Protests against a divisive new citizenship law raged Saturday as Washington and London issued travel warnings for northeast India following days of violent clashes that have killed two people so far.
Many in the far-flung, resource-rich northeast fear the new legislation will grant citizenship to large numbers of immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh, whom they accuse of stealing jobs and diluting the region’s cultural identity.
Several thousand protesters rallied in the capital New Delhi late Saturday to urge Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to revoke the law, some holding signs reading: “Stop Dividing India”.
“People are not gathered here as Hindus, or Muslims, people are gathered here as citizens of India. We reject this bill that has been brought by the Modi government and we want that equal treatment as is enshrined in our constitution,” said protester Amit Baruah, 55, a journalist.
Protests turned violent in West Bengal state, a hotbed of political unrest, with at least 20 buses and parts of two railway stations set on fire as demonstrators blocked roads and set fire to tires. No injuries were reported.
Tensions also simmered in Guwahati in Assam state, the epicenter of the unrest, where medical staff said two people were shot dead and 26 hospitalized late Thursday after security forces fired live rounds.
Assam police chief Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta told the Press Trust of India late Saturday that 85 people have been arrested in connection with the protests, and that officials are working to identify violent demonstrators caught on video.
Friday’s funeral procession of 18-year-old Sam Stafford, who was killed in the demo, was attended by hundreds of angry and distraught mourners who shouted, “long live Assam”.
“We were watching news all day on TV about the protests when my nephew left home in the evening. We asked him not to go but he went with his friends,” the student’s aunt Julie Stafford told AFP.
Anticipating further unrest, authorities extended an internet ban across Assam until Monday. Most shops were shut and anxious residents stocked up on supplies Saturday when the curfew was relaxed during the day.
The Citizenship Amendment Act allows for the fast-tracking of applications from religious minorities including Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh, but not Muslims.