Guwahati: Violent mobs in India’s northeastern state of Assam torched buildings and clashed with police on Thursday, leaving three dead and 11 with bullet wounds, as protests grew over a new citizenship law for non-Muslim minorities from some neighbouring countries.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government has said the Citizenship Amendment Bill, approved by parliament on Wednesday, was meant to protect minorities from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The law seeks to grants Indian nationality to Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, Parsis and Sikhs who fled the three countries before 2015.
But thousands of protesters in the state of Assam, which shares a border with Bangladesh, say the measure would open the region to a flood of foreign migrants.
Others said the bigger problem with the new law was that it undermined India’s secular constitution by not offering protection to Muslims.
Police in Assam’s main city of Guwahati fired bullets and tear gas as groups of protesters, some numbering several hundred, demonstrated in the streets, defying a curfew imposed on Wednesday.
Ramen Talukdar, superintendent of Gauhati Medical College Hospital, said two people had died from gunshot wounds and 11 others injured, also with bullet wounds.
The turmoil in Assam comes days ahead of a summit Modi plans to host there for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as part of his campaign to move high-profile diplomatic events outside Delhi to showcase India’s diversity.
Raveesh Kumar, a spokesman for India’s Foreign Ministry, told reporters that he had no update on whether the summit would go ahead as planned or be held elsewhere.
In Tokyo, the Japanese foreign ministry said it is keeping a close eye on the local security situation in Guwahati, but that it has no plan at the moment to make changes to Abe’s trip.