About 40 members of the Coalition Against Fascism in India, which includes Penn students and professors, gathered outside Van Pelt Library to protest a recent law that discriminates against Muslims.
Seventh-year South Asia Regional Studies Ph.D. student Baishakh Chakrabarti, who participated in the protest on Wednesday, said CAFI gathered to oppose the Dec. 11 Citizenship Amendment Act, which grants citizenship to immigrants from neighboring countries if they are non-Muslim, and the National Register of Citizens, a record with the names of all Indian citizens in the state of Assam which the government is now seeking to update.
CAFI is a group promoting human rights and democracy in India with a focus on anti-fascism.
These two decrees suggest many Muslims will face pressure to prove that they are not from neighboring countries such as Pakistan or Bangladesh, The Washington Post reported. CAFI member and English professor Ania Loomba added the National Register of Citizens could lead to the exclusion of poor residents and Muslims who lack documents to prove their citizenship.
“They've been attacking universities because they're frightened of people who think, and their main opponents have been students in universities," Loomba said.
Fifth-year Stuart Weitzman School of Design graduate student Sirus Libeiro, who participated in the demonstration outside Van Pelt, said the gathering included students and faculty from Penn, Drexel University, and Temple University.
School of Social Policy & Practice professor Toorjo Ghose called on the crowd to challenge Penn’s relationship with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, describing the Wharton School as a supporter of fascism. In 2013, Wharton invited then-chief minister Modi and his ally, businessman Gautam Adani, to the Wharton India Economic Forum. Wharton canceled Modi’s invitation following a petition started by three Penn professors.
Peter Winicov, director of Wharton Media Relations, declined to comment.
Ghose also said the School of Engineering and Applied Science's work developing drone technology with the United States Department of Defense was another example of the University supporting fascism. The Engineering School has collaborated with the Department of Defense on a program called Fast Lightweight Autonomy to design drones which can perform dangerous tasks in military operations.
"I suggest we push on this campus for divestment from those programs and understand exactly how they are supporting the type of Modi fascism that is now becoming global," Ghose said.
Engineering Dean Vijay Kumar declined a request to comment.
Loomba said she hoped to not only stand against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens but also gather American allies to join CAFI.
“We are both American and Indian, and we want to participate in the democracy of and health of both societies,” she added.
Loomba said CAFI began to organize protests in September against Modi’s visit to Houston, Texas which President Donald Trump also attended. She added that CAFI also protested outside the United Nations in October when Modi delivered a speech to the General Assembly.
Chakrabarti said CAFI plans to protest in New York City outside the Indian Consulate on Jan. 26 on Republic Day, which honors the Constitution of India's anniversary.
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