In an interview to TNM, Jakob Lindenthal shares what made him join the anti-CAA protests in Chennai.

Disappointed how Indian govt treated me German student whose visa was cancelled
news Interview Monday, March 02, 2020 - 09:55

On February 8, 24-year-old Jakob Lindenthal woke up to a message which said his visa to India has been revoked by the government of India. The information came from the Indian Embassy in Berlin, weeks after he was made to leave India for participating in the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in Chennai. A Physics student from the Dresden University of Technology, Jakob was in the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras (IIT-M) on an exchange programme spreading over two semesters.

When protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act were at peak in Chennai, a placard which read ā€˜1933-1945 We have been thereā€™ attracted attention. It was an obvious reference to the Nazi regime in Germany, when the Jews were systemically persecuted by the state under the leadership of Hitler. Soon, a picture of Jakob holding the placard went viral on social media, thus garnering attention from all quarters, more so because he was a foreigner who had expressed solidarity with the cause of the residents who were expressing dissent against a law passed by the government.

Speaking to TNM from Dresden, Germany, Jakob says that he willingly joined the protests against CAA in Chennai because he saw his friends going for protest marches and he thought their reasons were valid.

ā€œI read CAA. And I read the reports about the first National Register of Citizens (NRC) implementation in Assam. If the same laws were passed in Germany I would certainly not remain silent either,ā€ he says, when questioned if he had done his own research on the Act.

On December 23, Jakob was called for a meeting by the Immigration department in Chennai to discuss his residence permit. He was on a year-long visa from June 2019 to June 2020, to complete two semesters in IIT-M. However, once inside the room, he was allegedly asked for his views on CAA. Jakob was told that he had indulged in activities beyond those permitted by the scope of his visa and was hence asked to leave the country immediately. His offer to submit an apology letter was also rejected by the Immigration officials.

He says he never expected much help from IIT Madras, and called the actions of the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO) illegal in some ways. "I didnā€™t expect support from IITM as they are mostly BJP supporters. The official refused to give me any legal reasons for my deportation. This is clearly a breach of Indian law. Then she refused to inform me about my rights. She took my passport without any prior documentation of the process," he says.

ā€˜Illiberal spirit of nationalism and traditionalismā€™

Jakob says that he liked his time in IIT-M, especially the spirit of campus life where everybody lived inside the campus as a single community. However, he says that IIT-M can do much better if not for the ā€˜illiberal spirit of nationalismā€™ and ā€˜traditionalismā€™.

ā€œStudents are being policed there all the time. There were instances where students belonging to Hindu and Jain groups attacked people who were against the beef ban. And the university administration only cares about reputation instead of true social and academic progress, it was an uneasy and oppressive atmosphere at times which I had not felt in German universities,ā€ he explains.

Parallels on the placard

Going back to his placards, which caught eyeballs, Jakob says that he does see some parallels between what happened in Germany during the Nazi regime and what is happening in India at present. ā€œI was trying to compare the process toward fascism. Thatā€™s where I see some parallels. By slowly making Muslims second class citizens one can pave the way for future persecution. Thatā€™s the same way it was in Germany with the Jews.ā€ 

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