NEW DELHI, India. — Hundreds of people have joined a hunger strike in northeast India, where the government has deployed troops and shut down the internet in the wake of a controversial citizenship bill opponents worry will marginalize non-Hindu voices in one of India’s most ethnically diverse regions.
Protesters took to the streets across the states of Assam and Tripura after the government officially approved the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) this week. The new law could give Indian citizenship to immigrants from three neighboring countries — but not if they are Muslim.
Opposition parties say the bill is unconstitutional as it bases citizenship on a person’s religion and would further marginalize India’s 200-million strong Muslim community.
The unrest has turned deadly. Two people died in Guwahati, the capital of Assam and the state’s and most important city — they were brought to a hospital with bullet wounds, said Dr. Ramen Talukdar, the superintendent of Guwahati Medical College and Hospital. Another 26 were injured, though seven have been discharged, he said.
“We were coming back from the actual ground where the big procession took place and suddenly six vehicles … stopped nearby and they threw a stun grenade to disperse the protestors,” said Mehraj Khan, whose friend was one of the young men killed.
“As soon as they threw the stun grenade, they switched off their car light and … started firing.”
Khan said he saw his friend’s blood and brains on the floor after the incident.
A relative of one of the men shot said the police reaction was unwarranted: “We demand justice, are we not Assamese citizens, why to shoot own people?”
About 1,800 people have been detained in Tripura since Wednesday, according to Rajiv Singh of the Tripura police force.
Thousands defied a government curfew Thursday to attend a meeting announced by the All Assam Students Union (AASU), which is also organizing the hunger strike.
With large numbers of troops on the streets and communication disrupted, residents could be seen stocking up on necessities like milk and eggs in grocery stores, amid fears of further chaos.