Assam burns as Rajya Sabha clears contentious Citizenship Bill: Guwahati, Jorhat, Dibrugarh witness violent protests

  • Protests and call for shutdown on Wednesday was not at the behest of any organisation, it was the general public which took over the mettle of Opposition from the political and non-political bodies.

  • Students of Gauhati University also protested demanding the scrapping of the citizenship bill even as a university student was suffocated due to tear gas shelling in Guwahati.

  • Due to the largescale protests and vandalism, many office goers were stranded in their office premises as vehicular traffic nearly came to a standstill in Guwahati.

Streets in Guwahati, Dibrugarh, Bongaigaon, Jorhat and many other places across Assam resembled dramatic scenes of mob violence when citizens dared to take on the might of the security forces on Wednesday undeterred by rubber bullets, water cannons, baton charge, teargas shells and blank fire. Sloganeering protesters with no affiliation to any political, social or student groups gathered voluntarily to show the real power of democracy and marched towards the very edifice of power in state — Janata Bhawan, Assam's capital complex in Dispur.

As Rajya Sabha cleared the contentious Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019, government employees, who had welcomed Sarbananda Sonowal as the chief minister, in the Assam Secretariat came out in hordes from their offices raising cries of protests against Sonowal, his government, BJP and the Centre, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah. Slogans of 'Jai Aai Axom' (Hail Mother Assam) echoed within the Assam Secretariat.

 Assam burns as Rajya Sabha clears contentious Citizenship Bill: Guwahati, Jorhat, Dibrugarh witness violent protests

Protesters burn tyres and banners protesting against Citizenship Amendment Bill in Guwahati on Wednesday. Ashish Malakar/News18 Assam North East

Protests and call for shutdown on Wednesday was not at the behest of any organisation. It was the general public which took over the mettle of Opposition from the political and non-political bodies.

Initial indications of unrest were witnessed in Bokul and Chaowlkhuwa areas of Dibrugarh where protesters fought pitch battles with security forces on Wednesday morning leading to a lathicharge by police. The police also reportedly fired rubber bullets, blank fire and finally clamped down with prohibitory orders under Section 144. Protesters burnt tyres and even damaged many vehicles in the process. Stones were pelted on the police which reportedly injured a journalist.

Section 144 in The Code Of Criminal Procedure, 1973 empowers district magistrate, a sub-divisional magistrate or any other executive magistrate to issue order in urgent cases of nuisance of apprehended danger to any person to abstain from a certain act or to take certain order with respect to certain property in his possession or under his management, if such the magistrate considers that such direction is likely to prevent, or tends to prevent, obstruction, annoyance or injury to any person lawfully employed, or danger to human life, health or safety, or a disturbance of the public tranquillity, or a riot, of an affray.

The protests in Guwahati became so severe that Sonowal, who landed at the Borjhar airport in Guwahati from Tezpur was stuck at the airport for an hour with his convoy. They took a different route to his official residence at Koinadhara later.

Despite appeals from different corners to adopt a democratic and peaceful manner of protests, the agitations took a violent turn gradually with major incidents of vandalism seen in Guwahati near the Assam Secretariat.

Due to the largescale protests and vandalism, many office goers were stranded in their office premises as vehicular traffic nearly came to a standstill in Guwahati. As a precautionary measure, two columns of Army have been deployed in Guwahati and the soldiers are likely to carry out a flag march to maintain law and order.

The protesters near Janata Bhawan torched police barricades, a city bus, a crane, a Swift Dzire and a Pulsar bike. Due to the protests, the Kamrup (Metro) district also imposed Section 144 for an indefinite period from 6.15 pm to deter the crowd from gathering in public places.

The Assam government soon imposed a digital clamp down with orders being issued by the Additional Chief Secretary to the Government of Assam Kumar Sanjay Krishna to stop internet and mobile data services for a period of 24 hours from 7 pm on Wednesday (11 December) to 7 pm on Thursday (12 December) in the districts of Lakhimpur, Dhemaji, Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Charaideo, Sivasagar, Jorhat, Golaghat, Kamrup (Metro) and Kamrup.

However, the nature of the violence indicated that unscrupulous and criminal elements merged with the peaceful protesters creating a vitiating atmosphere.

"If we analyse the events during the day in Guwahati, it was a fairly peaceful protest. The first violence was started by the police when they used force against the Cotton College students. Later on, criminal elements joined the protest and started destroying public properties, burning vehicles including those belonging to the police, banners announcing different government achievements," Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuba Chatra Parishad general secretary Palash Changmai told News18 Assam North East.

Speaking to the media, Commissioner of Police, Guwahati, Deepak Kumar said, "There might be involvement of a third party in these violent incidents."

A section of the protestors even pelted stones at the Srimanta Sankardev Kalakshetra Museum, a cultural institution that preserves invaluable artefacts of Assamese culture and tradition. The institution has been envisaged to become "a grand exposition of the life and culture of the people of Assam, of its diverse ethnic groups and sub-groups, the people who have created the cultural mosaic which is the essence of the state, in respect of all its beauty and splendour."

The protests on Wednesday saw students from various colleges across Guwahati flocking to protest against Citizenship Amendment Bill. With a concerted slogan of "We won't accept", students from Cotton University and Handique Girls' College also participated in the protest. The Teachers' Union of Anandaram Dhekial Phookan College at South Haibargaon in Nagaon in a move against the implementation of the amended law delinked itself from the parent Assam College Teachers' Association.

Students of Gauhati University also protested demanding the scrapping of the citizenship bill even as a university student was suffocated due to tear gas shelling in Guwahati. While protestors burnt tyres in Basistha in Guwahati, copies of the amended bill were put to flames in Tezpur.

Protesters even surrounded the residence of Assam minister Keshab Mahanta at Teliagaon in Kuwaritul to express their anger against Citizenship Amendment Bill.

Reports on Wednesday afternoon claimed that paramilitary troops from Jammu and Kashmir are being moved to the North East, however, News18 quoted sources who confirmed that no such step was taken as there are "adequate number of paramilitary forces in the North East to help the local police and administration to maintain law and order." At least, 70 companies of paramilitary forces have been deployed in the northeastern states to maintain law and order, News18 reported.

Eminent personalities, actors and singers from the state participated in the protests too. Noted Assamese singer Zubeen Garg at a protest in the Chandmari Engineering College Field in Guwahati, even, indicated that he will back an alternative political platform to take on the might of the Congress and the BJP in the state. Actor Nishita Goswami, Barsha Rani Bishaya, Prastuti Parashar, Jerifa Wahid, Manas Robin and Anupam Saikia also were present at the event, among others. The artiste also decided to boycott those who take part in any government-sponsored cultural event.

Taking a stand opposed by his party, Asom Gana Parishad's Rajya Sabha MP Biren Baishya said in the House, "If CAB is implemented then the Assamese language and culture will be on the path of extinction. CAB is a threat to Assamese culture and language." Baishya went on to demand that Assamese be made the only official language forever in the state and if required the Constitution should be amended. Baishya also demanded Inner Line Permit for Assam in his speech in Rajya Sabha.

Due to the protests, Cotton University postponed its first and third semester examinations in the graduate and post-graduate courses and the Higher Secondary Second Year pre-final examination that were supposed to be held on Wednesday (11 December) to 14 December (Saturday). The university informed that rest pf the examinations will go on as per schedule from 16 December.

Gauhati University also issued a notification postponing all examinations till 16 December, adding that they will be held from 17 December. The university took the decision to postpone the exams after students surrounded the vice-chancellor's office demanding the postponement of the examinations.

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Updated Date: Dec 12, 2019 07:23:06 IST