as appeasement of the genocidal Supremacist agenda of Nazi Germany eventually led to WWII, Modi s Hindu Supremacist agenda, accompanied by threats to Pakistan under a nuclear overhang, he wrote.The prime minister cautioned that, All this will lead to massive bloodshed far-reaching consequences for the world. As in Nazi Germany, in Modi s India dissent has been marginalised and the world must step in before it is too late, to counter this Hindu Supremacist agenda of Modi s India threatening bloodshed war .

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