From Netflix to Hitler, protesters are tapping pop culture and history as they vent their anger against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s new citizenship law — and with deft use of India’s beloved acronyms.
The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) eases naturalisation for persecuted religious minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, but not if they are Muslim.
Critics fear it is the precursor to a National Register of Citizens (NRC) that many among India’s often undocumented 200 million Muslims is aimed primarily of making them stateless.
Modi’s government denies this and says the law is a humanitarian move, but it has sparked two weeks of protests that at times have been violent. At least 27 people have been killed.
“NRC is Coming” reads one placard, co-opting the “Winter is Coming” slogan of the smash-hit fantasy series “Game of Thrones”, with Modi’s black and white mugshot in the background.
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Others inspired by the same fantasy series include “Winter is coming for Modi and Shah”, referring to Home Minister Amit Shah, and “Modi – you are making Cersei look good”, a nod to a “Game of Thrones” villain.
“Netflix and raise hell”, says another, in a spin on the expression “Netflix and chill”.
“Stop trying to make NRC happen!” meanwhile rips off a popular line in Lindsay Lohan movie “Mean Girls”.
– ‘Die like Hitler’ –
Anjali Singh, clutching an “Error 404, Hindu nation not found” placard, said that Modi and his government had become more aggressive in moving forward with their Hindu agenda.
“So our messaging has also got more explicit and direct,” Singh told AFP.
Slogans like “Long Live the Revolution”, a popular chant of India’s independence struggle against British, echo at many demos, with a rhyming chant of “If you act like Hitler, you will die like Hitler”.
Caricatures of Modi and Shah wearing Nazi uniform and posters of Hitler holding a baby-sized Modi aloft have become a staple as videos and pictures that are viral on social media, as well as of graffiti.
“Everything that happens offline ends up online and we have to have a global appeal in our messaging,” Kiran Malhotra, a student protester in New Delhi, explained to AFP.
“Someone sitting in the US or Europe will not understand the change in India’s citizenship law but comparing Modi with Hitler simplifies it,” Malhotra said, her placard depicting a cartoon Modi with a swastika armband.
Many protesters are also rehashing Indian TV jingles from the 1980s to give a nostalgic touch to the protests, while others are using tambourine beats to sing “Down with Modi” or recite the preamble of India’s constitution.
Other favourites include a Hindi version of US civil rights anthem “We shall overcome”, as well as revolutionary Urdu poems.
“The messaging has to be more explicit and direct now,” Ira Sen, a protester told AFP.
Her poster features independence icon Mahatma Gandhi holding his “My experiments with Truth” autobiography alongside Modi cradling what the drawing depicts as his version, “My experiments with lies”.
– Homs to Hyderabad –
Many people are demonstrating for the first time, drawing inspiration from protests in Hong Kong, Chile, the Arab Spring and against US President Donald Trump’s travel ban on people from six Muslim-majority countries.
“People power can bring change. Democracy and constitution will win, despots will be thrown out,” Meenkshi Roy, an interior designer told AFP, holding a placard “Caesar will go… Rome stays”.
Other placards are topical (“PM 2.0 is worse than PM2.5”, a reference to a measure of pollution in India‘s smog-choked cities) and witty (“I have seen smarter cabinets at IKEA”).
“There is more youthful but aggressive language in slogans and placards. Some of the placards are downright offensive, some mocking and many other are sarcastic,” Steve Rocha, an activist, told AFP.
“This protest has everything –- graphics, words, music, poetry and rage.”