Risk it all or stay away? What Indian students did amid US university protests

India Today Digital spoke to Indian students in US universities as the institutes go on a summer break, a crucial time for the pro-Palestinian protests. They reveal why most Indian students have stayed away from the protests but also how a small number who joined the demonstrations faced greater risks than American students.
Risk it all or stay away? What Indian students did amid US university protests
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Among India's top gifts to the world is non-violent resistance. Mahatma Gandhi, became the face of non-violent resistance, and his powerful idea spread across the world and was used by ordinary people to resist the mighty and powerful. So, are Indian students in the US participating in the non-violent pro-Palestine protests that have gripped top American universities?

Students are using Gandhi's non-violent resistance and demanding that their universities cut all their links to Israeli companies that are any way linked to Israel's attacks in Gaza. As the protests continued, the police emerged on the scene to clamp down on the pro-Gaza protestors at Columbia University, the Ground Zero of such protests, reported the Associated Press.

The crackdown on April 17 spread the protests to other university campuses across the US. With each passing day, the protests gained momentum like wildfire, unaffected by police arrests of students just before they go away for their summer breaks.

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Risk it all or stay away? What Indian students did amid US university protests

But what about the Indian students on these campuses? Are they participating in the protests? If yes, what are they putting at stake? If not, then why aren't they getting involved in the protests? IndiaToday.In spoke to some of the Indian students in the US, and tried to understand their quandary. They spoke on condition of anonymity, scared that any focus on them could jeopardise their studies and career.

A 26-year-old Indian student at Ohio State University told IndiaToday.In how he has been participating in the protests but taken care that he stays away from police action and legal troubles.

"I am active in the protests but am careful in my participation. This means that I ensure that the chances of my arrest remain remote. Since Indians are one of the largest demographics of international students in America, our solidarity with the cause can contribute to the building pressure on the universities to divest," said the person.

"Moreover, being a person of colour, I was constantly scared for the safety of myself and my friends and our freedom of speech on this campus," he added.

Families in India whose children are studying in the US have been anxious about their well-being since the protests started. The police crackdown on protesters has also got them worried over their safety.

An Indian student from the University of Virginia told IndiaToday.In that Indians did participate in the protests at his university but he wasn't sure what percentage of Indian students that would be.

"I cannot say. Some Indian students have been involved, but I have no sense of what sort of rate of involvement that might be," the 28-year-old Indian student said.

While the threat of being deported remains, some Indian students are still seen protesting on campus.

"The protests on The Ohio State campus have been happening ever since Israel’s attacks on Gaza began. However, the protests have become more intense in the last month across the US campuses," said the Indian student at Ohio State University.

Visuals are abundant on social media on the encampments by protesting students or of police crackdown after the protesters didn't heed to deadlines and didn't move out of the campuses.

"Indian students, those who are politically aware and willing to take personal risks, are very active in the protests at different universities," the student from India at Ohio State University said.

However, he said that students are wary of police cases as they could even get them deported back to India.

"Others are vocal about the cause but are careful. However, a great majority of people remain aloof from the issue due to legal concerns," he said.

All universities have seen very intense protests.

"The protests at my university haven't been particularly intense. There have been academic events, and till recently protests were limited to these. There was a Gaza encampment in an unobtrusive area of the University Campus recently," the University of Virginia student told IndiaToday.In.

When asked about the crackdown on protests and if their friends and colleagues have been arrested, they said no matter what the intensity of the protests was, the police did try to remove the encampments and even arrested many students.

Some were charged for "criminal trespassing".

For some students, these protests have been life-changing.

"A major police crackdown happened on the 24th of March where around 40 protesters were beaten up and arrested. The administration also turned the campus into a barricaded, heavily policed area not conducive to studies. All the buildings were locked last week and no one could access their departments," said the Indian student at Ohio State University.

Did Indian students face any kind of threat from the pro-Palestinian protesters?

"The only safety issue has been the violent police action orchestrated by the university, which saw students (as well as some innocent bystanders) injured by indiscriminate pepper spray," said the University of Virginia student.

With their friends and batchmates actively participating in the anti-Israel protests, was there any kind of peer pressure on the Indian students in the US to join the demonstrations?

"No, there is no peer pressure. The organisers like Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace have been very clear that people know the risks and judge for themselves what kinds of risks they are willing to take. International students have also been advised by peers to ensure their own safety as their first priority," the India student at Ohio State University told IndiaToday.In.

This is important as some recent research has revealed that students participate in protests as they feel a need to belong to a group. But this is not the case with the university campus protests in the US, it seems.

"None that I’ve experienced or any of my colleagues or students have experienced," reiterated the University of Virginia student on the question of pressure to join the protests.

In the day and age when brutal visuals play live on the smartphone, families back home in India of students in the US are a worried lot. They have seen police march in and remove tents by force, throw protesters to the ground and cuff them. It is but natural for them to be concerned.

The Indian students saw their classmates getting arrested. But this was not their only concern. Their parents were also worried about their participation, which could lead to them being arrested and deported to India.

"My family is definitely concerned. While they do support the cause, they have advised me to stay away from the protests and be extremely careful if I do go there. The videos of police beating up unarmed students in the US have made them very scared," said the Ohio State University student.

For others, Palestine isn't a burning issue that concerns them, and they are more focused on the politics and elections back home in India.

"They’re aware, but for the most part, they are focused on the political situation in India given the election. We’ve discussed the Palestine issue, but they don’t have strong opinions on the subject, similar to me," said the University of Virginia student.

For now, there is a sense of calm on top US university campuses as colleges go on summer break. This is a critical juncture as the protests will pause for around two months and students are expected to return home. Will the protests begin when the students return to the US, and will the Indian students remain in the same role is something to be seen.

Source: India Today

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