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Anti-Citizenship Act stir: Protests rage in Bengal, curfew relaxed in Assam

A spokesperson for the railways said demonstrators have blocked the tracks on Sealdah-Diamond Harbour and Sealdah- Namkhana sections

Press Trust of India  |  Kolkata/Guwahati 

Citizenship Amendment Act protests
Protestors of anti-Citizenship Act set a vehicle on fire, at Loharpur in Birbhum, Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019 | Photo: PTI

Tempers ran high in for the fourth day on Monday over the new citizenship law, with many highways and railway lines blocked by protesters amid reports of arson, loot and attacks on policemen.

Assam, the gateway to the northeast, where the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, which has now been signed into law by the President, first ignited public fury, is calm with curfew relaxed and people going about their lives normally. However, peaceful protests are continuing in Guwahati and other places.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, one of the most strident voices against the new and the proposed NRC, is all set to take to streets in Kolkata in the afteroon, ignoring Governor Jagdeep Dhankar's deprecatory remark that it would be "unconstitutional and inflammatory".

"I am extremely anguished that CM and Ministers are to spearhead rally against CAA, law of the land. This is unconstitutional. I call upon CM to desist from this unconstitutional and inflammatory act at this juncture and devote to retrieve the grim situation," Dhankhar tweeted.

The governor had earlier questioned Banerjee's opposition to the amended Act and said "any person holding a constitutional post cannot oppose the law of the land".

The chief minister will crisscross the entire city over the next three days demanding immediate revocation of the new citizenship law, sources in the TMC said.

"A mega rally will be held today in #Kolkata to protest against unconstitutional #CABBill & #NRC. It will begin at 1pm near the statue of Babasaheb Ambedkar on Red Road & end at Jorasanko Thakurbari.

"Come, let us all, every section of society, join this people's movement in a peaceful manner within the ambit of law," she wrote.

Internet services continued to remain suspended in six districts of the state -- Malda, Uttar Dinajpur, Murshidabad, Howrah, North 24 Parganas and parts of South 24 Parganas districts -- where violent protests over the amended Act have brought life to a screeching halt.

Agitators have blocked thoroughfares, set fire to tyres, staged sit-ins on highways in several districts of the state, including Murshidabad and East Midnapore, inconveniencing thousands of commuters.

Several trains have been cancelled or delayed due to the ongoing protests.

A spokesperson for the railways said demonstrators have blocked the tracks on Sealdah-Diamond Harbour and Sealdah- Namkhana sections.

Efforts were being made to disperse the mob, he added.

On Sunday night, the officer in-charge of Uluberia police station, along with a few other police personnel, sustained injuries after they were attacked by agitators.

The injured were admitted to a nearby hospital, district officials said.

Incidents of violence, loot and arson were also reported from Nadia and Birbhum districts.

The law and order situation, however, improved in Assam, with the administration relaxing curfew from 6 am to 9 pm in Guwahati, the epicentre of the anti-protests.

Night curfew in Guwahati, however, will continue to be in force, a senior police officer said.

"The situation having improved considerably, the day curfew is being withdrawn from Guwahati from 6AM of December 16th. Night curfew would remain from 9 PM till 6 AM next day," Assam's Additional DGP (law and order) G P Singh tweeted.

In Dibrugarh district, where curfew has been eased between 6 am to 8 pm, the administration has warned people against holding protest meets without permission beyond 3 pm.

The measure was being taken to "prevent anti-social elements from mingling with the common people after dark," a senior district official said.

Students' organization Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuba Chatra Parishad (AJYCP) has launched an indefinite hunger strike in the state to protest against the law.

Ruling BJP ally Asom Gana Parishad, which had supported the bill in Parliament, has since taken a U-turn and is scheduled to file a petition challenging the law in the Supreme Court.

Senior AGP leader Kumar Deepak Das had said that the party respected the sentiments of common people, who were wary that the law might threaten their identity and existence.

Over the past week in Assam, at least four people were killed in police firing, while an oil tanker driver was charred to death when his vehicle was set on fire by the demonstrators in the northeastern state.

According to the amended Act, non-Muslim refugees, who escaped religious persecution in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan and moved to India before December 31, 2014, will be granted Indian citizenship.

Besides stoking concern among Muslims, the law has led to protests by people who are unhappy about illegal immigrants standing a chance to gain citizenship in the country. Many apprehend that the move could be a precursor to country-wide implementation of Register for Citizens.

First Published: Mon, December 16 2019. 12:50 IST