GAUHATI, INDIA (AP) – Police arrested dozens of people and enforced curfew yesterday in several districts in India’s northeastern Assam state where thousands protested legislation granting citizenship to those who migrated from neighbouring countries.
Groups of protesters defied the curfew in Gauhati, the state capital, yesterday morning and burned tyres before police dispersed them.
Soldiers drove and marched though the streets to reinforce police in violence-hit districts, which included Gauhati and Dibrugarh, said State Police Chief Bhaskar Mahanta.
The protesters in Assam oppose the legislation out of concern that migrants will move to the border region and dilute the culture and political sway of indigenous tribal people. The legislation was passed by Parliament on Wednesday and now needs to be signed by the country’s ceremonial president, a formality, before becoming law.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed for peace and in a tweet said, “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 Press Trust of India news agency said the protesters uprooted telephone poles, burned several buses and other vehicles and also attacked homes of officials from the governing Hindu nationalist party and the regional group Assam Gana Parishad.
Police used batons and tear gas to disperse protesters in 10 out of the state’s 33 districts.
In curfew-bound Gauhati, police escorted a team of Japanese security officials to their hotel to prepare for a likely visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sunday for a summit with Modi.
Abe’s visit is yet to be officially announced by India. Media reports said the summit may shift from Gauhati to another city because of ongoing protests. Assam was chosen as the venue for Abe’s visit because the state has several Japanese government-aided projects.
While those protesting in Assam are opposed to the bill because of worries it will allow more migrants regardless of their religion, others consider the measure as discriminatory for not applying to Muslims.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill seeks to grant Indian nationality to Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, Parsis and Sikhs who fled Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh before 2015.
It does not, however, extend to Rohingya refugees who fled persecution in Myanmar.
Home Minister Amit Shah said the legislation did not affect the existing path to citizenship available to all communities.
Human rights watchdog Amnesty India said it legitimised discrimination on the basis of religion and stood in clear violation of India’s Constitution and international human rights law.