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curfew in Guwahati, the state’s biggest city, people came to the streets on Thursday demanding the bill be immediately withdrawn as it is an assault on “Assamese ethnic identity and the secular ethos of the country.”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

Britons rush home from France to beat new quarantine rules

Updated 16 min 46 sec ago

Britons rush home from France to beat new quarantine rules

  • Britain’s government announced late on Thursday that it would impose a quarantine on Saturday
  • Many British tourists headed toward the French port of Calais hoping to catch a ferry or a shuttle train home in time

LONDON/CALAIS, France: Britons rushed home from summer holidays in France on Friday after their government said it would soon impose a 14-day quarantine on travelers from across the Channel due to rising coronavirus infections there.
Britain’s government announced late on Thursday that it would impose a quarantine from 0300 GMT on Saturday on arrivals from France, giving an estimated 160,000 UK holidaymakers there just over 24 hours to get home to avoid having to self-isolate once back.
The sudden rule change dealt a fresh blow to tourists, airlines and tour operators all hoping for holidays after the pandemic, which has left many travel groups cash-strapped and facing an uncertain future.
Many British tourists headed toward the French port of Calais hoping to catch a ferry or a shuttle train home in time.
“We’ve changed our plans when we heard the news last night. We decided to head back home a day early to miss the quarantine,” one British woman at a service station on the motorway to Calais said after her week in southern France.
In Calais, queues of cars were expected to build on Friday afternoon. Ferry companies were adding extra crossings to help more people get home before the deadline, Jean-Marc Puissesseau, head of the Port of Calais, told Reuters.
The new quarantine rules apply to France, the second-most popular holiday destination for Britons, the Netherlands and the Mediterranean island of Malta, transport minister Grant Shapps said.
Spain, the favorite holiday destination for Britons, came under British government quarantine rules on July 26.
France warned it would reciprocate, causing further headaches for airlines which might have to cancel yet more flights, meaning fresh financial pain and denying them the August recovery for which they’d hoped.
Airline and travel shares tumbled. British Airways-owner IAG was down 6 percent and easyJet, which said it would operate its full schedule for the coming days, fell 7 percent.

Tightening quarantine
When Europe first went into lockdown in March, Britain was criticized for not restricting arrivals from abroad. But since June, it has introduced strict quarantine rules for arrivals from countries with infection rates above a certain level.
The tightening quarantine for foreign travel, however, contrasts with the easing of rules at home, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ordered the gradual reopening of the economy to resume, weeks after pausing it.
Shapps denied that the policies were contradictory, saying that the aim was to keep the reproduction rate of infection below one.
“Being able to open up some of those things but having to close down travel corridors elsewhere is all part of the same thing,” he told BBC Radio.
Shapps said he sympathized with travelers but that they should not be entirely surprised, given the fluid situation around the pandemic.
“Where we see countries breach a certain level of cases ... then we have no real choice but to act,” he told Sky News.
He ruled out any special assistance for holidaymakers, saying they knew the risks before traveling, with a possible quarantine to France having been rumored for weeks.
Airlines UK, an industry body representing BA, easyJet and Ryanair, called on Britain to implement more targeted quarantines on the regions with the highest infection rates and to bring in a testing regime.
An EU study showed that imported cases of COVID typically only account for a small share of infections when a pandemic is at its peak, but are more significant once a country has the disease under control.