Huge protests in India over citizenship law; US and UK issue travel warnings - GulfToday

Huge protests in India over citizenship law; US and UK issue travel warnings

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People hold placards during a rally.

AM Abdussalam/Agencies

Protests against a divisive new citizenship law raged on Saturday as Washington and London issued travel warnings for northeast India following days of violent clashes that have killed two people so far.

Many in the far-flung, resource-rich northeast fear the new legislation will grant citizenship to large numbers of immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh, who they accuse of stealing jobs and diluting the region’s cultural identity.

Several thousand protesters rallied in the capital New Delhi on Saturday evening, urging Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to revoke the law, some holding signs reading: “Stop Dividing India.” Modi and Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe postponed a summit that was reportedly due to be held in Guwahati from Sunday, and the United States and Britain warned their nationals to “exercise caution” if travelling to the wider northeast region.

The Canada Embassy also urged its citizens to avoid their trips to Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland.

“People are not gathered here as Hindus, or Muslims, people are gathered here as citizens of India. We reject this bill that has been brought by the Modi government and we want that equal treatment as is enshrined in our constitution,” said protestor Amit Baruah, 55, a journalist.

Protests turned violent in West Bengal state, a hotbed of political unrest, with at least 20 buses and parts of two railway stations set on fire as demonstrators blocked roads and set fire to tyres. No injuries were reported.

Anticipating further unrest, authorities extended an internet ban across Assam till Monday.

Most shops were shut and anxious residents stocked up supplies on Saturday when the curfew was relaxed during the day.

The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) allows for the fast-tracking of applications from religious minorities including Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, but not Muslims.

Samujjal Bhattacharya from the All Assam Students Union, which has been at the forefront of the protests, said the group would continue its fight against the new law “in the streets and in the court.”

Minister of Home Affairs Amit Shah on Saturday sought to reassure the northeastern states, saying the government would protect their “culture, social identity, language and political rights.”

“There has been this agitation (against) illegal migration from Bangladesh over many years,” Sanjoy Hazarika, a professor at Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia University, said.

“They feel that their rights to land, to jobs, and the entire social fabric education, existing social services and so on will be impacted by this.” Over 60 organisations have come together to launch a non-cooperation movement against any registration based on discriminatory and divisive citizenship.

To register their protest against the new citizenship law, the organisations have given a call to observe Dec.19 as the day to reject the Citizenship amendment Act passed by the Parliament earlier this week.

The organisations have planned more than 100 events under a common banner, “Ham Bharat Ke Log: National Action Against Citizenship amendment.” The railway authorities on Saturday cancelled several trains running through Odisha due to protest against the Citizenship amendment Act (CAA).

In view of massive public agitation at different railway stations, many trains have been cancelled and controlled at different railway stations, said East Coast Railway (ECoR).

It said seven express trains cancelled from Howrah and three trains from Puri in view of agitation by people at various railway stations.

In Kerala, on Friday, sermons in many mosques exhorted the faithful to register their opposition to the CAA and take out marches in the streets. Addressing a huge gathering in Malappuram, influential leader of the Sunni sect, Kanthapuram AP Aboobacker Musaliyar said that the protest was not for Muslims alone, but to preserve the unity of the nation.

All India Muslim Personal Law Board general secretary Moulana Mohammed Wali Rehmani dubbed the Act as a criminal one. He said the Constitution does not allow discrimination in the name of religion.

Samastha Kerala Jam-Iyyathul Ulema organised a rally against the Act in the beach here on Saturday.

The Wisdom Islamic Organisation has welcomed the decision of the chief minister and the opposition leader for joining hands to protest against the Act.

Tens of thousands of people protested across Karnataka on Friday against the CAA, Kalaburag Police commissioner MN Nagraj said on Saturday.

“After Friday prayers, protesters numbering a thousand people expressed their unhappiness against the CAA by giving a memorandum to the Tehsildhar,” Nagraj said.

This year a citizenship registry left off 1.9 million people − many of them Muslims − unable to prove that they or their forebears were in Assam before 1971, leaving them to face possible statelessness.