Violent protests in Assam over new Indian citizenship bill

An Indian commando tries to stop as protesters block traffic during a shutdown protest against the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in Gauhati, India, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019. (AP)
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Updated 12 December 2019

Violent protests in Assam over new Indian citizenship bill

  • Violence erupted on Thursday after parliament passed controversial bill
  • The bill affects the secular fabric of the nation, protesters say

DELHI: The northeastern state of Assam is enduring violent protests, a day after the Indian parliament passed the controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), that makes religion the basis of granting Indian citizenship.

Despite an overnight curfew in Guwahati, the state’s biggest city, people came to the streets on Thursday demanding the bill be immediately withdrawn as it is an assault on “Assamese ethnic identity and the secular ethos of the country.”

Protests across the state started on Wednesday night, with the homes and offices of legislators from the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party and its allies being vandalized.

The state government imposed a curfew and suspended internet networks for 48 hours. Schools have been asked to remain shut for the next 10 days. Two battalions of paramilitary forces have also been called in to prevent escalation.

The Assamese fear the CAB will legitimize illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and alter the ethnic and linguistic identity of the state. Violent agitation on the issue of illegal immigrants erupted in the state in the 1980s, which ended with the Assam Accord of 1985, in which New Delhi promised to declare any Bangladeshi — Hindu or Muslim — a foreigner if they came to India after March 25, 1971.

Under the amended CAB, the new date is 2014.

“This is a spontaneous protest like in Hong Kong. The CAB is an insult to the people of the state who feel that the citizenship bill is an attempt to kill the linguistic and ethnic identity of Assam,” said Lucy Neyog, a journalist who has been protesting for the past three days.

“The bill affects the secular fabric of the nation and makes India a Hindu state which we feel is an invasion of the country’s identity,” Neyog told Arab News on Thursday.

Afrida Hussain, another protester, said “those who love Assam will oppose the CAB. Big names from all walks of life are here on the streets of Guwahati, protesting Delhi’s decision to bring in sectarian citizenship legislation.”

Assam-based public intellectual Dinesh Baishya said “the bill will only divide society, accentuate mistrust and spoil the political atmosphere in the subcontinent.”

With both houses of the parliament passing the bill, it now needs the formality of the president’s signature to become law.

The bill aims at giving citizenship to Hindu, Sikh, Christian, Buddhist and Parsi minorities — if they are persecuted in neighboring countries — but excludes Muslims.

The opposition called the bill discriminatory, seeing it as an exercise to identify illegal citizens of India in conjunction with the National Register of Citizens (NRC).

Home Minister Amit Shah last month announced that the NRC would be implemented all over India, like it was done in Assam, where 1.9 million people were found to be illegal immigrants.

Concerns are mounting that the main target of the NRC will be Muslims. If a Muslim is not be included in the NRC, they would be declared stateless, as the CAB does not grant them the protection it gives to other religious communities.

On Thursday, Kerala-based Indian Union Muslim League filed a petition with the Supreme Court challenging the bill.

As the bill was passed on Wednesday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said it was “a landmark day” and that “the bill will alleviate the sufferings of the many who faced persecution for years.”

He told the Assamese that “they have nothing to worry about the passage of the CAB,” as no one can take away their “rights, unique identity and beautiful culture.”

The main opposition Congress Party called the passage of the bill “a dark day in India’s constitutional history.”

Congress Party President Sonia Gandhi said on Wednesday night: “Today marks a dark day in the constitutional history of India. The passage of the CAB marks the victory of narrow-minded and bigoted forces over India’s pluralism.

“The bill fundamentally challenges the idea of India that the forefathers fought for and, in its place, creates a disturbed, distorted and divided India where religion will become a determinant of nationhood.”

Amnesty International condemned the bill as “bigoted.”

Avinash Kumar, executive director of Amnesty India, said: “In a secular country like India, slamming the door on persecuted Muslims and other communities merely for their faith reeks of fear-mongering and bigotry.”

Kumar added that the bill “runs absolutely foul of India’s international obligations under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

Taliban aim to sign deal with US by end of month

Updated 18 January 2020

Taliban aim to sign deal with US by end of month

  • Washington has for weeks been calling on the militants to reduce violence
  • The Taliban and the US had been negotiating the deal for a year

KABUL: The Taliban are aiming to reach a withdrawal agreement with the US by the end of January and are prepared to “scale down” military operations ahead of signing the deal, according to their chief spokesman.
The statement by Suhail Shaheen to Pakistani daily Dawn comes as the group and the US held discussions in Doha this week, after insurgent sources told AFP they had offered to initiate a brief cease-fire.
“We have agreed to scale down military operations in days leading up to the signing of the peace agreement with the United States,” Shaheen told Dawn in a report published Saturday.
He added that the Taliban were “optimistic” a deal with Washington could be signed before the end of the month and that the reduction in fighting across the country would also include the targeting of Afghan forces.
“It’s now a matter of days,” said the spokesman.
Washington has for weeks been calling on the militants to reduce violence, posing it as a condition for resuming formal negotiations on an agreement that would see US troops begin to leave the country in return for security guarantees, after a near two-decade fight.
The Taliban and the US had been negotiating the deal for a year and were on the brink of an announcement in September 2019 when President Donald Trump abruptly declared the process “dead,” citing Taliban violence.
Talks were later restarted between the two sides in December in Qatar, but were paused again following an attack near the Bagram military base in Afghanistan, which is run by the US.
Any agreement with the Taliban is expected to have two main pillars — an American withdrawal from Afghanistan, and a commitment by the insurgents not to offer sanctuary to militants — and would ultimately have to be given final approval by Trump.
The Taliban’s relationship with Al-Qaeda was the main reason cited for the US invasion more than 18 years ago.
A deal would hopefully pave the way for intra-Afghan talks.
Many observers agree that the war can no longer be won militarily, and that the only route to a lasting peace in Afghanistan is for an agreement between the Taliban and the US-backed government in Kabul.
The Taliban have until now refused to negotiate with the Afghan government, which they consider an illegitimate regime, raising fears that fighting will continue regardless of any deal ironed out with the Americans.