Protests rage in northeast India over citizenship bill

GUWAHATI, India (AFP) – Protestors in northeast India set fire to tyres and cut down trees to block roads yesterday in a shutdown across the region hours after lawmakers approved the government’s new citizenship bill.

The legislation, set to go before the upper house today, will fast-track citizenship claims from refugees from three neighbouring countries.

People in northeast India object for different reasons, fearing that large numbers of migrants from Bangladesh who they say are intruders will be given citizenship.

Yesterday the region sandwiched between Bangladesh, China and Myanmar was crippled by a general strike called by dozens of organisations, with buses off the roads and most schools and shops shut.

“The bandh (strike) have drawn a total response in the northeastern states,” said Samujjal Bhattacharyya from the powerful umbrella group the North East Students’ Organization (NESO).

Protesters shout slogans as they burn tyres on a road during the strike called by North East Students’ Organization (NESO) against the government’s Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in Guwahati. PHOTO: AFP

“We have made it clear … that the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) will not be accepted and we are going to intensify our agitation,” he told AFP.

“Assam and northeastern states had already taken a huge burden of illegal foreigners,” he said.

India’s lower house passed the bill just after midnight following a fiery debate. Once law, it will make it much easier for people of selected religions fleeing Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan to become Indians.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government said people of a religion are excluded because they do not face persecution in these three countries.

Also excluded are other minorities fleeing other countries such as Tamils from Sri Lanka and Rohingya from Myanmar.

“This bill is in line with India’s centuries old ethos of assimilation and belief in humanitarian values,” Modi tweeted.

“I say this again and again that this bill has nothing to do with the religious minority in this country,” Home Minister Amit Shah told parliament.

Shah has stoked further fears among India’s religious minority with his aim to conduct a nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC) that he says will see all “infiltrators” excluded by 2024.