GUWAHATI/KOLKATA: Forbidding clouds of anger and apprehension gathered over northeastern states on Monday, a day ahead of the shutdown called by NESO, an umbrella organisation of students in the restive region, despite Home Minister Amit Shah's painstaking efforts to allay their fears.
Assam and Tripura, two of the eight states that comprise the region which shares international boundaries with China, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Bhutan, smoldered with protests breaking out despite Shah's claim that the Bill is not against Muslims but infiltrators.
Amid shutdown called by protesters, Tripura has suspended SMS and mobile internet connectivity for 48-hours, starting 2 pm Tuesday.
The 48-hour Assam bandh called by the All Moran Students' Union (AMSU) to protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill and seek Scheduled Tribe status for six communities affected normal life in several parts of the state on Monday.
Hundreds of men, women and children poured into the streets of Lakhimpur, Dhemaji, Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Sivasagar, Jorhat, Majuli, Morigaon, Bongaigaon, Udalguri, Kokrajhar and Baksa districts soon after the bandh began at 5 am, burning discarded tyres and blocking highways.
Police wielded batons in Dibrugarh and Guwahati to break up protests and some state-run long-distance buses plied under police protection.
Foreign and domestic tourists in Kaziranga National Park were stranded due to the bandh.
There was no public transport available to take them to Guwahati where they could board flights and trains to home.
Most markets and financial institutions in these places were closed, but Assam appeared cleaved over ethnic and linguistic identities, with people in Bengali dominated Barak valley districts of Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi as also the hill districts of Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao going about their lives normally.
Protesters took out 'funeral processions' of Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal for his alleged failure to oppose the CAB, which people in northeastern states apprehend will take away their distinct identity, culture, and change the region's demography.
Protests against CAB were also held in Tripura capital Agartala and parts of West Bengal.
In Assam, deeply divided over National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise that seeks to weed out illegal immigrants, the CAB is facing stiff resistance as people feel it will nullify the provisions of the Assam accord of 1985, which fixed March 24, 1971, as the cut-off date for deportation of illegal immigrants irrespective of religion.
The cut-off date for citizenship under CAB is December 31, 2014.
Those in the vanguard of these protests in Assam have been insisting that the state was already encumbered with the burden of lakhs of people who entered India, particularly from Bangladesh, during and after the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war.
The North East Students Organisation (NESO), the apex organisation of student bodies of the region, has called an 11-hour northeast bandh from 5 am on Tuesday.
Nagaland, where the Hornbill Festival is on, has been exempted. The NESO-backed shutdown has elicited support from the opposition Congress, the Left and AIDUF.
Several Left-democratic organisations have also separately called a 12-hour Assam bandh on Tuesday.
According to the new Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019, non-Muslim minorities--Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, Christians and Sikhs--who fled religious persecution in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan will be accorded Indian citizenship.
"Citizenship amendment bill has the endorsement of 130 crore citizens of the country as it was the part of the BJP manifesto in 2014 as well as 2019 Lok Sabha elections," Shah said, initiating the debate on the contentious bill, which was tabled in the Lok Sabha.
"We will have to differentiate between intruders and refugees. Citizenship (amendment) Bill does not discriminate against anyone and does not snatch anyone's rights," he said, rejecting opposition's contention that the measure was anti- Muslim and insisting "this bill is not even 001 per cent against Muslims".
In West Bengal, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee asserted she will oppose the "divisive" bill "at any cost" and that not a single citizen of the country will be allowed to be reduced to refugee status.
"There is no need to worry about NRC and CAB. We will never ever allow it in Bengal. They can't just throw out a legal citizen of this country or turn him or her a refugee," the TMC supremo said while addressing a rally at Kharagpur.
"Not a single citizen of this country will turn a refugee. Some people are trying to create panic with their political rhetoric, but let me make one thing very clear. There will no NRC and CAB. You cannot implement NRC or CAB on the basis of caste and religion", she declared.