Opposition parties and student groups in Assam responded to the Centre notifying the rules under the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Act by calling for statewide protests, PTI reported.

The Citizenship Amendment Act is aimed to provide citizenship to refugees from six minority religious communities, except Muslims, from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, on the condition that they have lived in India for six years and have entered the country by December 31, 2014.

On Monday, Union Home Minister Amit Shah said that with the rules being notified, the Narendra Modi-led government has “realised the promise of the makers of our constitution to the Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians living in those countries”.

The Act, passed by Parliament in December 2019, has been widely criticised for excluding Muslims. It had sparked massive protests across the country in 2019 and 2020.

While protests against the Act in the rest of India revolved around the law’s alleged anti-Muslim bias, ethnic groups in Assam and the rest of the North East feared they would be physically and culturally swamped by migrants from Bangladesh.

On Monday, the 16-party United Opposition Forum in Assam announced a statewide hartal, or strike. The forum said that it would also take up other protest programmes in a phased manner. The forum is led by the Congress.

The forum, in a statement, asserted that it wholeheartedly favours the implementation of the Assam Accord, which says all foreigners coming to the state on or after March 25, 1971, will be detected, deleted from electoral rolls and steps would be taken to deport them.

“We will not accept the CAA at any cost as it will destroy the Assamese community,” read the statement. “It will finish our language, literature, culture and identity.”

The Assam Police on Monday night ordered the leaders of the Opposition parties that comprise the forum to withdraw their strike, “failing which legal action will be taken against you in your personal capacity”.

The police said that “calling of such ‘Sarbatmak Hartal’ will lead to highway and railway track blockade, which has been declared as illegal and unconstitutional by various judgements” of the Supreme Court, the Gauhati High Court and the Kerala High Court.

On Friday, the forum staged a sit-in demonstration in Kaliabor town during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the state. It has also submitted a memorandum to President Droupadi Murmu saying that they will undertake a “democratic mass movement” across Assam if the law is not repealed.

The All Assam Students’ Union and 30 indigenous organisations burnt copies of the Act on Monday evening. They also organised protest rallies in different parts of the state, including Guwahati, Kamrup, Barpeta, Lakhimpur, Nalbari, Dibrugarh, Golaghat and Tezpur.

“We will continue with our non-violent, peaceful, democratic movement against CAA,” the student union’s advisor Samujjal Bhattacharjya told PTI.

Asserting that the indigenous people of Assam and North East will never accept the Act, Bhattacharjya also said that the union would challenge it in the court.

“On Tuesday, copies of the CAA will be burnt by the North East Student Organisation in all state capitals of the region,” said Bhattacharjya. “AASU and 30 organisations will also take out torchlight processions in Assam, and launch a satyagraha from the next day.”

The Assam Jatiya Parishad, which was born out of the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in 2019, also staged protests in different parts of the state. Members of the group displayed black flags and shouted slogans against the government during protest marches in Guwahati, among other places.

“We are going forward with our programme of a hartal tomorrow,” said Lurinjyoti Gogoi, the group’s president. “We will also take up other protests, including gherao [encirclement] of the state secretariat, as announced earlier.”

Security tightened

Meanwhile, the administration has tightened security in the state, with additional deployment of police personnel.

All police stations have been put on alert. Barricades have also been put up on all major roads and streets, with patrolling being intensified in sensitive zones.

Security has also been beefed up at the state Assembly and the Janata Bhawan, the secretariat complex, according to The Indian Express.

In the Sonitpur district, the district magistrate announced the imposition of Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, prohibiting the gathering of more than five persons.

On Sunday, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma warned political parties in the state that they could lose their registrations if found to be organising strikes and protests against the implementation of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.

Sarma said that such protests would be considered a violation of a Gauhati High Court order dated March 19, 2023, which said that “bandhs are illegal and unconstitutional” and allowed the Assam government to recover the economic losses caused by protests or strikes from the organisations responsible for them.

The protests against the Act in 2019 were led primarily by the All Assam Students Union and the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti.

The protests had turned violent with five persons getting killed in police firing. Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti leader Akhil Gogoi along with four others had also been arrested.

Also read: ‘No NRC, detention camps,’ says Mamata Banerjee as Citizenship (Amendment) Act implemented