Friday, December 13, 2019
TOKYO: Japanese Prime Minister Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is considering cancelling his trip to India scheduled to begin on Sunday, Jiji Press of Japan reported on Friday.
The Indian city of Guwahati, the planned venue for a summit between Abe and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has been engulfed in violent protests over a controversial citizenship law.
Violent mobs in India’s northeastern state of Assam torched buildings and clashed with police on Thursday, leaving two dead and 11 with bullet wounds, as protests grew over a new citizenship law for non-Muslim minorities from some neighboring countries.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government has said the Citizenship Amendment Bill, approved by parliament on Wednesday, was meant to protect minorities from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The law seeks to grants Indian nationality to Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, Parsis and Sikhs who fled the three countries before 2015. But thousands of protesters in the state of Assam say the measure would open the region to a flood of foreign migrants.
Others said the bigger problem with the new law was that it undermined India’s secular constitution by not offering protection to Muslims. Police in Assam’s main city of Guwahati fired bullets and tear gas as protesters demonstrated in the streets, defying a curfew imposed on Wednesday.
Ramen Talukdar, superintendent of Gauhati Medical College Hospital, said two people had died from gunshot wounds and 11 others injured, also with bullet wounds.
Hostility to illegal migrants has simmered in tea-growing Assam for decades, and resentment has sharpened in recent days despite assurances from the federal government.
Modi urged calm and said the people of Assam had nothing to fear. “I want to assure them — no-one can take away your rights, unique identity and beautiful culture. It will continue to flourish and grow,” he tweeted.
In Chabua, a town bordering an Indian air force base, protesters had torched government property, including a post office, a local police official said. A mob had also set alight the house of local lawmaker Binod Hazarika, from Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
“They torched it and finished it,” the police official said, declining to be named as he was not authorised to speak to the media. “The situation is very bad here.”
Protesters vandalized four railway stations in Assam and tried to set fire to them, a railway spokesman said. Train services were suspended, stranding scores of passengers. IndiGo said it had canceled flights because of the unrest.
“This is a spontaneous public outburst,” said Nehal Jain, a masters student in communications in Guwahati. “First they tell us there are too many illegal immigrants and we need to get rid of them. Then they bring in this law that would allow citizenship to immigrants,” she said.
More troops have been deployed to Assam to restore peace and mobile internet was suspended in 10 districts, the government said. A curfew was also to be imposed in parts of the capital city of the neighboring state of Meghalaya, a government official said, because of fears of the law and order situation deteriorating.
The new law is also raising concerns that Modi’s government is pushing a Hindu-first identity for India and fanning fears for the future of Muslims, the biggest minority group. Members of other faiths listed in the law, by contrast, have a clear path to citizenship.
The government has said the new law will be followed by a citizenship register that means Muslims must prove they were original residents of India and not refugees from these three countries, potentially rendering some of them stateless.