On 19 December 2019, Jakob Lindenthal, a 24-year-old German student, participated in a protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, in Chennai, a city in Tamil Nadu. As an exchange student from the Technical University of Dresden in Germany, Lindenthal had been studying physics at IITM since July 2019. He was scheduled to study at the campus till May this year. But after photos of his participation in the anti-CAA protest circulated on the internet in December last year, the Foreigners Regional Registration Office ordered him to leave the country immediately. Lindenthal has been back in Germany since 25 December 2019.
It is unclear whether he will be allowed to return to India. Lindenthal has been trying to communicate with Indian authorities and get clarity on the matter. On 30 December, an official at the Indian embassy in Berlin suggested to Lindenthal to not try to re-enter India via his current visa. Lindenthal replied, “I do hope that it will not affect academic relations between Germany and India. The eviction of a student can certainly be viewed as an unfriendly act, especially under such undocumented and therefore unprofessional and possibly illegal circumstances from the side of Indian immigration authorities. I would like to make you aware that a similar case would never happen in Germany since demonstrations are open to everyone and even in case of an eviction order legal assistance and appealing the decision would be permitted.”
On 4 January 2020, Holger Fröhlich and Julia Lauter, freelance journalists based in Germany, interviewed Lindenthal via Skype and email. Lindenthal spoke about why he protested against the CAA in India and the parallels he sees between the Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled India and Germany during the beginning of the Third Reich.
Holger Fröhlich and Julia Lauter: When did you notice that your involvement in the 19 December demonstration has received widespread attention?
Jakob Lindenthal: The day after the rally on campus I was shown pictures on Instagram featuring me. I was the only foreigner at the protest. The big echo only reached me when I was already sitting in the airport waiting for my flight to Germany on 24 December. I did not hear the yelling on Twitter, I did not have an account at that time. But I was aware that a lot of broth would come in when I opened the hatch of my submarine. I am open to criticism, but I don’t waste attention on BJP-funded troll armies. After all, it’s clear what their goal is. The only time I was concerned was on the last day when I received all the press inquiries. I cancelled a photo shoot at some point because I got a little paranoid. I didn’t know who would recognise me on the street and if the police could arrest me eventually.
HF and JL: How did the FRRO approach you?
JL: On 21 December, the FRRO called me in by email. The meeting was then on 23 December. The initial purpose of the meeting was just to clarify a formality regarding an imminent deadline. That was quickly sorted out. Afterwards, we casually talked about politics, also about the CAA. And then, after a short break, I was told that I had to leave the country immediately.