By Partha P. Chakrabarty
Over sixty Philadelphians, mostly of Indian origin or heritage, along with a sprinkling of allies, gathered together on December 19 on the University of Pennsylvania campus to protest the latest fascist moves of the Narendra Modi government in India. These moves have included the passing of a discriminatory amendment to India’s citizenship laws, which is to be closely followed by an unprecedented overhaul of Indian citizenship through a National Register of Citizens (NRC).
The protest drew graduate students, professors, and professionals who trooped in during lunch hour. Braving chilly weather, the protesters raised slogans, sang songs, and took a pledge to protect the secular and democratic principles enshrined in the Indian constitution. The high turnout given the haste with which the protest was planned indicates that this time, the government has gone too far, and the people of India will no longer tolerate its unilateral actions.
Taken together, the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the NRC, explained here, can be used to strip vast numbers of Indian Muslims of their citizenship itself, leading to mass disenfranchisement, and incarceration in camps that are already being built across India. The last time something like this happened in the region, as reported by the Financial Times, was when the Rohingya were stripped of their citizenship by the government of Myanmar in 1982. This led directly to a million Rohingya being displaced and over 10,000 getting killed in genocidal violence in 2016.
The Indian people are not blind to these dangers. While several reprehensible moves of this government have met with public silence, if not approval, this time is different. Millions of people have taken to the streets across cities and towns in India.
In keeping with Modi’s image as an authoritarian strongman, the only government response has been to try and suppress dissent. This has taken the form of imposing Section 144, which curbs public gatherings in large swathes of the country. It has also taken the form of Internet blackouts, which India has used far more frequently than any other democracy, not least the four-months-and-counting communications blackout in Kashmir.
It has also taken the form of police violence against students and protesters. By now, at least 25 people have been killed, with thousands incarcerated or detained. The state of Uttar Pradesh, led by far right strongman Yogi Adityanath, has been particularly brutal, with wanton destruction of property by the police, and attempts to punish protesters by seizing their property. This is a crucial moment, where it is more important than ever for voices to speak up in support of the Indian people against the actions of the government.
While this is an imperative for the world community at large, diasporic Indians in particular must now intervene. As a representative of Equality Labs mentioned at the protest, it is the Indian diaspora that has played a large role in Narendra Modi’s rise to power, providing both financial and moral support. In fact, the world could be forgiven for thinking that Indians in the US overwhelmingly support Modi and his Hindu fundamentalist agenda. After all, fifty thousand of them showed up to the Howdy Modi! event in Houston, which was also attended by Donald Trump.
However, recent months have seen Indians in America who oppose the current regime coming together to protest his most heinous actions. As University of Pennsylvania Professor Ania Loomba mentioned at the protest, as many as 25,000 Indians had gathered to decry Modi during his visit at the United Nations in September this year. This included a small group of protesters, under the incipient umbrella organization, the Coalition Against Fascism in India (CAFI), which has members across the US.
While the CAA and NRC protests are widening the base of participants, the movement began with actions against the Indian government’s arbitrary repeal of Article 370 in Kashmir, and the brutal repression that has followed there. And in the tradition of organizing, it began by way of existing solidarities, in particular with the Philly Socialists.
It was the Philly Socialists who clued in a growing nucleus of South Asians resisting Modi with the Philadelphia South Asia Collective. Together, CAFI, PSAC and Philly Socialists organized an action protesting events in Kashmir during India Day in August of this year. About a hundred protesters raised slogans and held up banners showing the thousands of other Indians assembled there that they dissented from the Indian government’s actions.
This was followed by a teach-in on Kashmir, once again organized by the Philly Socialists, on December 8 at Making Worlds Bookstore. Since one form of organizing often leads to another, those who met at the Kashmir teach-in were able to put together this event protesting CAA and NRC within just four days.
Now, Philly CAFI has collected over 150 signatures on their petition, and have had over a 100 people sign up for further updates. We at CAFI are under no illusion: the battle against fascism is going to be long, and will require continuous efforts. As our speech mentioned at the protest, we have cold, hard clarity that in the face of fascist capture of institutions, it is up to the people of India to stand up to save the country. We have cold, hard clarity that these seemingly innocent laws can lead not just to mass disenfranchisement, and mass incarceration, but also to genocide. We have cold, hard clarity that fascist forces are linked to each other worldwide.
The coalition of fascist forces worldwide needs an answering coalition of those against fascism. As Philly CAFI takes baby steps, it hopes to build solidarities, networks, and contribute to the causes of other groups, like the Philly Socialists. To that end, we are proud that Philly Socialists, as well as PSAC and the Radical South Asian Collective at the University of Pennsylvania chose to co-sponsor the December 19th protest. We hope to keep contributing to efforts to form an international front against fascism in India, the United States, and elsewhere.