Two persons were killed in alleged police firing, two railway stations and a government office vandalised, the houses of two BJP MLAs attacked, and street clashes between protesters and security forces reported from across Assam Thursday as violent protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill spilled over to a second day.
Late Thursday, the Union Law Ministry issued an official notification stating that President Ram Nath Kovind has given his assent to the Bill, which seeks to grant citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians, Jains and Parsis — it leaves out Muslims — who entered the country from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan until December 31, 2014.
Earlier, Guwahati Police sources identified those “killed in clashes” in the city as Dipanjal Das (21) and Sam Stafford (32). They said that 21 others were injured in the violence, including nine admitted to the Guwahati Medical College — one of them is battling for life in the ICU. Relatives of Das, from Kamrup district, told The Indian Express that he was an employee at the Sainik Bhavan canteen in Guwahati and son of a rickshaw puller.
Governor Jagdish Mukhi and Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal issued separate appeals for peace. Sonowal requested protesters to not take the path of violence and asked leaders of the agitation to engage in dialogue with him.
But in Dibrugarh’s Chabua, the home town of Sonowal, officials said protesters vandalised the Circle office and the railway station. With protesters also targeting another station in Panitola, the Centre suspended rail services in Assam and Tripura, halted long-distance trains to the region in Guwahati, and deployed 12 companies of the Railway Protection Special Force.
The Union Home Ministry, meanwhile, directed the Central Armed Police Forces to keep around 20 companies — around 2,000 personnel — ready to move to Assam Friday. And state officials extended the ban on mobile internet in ten districts by 48 hours while Guwahati remained under indefinite curfew. A senior official told The Indian Express that non-BSNL broadband services have also been suspended.
Caught unaware Wednesday as the protests escalated sharply, the state government Thursday shunted out top police officers, including the Additional Director General (Law and Order) and Guwahati Police Commissioner.
Sources said police in Jorhat have arrested Akhil Gogoi, who heads the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), which is one of the organisations involved in the protests.
However, speaking to The Indian Express, a top police officer in the state said the situation on the ground continued to be “grim”. Another senior officer said the “situation is under control but clashes are happening all over the state”.
“Wherever there have been reports of vandalism, we are focusing on those areas. We are trying to get the crowds to disperse,” said a senior police officer. An officer at the Guwahati airport said many commuters were stranded as protesters prevented vehicles from entering the area before the government deployed buses to transport passengers.
In Dibrugarh, protesters attempted arson at the residences of MP and Union MoS Rameshwar Teli and two BJP MLAs, Prasanta Phukan and Binod Hazarika, while police fired in the air and used tear gas in various other locations of the district. A few motorcycles in front of an office in Dibrugarh, said to belong to the RSS, were burnt, officials said.
Prasanta Phukan, the BJP MLA whose house was attacked, said: “A few glass windows were broken and the screen of a car was shattered. The movement has gone to the hands of miscreants, no one knows who is doing what.” A police officer in Dibrugarh city confirmed that till late evening intense clashes were going on.
Speaker of the Assam Assembly, Hitendra Nath Goswami, who is a BJP legislator from Jorhat constituency, said: “The CAB will cause hatred between different communities of the state. I have been saying this from long before.”
In Guwahati, thousands defied curfew to gather at the Latasil ground where student leaders, activists, cultural icons, intellectuals and senior editors stressed on continuing a “peaceful and democratic protest movement”.
Samujjal Bhattacharyya, an advisor to the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), and one of the main organisers of the gathering, said: “The MPs passed this Bill through votes. Today, the people rejected this vote by people’s votes. They violated the curfew and came to say ‘No to CAB’. The future course will be a non-violent and disciplined movement. At the same time, we are discussing with our lawyers and as per their advice we will move the courts.”
In neighbouring Meghalaya’s capital Shillong, the district administration ordered curfew in two police station areas of Lumdiengjri and Sadar from 10 pm Thursday till further orders. Mobile internet and SMS services were blocked in the state from 5pm Thursday for 48 hours.
With Tora Agarwala in Guwahati, Deeptiman Tiwary & Avishek G Dastidar in Delhi