NEW DELHI: India deployed thousands of troops to the northeastern state of Assam on Thursday as violent protests
erupted against a new law that would make it easier for non-Muslim minorities from some neighbouring countries to seek citizenship. A curfew was imposed in parts of northeast India, including Assam, after protesters came out on the streets against the bill that they fear will encourage Hindus from Bangladesh to settle in the region.
Resistance to the bill has been the strongest in the Assam state, where a movement against undocumented immigrants has simmered for decades. The Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) passed by parliament’s upper house on Wednesday blocks naturalisation for Muslims from neighbouring countries – a fact critics say violates India’s secular constitution.
“It is constitutionally suspect and legally untenable but let’s see what the Supreme Court does in this case,” said Faizan Mustafa, an expert on constitutional law and vice chancellor at NALSAR University of Law in Hyderabad.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government has said the CAB is meant to protect besieged minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. In Assam, protesters defied a curfew, torching cars and tyres and chanting anti-Modi slogans. While the streets of Assam’s capital Guwahati were largely calm as troops moved in from neighbouring states, protesters were back on the streets in other parts such as Morigaon, where they set tyres alight.
Mobile internet has been suspended in 10 districts in Assam for 24 hours until 7pm Thursday, the government said in an order, adding that social media platforms could potentially be used to “inflame passions and thus exacerbate the law and order situation”.
“It looks like the government is perhaps planning to send more boots on the ground,” Al Jazeera’s Anchal Vohra, reporting from Guwahati, said.