Indian-American citizens in California come out in large numbers to protest CAA on Indian Republic Day

indica News Bureau-

On the afternoon of Sunday, January 19, hundreds of concerned Southern and Central California residents-  students, academics, activists, working professionals, and local community leaders from diverse class, caste, faith, national, gender, and generational backgrounds protested – took over Pioneer Boulevard in Los Angeles County’s City of Artesia. 

Starting at 1:00 pm the residents protested the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the National Register of Citizens (NRC), and the National Population Register (NRC) introduced Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led government at the centre.  

Rajashik Tarafder, a research scholar at Caltech involved in the organization of both LA protests, asserted, “We are at a stage in the movement where different attempts at characterizing and maligning the protests are being tried by the government. However, the most threatening of those attacks is yet to begin. It must be entirely expected that the Supreme Court will rule in favour of the NRC and CAA. The question will then become, “What do we do next?” We are, after all, against the legal procedures of the government. It must be remembered here that it was legal in 1930s Germany to punish a Jew for not wearing a star on their person, it was legal in the Belgian Congo to chop off the hands of children for not meeting production requirements, and it was legal to burn women upon the death of their husbands in India. On the other hand, it was illegal to hide Jews running from the Nazis, it was illegal to run the Underground Railroad, and it was illegal to rob the British Raj after they robbed us. So, ‘legal’ or ‘illegal’ says almost nothing about what is right. So, even if the Supreme Court sides with the government, I encourage all the people in India and abroad to do what is right and resist. Legal or not, the CAA and NRC must be repealed to preserve the spirit of the Constitution.” 

The rally in Artesia was one of several organized across the United States-from Decatur, Illinois to Waltham, Massachusetts-as part of a National Day of Action. 

The protests aimed to spread awareness about the considerable funding and logistical support provided by the Indian American diaspora at large to Hindu nationalist figureheads and organizations in India, demanding accountability for this complicity in Hindu right-wing atrocities. The BJP and its parent organization, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteer Organization or RSS), have a significant number of sympathizers among diasporic Indians and Indian Americans, who have for years channeled millions of dollars to both of these organizations and helped them establish footholds in North America. 

Prerna Chawla–one of the organizers, who also helped to put together a December protest in front of LA City Hall that was attended by more than a hundred and fifty people–said, “We came together as a group organically in December after being distraught about what was happening in our motherland: protestors being attacked and murdered and students being beaten inside their own universities after speaking against the government. Propaganda-spewing machines have become a norm, and people believe what is repeated time and again to them instead of facts. After our first protest at LA City Hall in December, we wanted to go on fighting against the CAA and NRC and decided to take our protest to Artesia, a hotbed of Modi supporters. Amongst chants of “Inqilab Zindabad!” (“Long Live the Revolution!”) and speeches from a diverse group of South Asians, including Dalit and Queer folks, we stood in solidarity with all the protestors across India who are still standing tall after being threatened and tortured for what they believe in.”

After the CAA was passed in India in December 2019, there have been protests in country and abroad to oppose the act that discriminates against Muslims. A number of world leaders, human rights activists, legal experts, economists and the United Nations have all raised concerns about the implications of the act but even then a large majority of people, including many from the Indian diaspora, have extended support to the act.

Ali Muzaffar, who came all the way from Atlanta to participate in the rally, added, “I came to the USA in 2014 from after finishing my undergrad at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), right after the BJP came into power. Watching from a distance, how my motherland changed over the years and how my close friends became followers of the BJP and unfollowed me, was an interesting experience. It is pertinent for me now to stand and speak, share and discuss with my friends here. Participating in the protest at LA City Hall last month and then in Artesia on January 19 helped me to find people who give me hope in despair and made me realize, in the words of Faiz, “Lambi hai gham ki shaam, magar shaam hi to hai…,” which loosely translates to, “This evening is long, but not forever”. We will be heading to San Francisco over the coming weekend to continue our drive and raise our voices again.” 

While Modi and his allies insist that the CAA–which grants citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from India’s neighboring cities of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan–is a benevolent measure, its critics warn that the Act could strip citizenship from up to 200 million Muslims, sharply contradicting India’s humanitarian obligations under national and international human rights law and even its own Constitution. 

Ashley Cohen, an assistant professor at the University of Southern California, added: 

“Going by the coverage of India in the American mainstream media, it would be impossible to get a sense of how catastrophically bad the situation really is in India right now, not just for Muslims but for anyone who believes in democracy and opposes fascism. Yesterday’s protest was so powerful because it gave a platform for people to talk from their first-hand experience about what is happening in India right now. Hearing what people themselves have witnessed, and what their relatives have been through, including hospitalizations as a result of police brutality and violence, was chilling. We here in LA urgently need more real information about the situation on the ground in India so that we can mobilize to oppose fascism and hate in all their guises.” 

The imminent risk of detention confronting the CAA’s targets has been realized to a significant extent in the northeastern state of Assam, where the initial implementation of the National Register of Citizens by the BJP-controlled state government has rendered 1.9 million residents virtually stateless. Twenty-nine deaths have been reported in Assam’s detention camps up till now; furthermore, the victims of the NRC extend beyond the Bengali-speaking Muslims automatically presumed to be “illegal immigrants” to peasants and landless laborers who have lived in the region for generations, including numerous Hindus. These developments illuminate the dire prospects of a nationwide NRC for India’s largely impoverished, undocumented rural masses. This is, of course, to say nothing about the ongoing crisis in Indian-controlled Kashmir, which has been under a brutal lockdown and communications blackout since the Indian Parliament’s abrogation of constitutional articles that had previously granted the region a semblance of autonomy in August of last year. 

Several speakers from diverse backgrounds condemned the broadly anti-people stance of the Modi government while explaining their motivations for joining and organizing the rally

Bilal Hussain, LGBTQ+ activist and organizer, remarked, “Although the current state of affairs in India is perilous, seeing people from various identities come together to stand in solidarity against fascism and genocide gives me hope. This is just the first of many actions that will hold our community accountable.” 

Feminist organizer Sarah Manjra reflected: 

“Many of us who participated in yesterday’s demonstration are second generation South Asians Americans. We understand very well the violence of being permanently displaced from our ancestral homeland. The policies enacted by the Modi’s regime set the precedent for a second wave of large scale displacement initially induced by Partition. We cannot let this happen again.” 

A group of volunteers also walked from door to door on Pioneer Boulevard, speaking to shop-owners about the Citizenship Amendment Act and recent protests in India. Many shop-owners invited the visitors to post signs in their roadside windows saying, “No human is illegal. Whatever our faith, we are all equal” in English, Hindi, and Urdu. The protest concluded at 3:30 pm with the Indian National Anthem.