The 24-year-old IIT student says he still loves India despite the far-right Modi government deporting him for participating in a protest against a newly passed citizenship law, which reminds him of earlier 'fascist regime' laws.
Jakob Lindenthal, a German student who participated in recent protests against India's controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), says the Indian immigration authorities forced him out of the country without any explanation.
Recently passed in the Indian Parliament, the CAA excludes Muslims and offers citizenship to non-Muslim immigrants from neighbou ring countries such as Pakistan and Bangladesh.
On December 16 and 19, Lindenthal joined student protests in the south Indian state of Chennai, where he's pursuing his masters degree in physics at the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (IIT).
His picture, taken at a protest site, quickly went viral on the internet. He was holding a placard that read: "1933-1945: WE HAVE BEEN THERE," hinting at the anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws that led to the genocide of at least six million Jewish people.
Born and raised in Dresden, Germany, Lindenthal received an email from the Foreigner Regional Registration Office (FRRO) on December 21, asking him to visit the nearest immigration office for his visa renewal.
Lindenthal said the deadline for the renewal was December 31 but he was asked to leave the country on December 23 simply because he had participated in protests criticising the CAA.
“The officer asked me a lot of questions — about my political attitude, my hobbies, and somehow the questions culminated into my participation in the protests. She reproached me for my stand on the freedom of speech and told me that I am uninformed and that I should not have any say on this,” Lindenthal told TRT World.
“I was told that my activities outside the campus violated standard visa regulations and I should leave India right away, and that my participation in the protest was enough ground to be deported.”
Back in Dresden, Lindenthal's home university TU Dresden has taken over communications with the Indian government and IIT authorities for his possible return.
"I would really like to return given I can continue my studies in India and that I would be allowed to express my opinion as it should be normal for a functioning democracy,” he said.
Although the deportation prevented Lindenthal from taking up an "interesting research project in Chennai", he thinks his academic career "does not seem to have been affected by the eviction". His exchange programme was to end by May 2020.
"TU Dresden offers a great research environment I am confident that I will be able to make up for it," he said.
In a similar incident, a 74-year-old Norwegian tourist Janne-Mette Johansson was deported from Kochi, India, on December 27. Johansson's participation in one of the anti-CAA protests brought her to the notice of the immigration authorities and she was asked to leave the country just as the German student Lindenthal was.
In both cases, the reasons for their deportation seem ambiguous. Speaking to TRT World, a New Delhi-based lawyer said he doesn't think Lindenthal was "misusing his visa in any way".
"Participating in a peaceful demonstration is not a sturdy reason to deport anybody,” he said, wishing to remain anonymous.
Lindenthal has no regrets in having raised his voice against the Indian law he described as "a big threat to the secular character of India.
"I feel that although many defend the good intention of CAA, it can be used in connection with NRC in a way that may remind us of early laws passed by fascist regimes. It is not as well-aimed as e.g. laws passed against Jews to exclude them from certain occupations but it may be used to almost exclusively target Muslim communities," Lindenthal said.
His bitter experience with the Indian immigration authorities and the inconvenience caused by the deportation has not changed his perception about India, however.
"I still love India as a country and as an encouraging example to the world for how people can live together peacefully. But I see that the current government is trying to change the perception that nobody is more or less Indian because of their caste or religion. This is something I find very concerning."