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Protests over CAA mark R-Day in New York

By P RAJENDRAN
January 27, 2020 17:38 IST
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The Republic Day celebration was about India's Constitution, but the protests also argued for protecting the values of equality and secularism enshrined in it.
Report, photographs: P Rajendran in New York

IMAGE: Protests against the CAA and NRC outside the Indian consulate in New York.
 

The blustery weather in New York City had driven indoors the Republic Day celebrations January 26 at the Indian consulate.

Outside, a tiny group of early protesters gathered, to hold up banners and shout 'Modi, Modi, you can't hide' in protest of the Indian government's controversial legislative measures to define citizenship and permit refugees on the basis of their religion.

Within the consulate, about 200 people had gathered to attend the flag-hoisting ceremony.

As is standard, the men came in dark coats or sleeveless jackets attributed to Modi or Nehru, depending on political and/or sartorial taste.

The women were in colorful saris or other suitably ethnic wear.

There were some children of those attending, but the gathering was dominated by the older set.

The mood-setting music included Nanha Munha Rahi Hoon and the A R Rahman version of Vande Mataram.

The smell of marigolds permeated the room. A little before 10 am, Consul General Sandeep Chakravorty stepped up to ceremonially unfurl the flag.

The Indian national anthem was sung after which the consul general read President Ram Nath Kovind's Republic Day speech.

The consul general spoke of Professor Robert Thurman and Professor S P Kothari, two people from the US who had being awarded the Padma Shri, India's fourth highest civilian award.

He went on to express his thanks to the community as he prepared to wind up his tenure in New York. His replacement is yet to be named.

The cultural programme included renditions by Deepak Dave, executive director of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan USA, of poetry extolling the national spirit by Harivanshrai Bachchan and Kavya Mishra.

"You are normalising their behaviour," protester Theresa Mathews told someone who stepped out after attending the event.

She was not mollified when it was pointed out that attendees at the flag-hoisting ceremony may have been there for national rather than political reasons.

IMAGE: Republic Day celebrations at the Indian consulate in New York.

Mathews said a fascist State such as Nazi Germany was enabled by people driven by a spirit of forbearance.

She described the recent Citizenship (Amendment) Act as being clearly against Muslims, and said the protests in Assam were a result of India's "border lands being used as a lab for horrors" to be visited upon the rest of the country later.

Mariam Thomas, another protester, stepped up to argue that a disingenuous comparison was being made with the US, pointing out that in India the new laws are not about immigration.

She said it targeted "people born there, been there for generations."

She pointed out that even family members of Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, India's fifth President, were excluded from the final National Register of Citizens in Assam.

IMAGE: Protests against the CAA and NRC outside the Indian consulate in New York.

A policeman who told the group they would have to move on, expressed his sympathy for the protesters's views while still doing his job.

"I've done my homework, he told them. "I know what's happening there (in India)."

By noon, the number of protesters had swelled as other groups banded together.

They held up Indian and American flags, and banners announcing 'No more violence against constitution,' 'Stand against racism in India,' 'The more U divide, the more we multiply,' and the like.

Saeed Ahmed from Massachusetts, who was at the consulate event and the protest, found no conflict in attending both.

The Republic Day celebration was about India's Constitution, which he supported; but the protests also argued for protecting the values of equality and secularism enshrined in it, he said.

Speaking of the CAA, Ahmed said while letting affected refugees into India was laudable, keeping out Ahmediyas persecuted in Pakistan, Tamils from Sri Lanka and Rohingya Muslims facing genocide in Myanmar, spoke for selective tolerance.

Dr Shaikh Ubaid, a medical doctor in Albany who is originally from Hyderabad, said people were witnessing the ultimate eradication of democracy in India, first by "chipping away, then a frontal assault."

Dr Ubaid said the current protest was for youth in colleges who had been attacked by police, and against the Indian government's policies on asylum and citizenship that he believed augured worse things to come.

"The first step towards genocide is disenfranchisement," he said.

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P RAJENDRAN / Rediff.com New York
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