More than 500 gather in front of the iconic Gandhi, across the Embassy of India.
Braving cold weather, hundreds of people gathered in front of the Embassy of India, in Washington, D.C., on Sunday to protest against the recently passed Citizen Amendment Act (CAA).
The “Rally Against NRC, CAA,” held in front of the iconic statue of Mahatma Gandhi, was attended by more than 500 people, making it one of the largest protest rallies held at the venue in recent years.
The controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), passed by the Indian lawmakers on December 11, fast-tracks citizenship applications of minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, but excludes Muslim refugees from these countries who are fleeing similar persecution.
Many fear that the CAA, along with the National Register of Citizens (NRC), will marginalize the country’s 200-million strong Muslim community. NRC was implemented in the northeastern state of Assam in recent years, and India’s powerful Home Minister Amit Shah has said that it will be extended nationally.
The passing of CAA resulted in widespread protests across India, costing nearly two-dozen lives.
The symbolism of the location of the Washington rally, at the Mahatma Gandhi statue, in front of the Indian Embassy, could not be missed. And fittingly, with unity as theme, protesters huddled together in front of the bronze statue, dedicated to the leader who helped liberate India.
A popular chant repeated throughout the protest, which began at 11 am and lasted until 1 pm, was “aazadhi,” a Hindi and Urdu word which translates to “freedom.”
“We are not supposed to be like this, we are a secular, democratic republic,” said Basil Baby, an immigrant from Kerala. “Now the government is trying to divide people by their religion or religious views, which is not right. This is not who we are. So we are doing a peaceful protest here.”
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Another protester, Maneera Ali, had a personalized message for the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “You run the government by the constitution, not by your own agenda, or pleasing your camps, rise above it,” she said. “You are the prime minister of India, you should listen to each and every single person of this country.”
While a large percentage of the crowd was first-generation Indian American Muslims, the event saw Indian Americans of different faiths and subnationalities. Many first-generation Indian Americans, who spent their formative years in India, came with their kids.
For those present, the protest served two main purposes: to raise awareness and to send a message to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the rest of the Indian government.
A resolution passed by the organizers of the rally said the possible implementation of both CAA and NRC “is likely to cause huge conflicts between the majority and minority communities, reducing the citizenship status of Indian Muslims.”
It added, “As evidenced by the recent chaos in Assam and Kashmir, and elsewhere, these Acts are likely to cause much harm to the Indian nation and the Indian people.”
Among the protesters, there were also people who had no connection to India. Charles Stevens, a Northern Virginia resident, said he was at the venue to spread the message of love and connection. “None of us are going to live completely ourselves, unless we learn to live with each other,” he said. “We are connected to one another in the heart of God and in our own hearts.”
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