Los Angeles Roars for “Azadi!” Reflections on an Indian Solidarity Action in Southern California

For two full hours yesterday afternoon, Los Angeles’ Grand Park reverberated with the simultaneously furious and joyous roars of “Azadi!” (“Freedom!”) and “Inquilab Zindabad!” (“Love Live the Revolution!”). Indians, South Asians, and Americans from various backgrounds came together to demonstrate their opposition to the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the National Register of Citizens (NRC), and India’s deepening authoritarian nightmare as a whole. Since the calamitous signing of the CAA into law on December 13, similar rallies have been held all across North America and many other corners of the globe, from Chicago to Sydney to Abu Dhabi.

As a political organizer and budding activist-scholar, I often despair at the lack of Stateside awareness, concern, and action with respect to India and South Asia, even within leftist circles. As such, I was heartened by the LA rally’s sizable and diverse turnout, its warm but defiant spirit, and its broadly anti-fascist consensus.

Attendees read key passages from the Indian Constitution that the Modi regime has flagrantly, gleefully contravened with its recent measures, such as Article 14, which guarantees the right to equality before the law. They condemned not only the CAB and the NRC but the sadistic brutality and internet blackout inflicted upon Jamia Millia Islamia University and Aligarh Muslim University students and the residents of Uttar Pradesh, as well the ongoing crackdown in Kashmir that has left eight million people to scream, suffer, and die in darkness. They raised placards displaying some pretty ingenious slogans and graphics (fellow South Asian kids who grew up eating Amul dairy products will particularly appreciate “Utterly Butterly Barbaric,” placed over an image of Modi as the Amul girl holding the CAB and NRC). They recited poems, led chants, and even sang songs in English and Hindi. They passed around cashew nuts and Parle-G biscuits to keep everyone going.

I came away more convinced than ever that India and South Asia can only pull back from the precipice at which they currently find themselves through concerted mass action. Not by the whims and dictates of self-serving politicians, businesspeople, spiritual gurus, and civil society professionals, but through the sheer, audacious, organized willpower of everyday people. By militantly securing and cultivating autonomy, dignity, equity, justice, and resilience at every level of society, in every corner of the country and the region, and in solidarity with every single individual, community, and movement in the cross-hairs of the ruthless and shameless neoliberal capitalist Hindu chauvinist Indian state.

Merely demanding our freedom is insufficient: we have to seize it from the blood-soaked hands of our oppressors and refuse to let it go. Asking a proto-fascist government and its collaborators, apologists, and assassins to respect our rights is nothing short of suicidal. We are the only ones who can protect each other, which behooves us to stand with the most vulnerable among our ranks: Muslims, Dalits, Bahujans, Christians, Kashmiris, adivasis, peasants, migrants, women, and LGBTQ+ people. Agitating for political, religious, and cultural freedom is also meaningless to the extent that we fail to grapple with the economic and ecological underpinnings of the Hindu nationalist project and its positioning within the global neoliberal capitalist order. After all, fascism, as Lenin famously asserted, is capitalism in decay.

We can no longer satisfy our consciences with half-measures. Grudging, tenuous, and even entirely illusory top-down concessions that ultimately insult and degrade the emancipatory spirit of our mobilizations simply won’t suffice any more. The national, regional, and transnational political, social, economic, and ecological, threats we face are frighteningly existential, and we will not get a second chance to overcome them. Our righteous rage must thus be more than a flash in the pan. Rather, it must be the fire that reduces the entire extractivist, majoritarian, and totalitarian saffron state apparatus to ash, fertilizing the soil for truly egalitarian, cooperative, and redistributive self-determination. This is to say that our organizing cannot be a temporary diversion, a mere flirtation with direct action that is quickly subsumed by our more humdrum, cynical, and ultimately self-defeating impulses. Rather, it has to become a defining force in our lives, an essential part of our individual being that ripples outward to build coalitions, reconstitute communities, and advance movements. “School is not important, and work is not important,” as Black Panther icon Fred Hampton famously said. “ Nothing’s more important than stopping fascism, because fascism will stop us all.”

Who, if not us? When, if not now? Where, if not here?

And by “here,” I don’t just mean India, and I’m not only talking about Indians, because we shouldn’t have to fight alone. Now more than ever, we need politically engaged people of goodwill in the United States the foul stench of Hindu nationalism festering under their very noses. We need them — we need you — to recognize that Hindutva has wrapped its tentacles around many political figureheads, educational institutions, and cultural associations and programs in the United States. Furthermore, it influences and even seeks connections with burgeoning white supremacist activity and relentless capitalist accumulation in this part of the world, on top of drawing inspiration and purchasing resources from Israel’s settler colonial project and military-industrial complex. Stateside anti-authoritarians and anti-fascists have the opportunity and thus the responsibility to tear down the saffron flag that is firmly planted on American soil. Please don’t ignore, sideline, or abandon us in our time of need. I’m begging you.

At the same time, Indians and South Asians studying, working, and living in the United States must join America’s most urgent popular struggles if expect our American counterparts to care about our woes and dreams. The model minority status that South Asians and South Asian Americans are accorded is a bone thrown to us by the American state. It aims to make us accomplices to its white supremacist capitalist patriarchy by pitting us against Black, migrant, and other marginalized populations and even the more marginalized members of our own communities. We must thus reject it entirely and reclaim the promise of intergroup, internationalist solidarity foregrounded by the likes of the Black Panther Party, the Third World Liberation Front, and the (real) Rainbow Coalition.

We have to condemn the Los Angeles and New York Police Departments for lynching people of color at the same time as we decry the Delhi Police and the Central Reserve Police Force for their state-endorsed malice. We have to burn down the concentration camps and prison plantations of California, Arizona, and Texas at the same time as we burn down the concentration camps of Assam. We have to chop off the many heads of Jeff Bezos’ capitalist hydra as the same time as we bring the vampiric Ambani, Birla, and Tata corporate dynasties to a long-overdue end. Beyond the US, we have to join the ongoing battles against injustice, inequity, and tyranny unfolding in Bolivia, Iraq, France, Haiti, and so many other parts of the world at the same time as we stand with our courageous comrades who have taken back streets, squares, and campuses in Mumbai, Chennai, and Srinagar.

India was born through rebellion, and it must be reborn the same way — and not as a sham (neo)liberal social democracy, begging for yet another inevitable descent into authoritarian hell. It must be reborn through intentional, well-planned collaboration between the region’s myriad populations and popular movements. It must obliterate the last remnants of feudalism, enable workers to enjoy the fruits of their own labor, and finally — finally — allow its many persons and peoples to take their fates into their own hands.

“The war will continue,” as Bhagat Singh famously declared, for “the state of war does exist and shall exist so long as the Indian toiling masses and the natural resources are being exploited by a handful of parasites.” We are once again fighting a war for our souls and the soul of the land that binds us together in all of our complexity and contradiction.

To invoke Assata Shakur’s immortal chant, with the most widely, deeply liberatory intent, “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

Power and love to everyone who came out yesterday and to everyone who has been fighting all the good fights back home. Let the ruling classes tremble before us — before the awesome, irrepressible power of the people — for we have a society and a world to win.

Azadi! Azadi! Azadi!

Sarang Narashimhaiah is an Indian doctoral candidate in political science currently studying in the United States.