Bengal erupts as buses, railway stations set on fire; Assam calmer

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The worst instances of violence were reported from West Bengal, with protesters blocking highways and setting vehicles and railway stations on fire, and the police resorting to lathicharges.

Saturday witnessed another round of protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, with the day marked by bandhs, demonstrations and rallies across the country, incidents of violence in West Bengal, and a total Internet ban in Assam.

The worst instances of violence were reported from West Bengal, with protesters blocking highways and setting vehicles and railway stations on fire, and the police resorting to lathicharges. Train services were disrupted in a number of places across the state.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee issued a statement, saying action would be taken against those vandalising government properties. “Please protest in a democratic way. Do not take law into your own hands. Do not block roads and rail lines. Those who are taking law into their own hands will not be spared. We will take action against those who are setting fire to buses or pelting stones at trains,” Banerjee said in a statement on Saturday.

Assam, however, had a relatively peaceful day, with curfew being relaxed in state capital Guwahati during the day. Chief Minister Sarbanada Sonowal assured people that the number of people eligible to apply for citizenship through the amended citizenship law “will be very less”.

In a video appeal circulated to journalists, he said, “Many people have tried to create apprehensions through a misinformation campaign – some said 1.5 crore (people would be eligible for citizenship under the amended law), someone said 2 crore, 2.5 crore, and someone said 20 lakh. But today, I want to inform you that people living with us for decades and decades, those people will be able to apply for citizenship through CAB… It is certain that their number will be extremely less.”

Guwahati, which saw pitched battles between protesters and security personnel, leading to the death of two persons this week, saw long queues at petrol pumps and ATMs as curfew was relaxed till 4 pm in the evening on Saturday. The ban on Internet services has been extended to Monday. The All Assam Students’ Union announced that it would start its three-day satyagraha from Monday.

The Assam Police arrested scores of alleged protesters and claimed that they would use photographic and video evidence to nail those responsible for the violence and arson. Activist Akhil Gogoi, who leads the KMSS, an organisation that has been at the forefront of the anti-CAB protests, was reportedly booked by the National Investigation Agency.

On Saturday, MLAs and MPs of the ruling BJP held a meeting in Guwahati while there was another meeting between top leaders and party workers. “It was decided that very soon, under the leadership of the Chief Minister, a delegation from Assam will meet PM Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah to inform them about the present situation,” minister and government spokesperson Chandra Mohan Patowary said in a press statement.

While no major instance of violence was reported from Assam on Saturday, a truck driver, who suffered burns when protesters set on fire an empty oil tanker in Sonitpur district, succumbed to his injuries, taking the toll in the violence in Assam so far to three.

The National Testing Agency (NTA) on Saturday announced that the Joint CSIR-UGC NET had been postponed for candidates appearing for the test in Assam and Meghalaya. Candidates who were to sit for the test on Sunday at centres in Dibrugarh, Guwahati, JorhatSilchar, Sivasagar, Tezpur and Shillong will be notified about the revised schedule.

In Manipur, the six-hour bandh called by the Naga Students’ Federation against the new citizenship law was effective in the Naga-dominant areas of the state. Offices, educational institutes and shops remained closed in these areas.

In Tripura, royal scion Pradyot Manikya Debbarma has filed a petition in the Supreme Court, challenging the Citizenship Amendment Act.

Curfew was also relaxed in the Meghalaya capital of Shillong. The Meghalaya government has decided to convene a special one-day session of the Assembly to bring in a resolution to implement the Inner Line Permit regime in the state.

In Nagaland. schools and colleges were closed, markets were shut and vehicles plied in fewer numbers during the six-hour shutdown since 6 am by Naga Students’ Federation against the amended Citizenship Act, officials said.

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