ANANYA SINGH | 10 DECEMBER, 2019
Nationwide Shutdown as People Come Out to Protest Citizenship Amendments
“Ready to die but not ready to accept CAB”
NEW DELHI: Indians across the country have come out in protest against the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill that the Lok Sabha passed 311 to 80 late last night.
People poured into the streets, not only in the northeastern states where bandhs or general strikes were called, but also in New Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Bengaluru. The call nationwide was to withdraw the bill and scrap the proposed National Register of Citizens.
An 11-hour strike was called by North East Students Organisation (NESO), an umbrella organisation that represents a number of smaller student groups. The strike began at 5 am and will continue till 4 pm today.
30 organisations that represent local communities and ethnic tribes have extended their support to the NESO-organised shutdown. Security has been strengthened in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura in anticipation of the protest.
A torch rally in Assam on Saturday (ANI)
Coinciding with the NESO-led shutdown, around 16 left organisations including SFI, DYFI, AIDWA, AISF, AISA and IPTA have also issued a call for a 12-hour strike in Assam.
A torch rally was organised on Sunday, December 8 by AASU (the All Assam Students’ Union) in Guwahati. All examinations scheduled for tomorrow at Guwahati University and Dibrugarh University have been postponed for the time being.
Hundreds of protesters also assembled outside Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal’s residence in Dibrugarh. AASU reportedly burnt effigies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah on December 9, post the controversial Bill being tabled in the Lok Sabha.
Manipur also witnessed protests as hundreds of people demanded the withdrawal of the CAB and NRC as well as the recognition of Scheduled Tribe status for six communities in the state. The protest was led by Manipur People Against CAB or MANPAC.
A Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti activist raises slogans during a protest in Guwahati. (PTI)
Elderly women from an old-age home protest in Guwahati (PTI)
In Parliament, opposition members criticised the bill calling it “unconstitutional” and “divisive” in nature for introducing a religious criterion for determining citizenship, by leaving out those deemed to be Muslims.
Many opposition MPs including Supriya Sule of the NCP said they believed the Supreme Court would strike down the bill if the Rajya Sabha passed it. Sule also echoed several other opposition MPs in asking why neighbouring countries such as Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Nepal and the Maldives had been excluded from the ambit of the bill.
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor said he believed the amended citizenship law together with the NRC was “violative of Article 14, it is a conspiracy of this government to make Muslims stateless”. Trinamool Congress MP Abhishek Banerjee said “this bill is anti-India, anti-Bengali. It will rip apart the soul of Bengal, because it attempts to discriminate between people who have the same culture, speak the same language.”
Many in the northeastern border states see the bill as paving the way for settling undocumented immigrants of any religion in these states.
Sammujjal Bhattacharya, AASU chief advisor addressed a press conference on Saturday stating, “The Narendra Modi government is imposing the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill on the people of the northeastern region in the interest of its vote bank. It wants to make illegal Bangladeshis Indian citizens to use them as the BJP’s vote bank… Assam is not the dustbin for illegal immigrants. The BJP at the Centre is bent on bringing the legislation based on its numbers in Parliament. We will not accept it and continue protests.”
Protest in Jantar Mantar, New Delhi on December 7 (Twitter)
In Kolkata, protesters including members of over 50 political and non-political organisations called for starting a “non-cooperation movement” if the NRC is implemented. The government reportedly plans to begin its nationwide implementation as the National Population Register on December 16.
They also called for shutting down the detention camps that have been set up to house those excluded from the NRC list in Assam, and cancellation of the Citizenship Act amendments made in 2003.
The rally in Kolkata marked the end of a 24-day protest march, “Hills to the Bay: Yatra Against NRC”, which covered 2500 kms from Punding-Lalkheni village in Kurseong, Darjeeling and covered 12 districts of West Bengal over the past month.
Protest in Kolkata (TwoCircles)
Prominent speakers at the Kolkata rally included Kavita Krishnan from the All India Progressive Womens’ Association, Kanhaiya Kumar from the CPI, and ex-IAS officer Kannan Gopinathan.
Malay Tiwari, a leader of All India People’s Forum, said the primary demands of the protestors include cancellation of the CAB, NRC and NPR, along with recognising as citizens all those people who have been excluded from the NRC final list in Assam.
Addressing reporters in Kolkata, CPI(M) leader and former MP Mohammed Salim on Monday said, “The intention of the bill is to complete the unfinished task of the Sangh Parivar of creating a Hindutva state and to establish racial supremacy in the country. Citizenship cannot be decided on the basis of caste, creed, race, religion and language. The entire exercise is aimed at creating a fascist state.”
He said the government should first come up with a refugee policy. “The proposed legislation violates Article 14 of the Constitution, and is against its spirit. There are so many burning issues in the country. But, the government is trying to sweep them under the carpet by tabling this Bill."
Hyderabad too witnessed a silent protest on December 9 by hundreds of individuals belonging to a number of civil rights groups working for the marginalised sections of society, including the urban poor, domestic workers, religious minorities, women, farmers, Dalits and Adivasis.
Through placards and slogans, protesters raised their voices against the bill and the Centre’s plan to implement a nationwide NRC that they say would jeopardise the lives of disadvantaged sections of the population including Dalits, Adivasis, women and old people among others.
In addition to demanding the withdrawal of the CAB and NRC, protestors in Hyderabad also urged the government of Telangana to oppose both these policies.
A protest in Hyderabad - the banner reads 'Hindu Muslim bhai bhai, haye haye CAB!'
While voices on the streets echoed across India, protests erupted on social media platforms as well. With #CABAgainstConstitution trending on Twitter, many renowned personalities are circulating petitions demanding the withdrawal of the Bill.
Harsh Mander, rights activist and former IAS officer tweeted, “If CAB is passed, this is my civil disobedience: I will officially register Muslim. I will then refuse to submit any documents to NRC. I will finally demand the same punishment as undocumented Muslim-detention centre & withdrawn citizenship. Join this civil disobedience.”
The nationwide citizens’ protests that began even before the bill was tabled in the Lok Sabha are hard to overlook. Protestors are stating they will continue rallying for the cause of those who are threatened by these “unconstitutional” amendments to the Citizenship Act, and the massive citizenship determination exercise that has created havoc in Assam.
A protest by the #NotInMyName campaign to stop the CAB and NRC and "defend the Indian Constitution" is being organised in the capital this Saturday, December 14. Terming the protests against CAB and NRC a "fight for a united India" the organisers state, "The intent of the CAB and NRC is to target Muslims, but eventually the suffering will be borne by all Indians, irrespective of religion." The citizens protest will take place at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi, starting at 3 pm.
With calls for a ‘non-cooperation movement’ emanating from the streets, the official response remains to be seen.
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