1 February 2020, Geneva
The spirit of “azaadi” and the zeal for the protection of the constitution of India reached Geneva on 1 February 2020 as the Indian community in Europe – along with European friends of freedom – held a peaceful and constructive protest outside the UN Headquarters. Battling inclement weather, protestors held aloft banners, sang progressive songs, and recited revolutionary poetry to protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) – both designed to disenfranchise and render stateless millions of Indians, especially the marginalized sections and Indian Muslims. While Kannan Gopinathan, former IAS officer and anti-CAA crusader addressed the gathering via a live call-in, Bhim Army chief, Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan’s audio message was played and then the translation was read out by one of the organizers. What made the protest a momentous occasion was that it drew Indians from all over Europe and was organized by members of the expat Indian community primarily from Germany, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, Poland, Finland, and France.
Amidst slogans of “azaadi” and “UN Wake Up!” – amongst many others – was Reinhoudt, who has been participating in every single anti-CAA protest held in Germany. “I lost my family during the Holocaust. My grandfather was forced to kill Jews. Because he resisted, he was killed too. I know what ethnic divisiveness and such laws can do,” he said, adding that “the time to be passive and indifferent has passed”. To the UN he said, “Dear UN, this is the 21st century, not the 20th. It is time to act now.”
In his statement, Chandrashekhar Azad said, “In India, black laws like the CAA are being passed as an attempt to turn Dalits, Adivasis, Backward Classes, Muslims, and other minorities into second class citizens. It is an attempt to deprive them of their constitutional rights, to make them slaves in their own country. This law is discriminatory and violates our fundamental right – the right to equality. To everyone at the UN, to Indians all over the world, to all citizens who ask for and believe in social justice, I appeal to you, keeping Baba Saheb’s liberty, equality, and fraternity in mind, raise your voice against this black law.”
As the strains of “Hum Dekhengey” and “Baawara Man” rent the air, passers-by joined the gathering to show support and solidarity with the peaceful protest that gave a call to the UN to take cognizance of the atrocity waiting to be unleashed on marginalized and minority communities in India brought about by the passage of the CAA and the impending NRC. Apart from sloganeering and singing songs, a voice message from activist Kavita Krishnan was relayed. Statements from Jamia students Shaheen Abdullah, Ayesha Renna and Ladeeda Farzana – survivors of the state-sponsored police violence on the university on 15 December 2019 were read by protestors. The statement from JNUSU president Aishe Ghosh – survivor of the right-wing attack my masked men on the JNU campus on 5 January 2020 -and general secretary Satish Chandra Yadav.
Apart from reading statements, the protest also included a speech by one of the organisers, a lecturer of social psychology in Poland, to explain the rising nationalism in India from a social psychological perspective. “It is vital to understand the difference between patriotism and nationalism in today’s times as we live in a universe of muddled concepts, fake news and alternative facts’’. In her speech at the protest titled ‘’Make India Safe Again’’, she spoke about how national identity when threatened can lead to many defensive reactions, such as protecting one’s in-group and latching on to a ‘’superhero’’ who promises safety from any threat. She elaborated that the general rhetoric and events that unfolded since the Pulwama attack have had a riding theme of security and safety; thereby reiterating the need to ‘protect the in-group, in this case Indians’ against the out-group that the legitimate country head promises. She further explained that when leaders openly make statements of hate, violence and bigotry, like ‘’Goli Maaron Saalon ko (shoot them)’’ supporters, justify and legitimize these statements and begin to endorse them. She ended her speech with a quote from Marian Turski, one of the survivors of Auschwitz, that was made during the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the camp. ‘’ Auschwitz did not fall suddenly from the sky. [..]This happened, which means that may happen again, which means that may happen anywhere in the world. […] The essence of democracy is that the majority governs, but democracy hinges on the rights of minorities being protected. Do not be indifferent. The protest session -organized on the principles of passive resistance and Gandhian non-violence ended with the collective singing of the Indian national anthem and without any disruption.