It was the third protest rally in nine days.
For the third time in nine days, Indian Americans protested against the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act on Saturday in Washington, DC, alleging that the new law expedites citizenship applications of minorities fleeing Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan is an affront to India’s secular constitution.
The protest in front of the iconic Mahatma Gandhi statue across the Embassy of India, was organized by a group of Indian Americans from the area.
The law, known as CAA, was passed by the Indian parliament on December 11. The CAA and suggestions by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet colleagues that a National Register of Citizens (NRC) will be implemented nationwide have triggered huge protests across India. Twenty-five people have died, mostly in police firing, in Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Assam.
Critics say that the CAA and NRC will disempower, disfranchise and even strip many Indian Muslims of citizenship.
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The roughly 150 people that protested in Washington included many students and young professionals, like Niki Naik and Malvika Shankar, both recent graduates of Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
“I’m an Indian citizen and I grew up in India — I’ve always been proud of the fact that India is a democracy and a secular country.” said Naik, who is currently working in Washington. “Hearing about what’s going on back home, I felt a sense of helplessness and not being able to do much and not being there.”
“Were trying to raise awareness among people our age, trying to use social media to its best use and make people aware of the actions that were taking,” said Shankar. “I think the best way to show people we care is to come and just be active and be present in the moment.”
Kaleem Kawaja, president of the Association of Indian Muslims of North America, said he was encouraged by the reactions from the local Indian American community.
“People are not talking about religion, they are not talking about religious differences,” he said. “They want to preserve India’s constitution.”
Kawaja, who was one of the organizers of a similar protest at the same location on December 22, which attracted more than 500 people, added: “What you see is a reflection of what is happening in India, in New Delhi, in Bombay, in Calcutta, all over, in Bangalore, everywhere, younger people and old people both are coming together and saying that we have to preserve our nonreligious, secular constitution of India.”
One of the organizers of Saturday’s protest was Nalini Nathan, an immigrant from Bangalore. She said she and a few friends mobilized people on WhatsApp.
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She blamed Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Indian American supporters for dividing India. “So many people tried to divide us,” Nathan said. “The British came. They were not successful, but this guy, inside the country, tried to do that. And today we stand… we are divided, but I am so proud of our youngsters. They are not going to let this happen.”
Nathan criticized Indian Americans that are supporting Modi’s Hindutva project. She said, “If you want to support an ideology that is so rigid back home, what if Trump tomorrow says ‘This country is only for Christians?’ Are you going to be okay for that? You know we should never feel that we are away from being discriminated.
The Maryland resident also accused Modi supporters of hypocrisy. “They definitely want everything over here,” she said. “They live a free life here. They don’t like to be discriminated against, in this country. But they are very happy supporting the regime back home. If they so much cared they should go there and they should make their kids join the RSS. I’d like to see that happen. It’s very easy to sit away from home and then want to fund those kind of things back home.”
Naik, the recent graduate, said she was at the rally to send a message to the Indian prime minister. “I think Modi also cares a lot about his international image,” she said. “He relies on, to some extent, support from the diaspora, especially in the US, and we know that from “Howdy Modi” as well. So if we can show us, being a part of the diaspora that doesn’t agree with him and we have to show that we object to his actions, I think we are contributing in our own way.”
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