Citizenship Bill: ‘Hello Independence’ Slogans, Naked Protests Rock Northeast as Anger Builds Up

Guwahati: Naked protests, raising black flags, burning of effigies, rioting were order of the day in the Northeast region on Tuesday against the Centre’s move to push the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016.

The day, February 12, was declared ‘Doomsday’ by the Manipur People Against Citizenship Amendment Bill (MANPAC) – a conglomerate of over 70 civil bodies — urging people to intensify the agitation.

Anti-bill protesters from various tribal organizations and regional political parties led a torch rally at Jampuijala Bazar under Tripura’s Sepahijhala district. At a sit-in demonstration in the area, tribal youth burnt the effigy of Prime Minister Modi.

“I hope wisdom dawns upon the Prime Minister, and he realises the damage he would be doing to the country if the Bill is passed in its present form. It will change the course of the region forever. You cannot make the entire region insecure,” remarks Pradyot Manikya Debbarma, Tripura royal scion.

While naked protests were staged in Imphal and Assam, protesters in Mizoram under the Joint NGO Coordination Committee announced an ‘Independent Republic of Mizoram’. Holding placards and banners, reading ‘Hello New Christian Country’, ‘Hello Independence’, campaigners, including school children, gathered at the City Square in Aizawl for a peaceful protest.

“We want independent Mizoram because the Central government has not given heed to the grievances of the people. They have protested so many times, but the BJP-led NDA government is adamant on passing it,” says Lalhmachhuana, General Secretary of Young Mizo Association.

On the other hand, Lal Thanhawla, former Mizoram chief minister, who also took part in the protest, accused the ruling Mizo National Front of being afraid of those in power in New Delhi.

However, the BJP-led NDA government remains steadfast. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has termed it a ‘national responsibility’ to help pass the Citizenship Bill and reiterated the government’s commitment to rehabilitate non-Muslim minorities from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan in India.

The Prime Minister’s statements have only led to a concerning situation in the Northeast with anti-Bill protests and anti-government rallies in every part of the region.

“We speak for India, and those who are speaking for Pakistan and Bangladesh call themselves patriotic,” says Pradyot Debbarma, who is also the working president of the Congress in Tripura and had recently led a massive rally of tribals at Khumulwng.

The critics continue to decry Prime Minister Modi’s statements in support of the Bill. At a rally of the BJP in Guwahati on February 9, PM Modi said that one should differentiate between ‘intruders’ who want to capture India’s resources and the helpless lot who were forced to flee persecution in their country of origin.

Suhas Chakma, director of New Delhi based Rights & Risks Analysis Group (RRAG), says that law does not permit to make such a distinction.

“The politics can make a distinction between those who want to capture Assam and those who are helpless, but law does not permit to make such a distinction. India is governed by the rule of law. A Hindu Tamil of Sri Lanka shall have the same right as a Hindu from Bangladesh. There is no provision in law to either make distinction or discriminate anyone based on national origin or religious belief,” said Chakma.

On Sunday, a crowd of women vendors at Ima market in Imphal continued chanting anti-government slogans as police fired tear gas shells and smoke bombs at demonstrators. Since midnight Monday, mobile internet services have been suspended in Manipur with curfew imposed in Greater Imphal area. Security has been beefed up across the state with additional security personnel being deployed outside government offices, and the residences of state parliamentarians and legislators. Manipur police have set up barricades at strategic locations to prevent untoward incidents.

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