Sporadic protests erupted for the second consecutive day in different parts of West Bengal against the amendments to the Citizenship Act, PTI reported. Five empty trains were set on fire at a railway station in Murshidabad district, NDTV reported.
Demonstrators continued to block roads and disrupt rail services in different parts of the state.
Assam, which was the epicentre of the protests over the past few days, and other north eastern states largely remained peaceful. Curfew was relaxed for a few hours in Guwahati and Dibrugarh districts along with Meghalaya’s capital Shillong. Internet services in Assam will remain suspended till December 16 to prevent alleged misuse of social media in disturbing peace and to maintain law and order in the state.
A six-hour shutdown was observed in Nagaland and the students of of Jamia Millia Islamia University in Delhi continued their protests.
The contentious amendments allows citizenship to persecuted people of six communities – but not Muslims – from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, provided they have resided in India for six years. The cut-off date is December 31, 2014. The amendments were approved by both Houses of Parliament this week and were signed into law by President Ram Nath Kovind on Thursday night.
There is a widespread fear in the North East that populations defined as indigenous to the region will be culturally and physically overrun by migrants as a result of this law’s provisions. Elsewhere in India, the bill has been opposed due to its allegedly discriminatory view towards Muslims.
In Howrah district, the police said a portion of the Sankrail railway station complex was set on fire by hundreds of protestors. “Later in the afternoon, they entered the station complex and set the ticket counter on fire,” a Railway Police Force official said. “When RPF and railway personnel tried to stop them, they were beaten up.”
People sat on the railway tracks at Sankrail, Nalpur, Mourigram and Bakranawabaz stations, said zonal spokesperson Sanjoy Ghosh. Twenty trains, including eight express trains, have been stopped at various stations in the South Eastern zone because of the demonstrations.
The National Highway 6 was blocked as protestors set tyres ablaze and ransacked several vehicles, the police said. Three state buses were vandalised and one of them was set on fire by a mob after they forced out the passengers, reported IANS.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee urged people to maintain calm. “Do not take up law in your hand,” a statement from the chief minister’s office said. “Do not put up road blockades and rail blockades and create trouble for the common people on the roads.”
Banerjee warned of strict action against those “creating disturbances”. She, however, assured the people of the state that neither the amended legislation nor the National Register of Citizens will be implemented in West Bengal.
Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar urged Banerjee to demonstrate her true faith and allegiance to the Constitution in the present situation. “I as governor will to the best of my ability preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and the law,” he tweeted.
In Delhi, scores of people gathered at Jantar Mantar to voice their opposition to the legislation.
The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation had closed entry and exit gates at Janpath and Jamia Millia Islamia metro stations briefly because of the demonstrations.
Meanwhile, the Jamia Milia Islamia University on Saturday postponed all the exams that were supposed to be held today because of the tense situation. “All exams postponed. New dates to be announced in due course of time,” an university official told PTI. “Vacation declared from December 16 to January 5. University will reopen on January 6, 2020.”
The students called for a “university lockdown” on Saturday and boycott of all examinations in protest against the Act and “police brutality”.
Other north eastern states
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. The permit is a document that outsiders need before travelling to places defined as “protected areas” in some states in the North East.
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.