A German student in the Master’s course in the Department of Physics at IIT Madras, part of a one-year exchange programme, has said that he was asked to leave the country “immediately” days after he attended protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC) in the campus.
Speaking to The Indian Express from the Chennai airport shortly before his scheduled flight home Monday night, Jakob Lindenthal said he received “oral directions” to leave India from the Foreigners Regional Registration Office in (FRRO) in Chennai around noon.
Lindenthal was in Bangalore for the past few days participating in a “sports tournament” when, he says, he received the first email from FRRO.
During a protest in Chennai against the CAA and NRC, he had carried a poster that said: “1933 to 1945; We Have Been There” (a reference to the Nazi regime in Germany).
“After I reached Chennai this morning, my course coordinator advised me to meet immigration officials immediately. When I reached there, they cited some administrative issues related to my residential permit in India. After I resolved their queries and it was clear that there were no issues regarding my residential permit, they started asking me about my politics and hobbies. It was an extensive casual conversation. They asked about CAA and my participation in anti-CAA protests. We discussed the demonstration culture. There were three officers including one who asked me all questions. All of them were unnamed. Towards the end of the conversation, they said I may have to leave the country immediately for violating my student visa rules. When I asked for a written letter, they returned my passport and said that I may leave. They said I will get the written letter but I did not receive one. Soon, I rushed back to IIT campus, booked my ticket, packed everything and left for the airport,” he said.
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“I received a call from an official in the Dean’s office. She suggested that I may leave tomorrow. Since it is going to be Christmas eve tomorrow, I chose to leave immediately,” said Lindenthal, adding that he was yet to inform his parents.
Hailing from southern Germany, Lindenthal, halfway in the IIT programme, said that questions about his participation in protests also included his proximity to a Marxist group, Chinta Bar, which organised the protest in IIT-M.
“I distanced myself from all such groups, I explained. At one point, the officer, referring to my decision to take part in protests, said I was uninformed, that I should not have attended protests when I didn’t know what I was protesting about. I disagreed. I replied that it was all about basic human rights of people…The conversation was not aggressive, I was moderate in my answers and explained my views,” he said.
In a statement tonight, Chinta Bar said it “extends solidarity and gratitude to Jakob for being part of struggle to protect the rights of people in this country and his concern for humanity.”
“I do love the IIT-M campus, I love India but I am concerned about illiberal extremes in the country…In Germany, nobody is ever evicted for participating in a legal demonstration,” Lindenthal said.
When contacted, IIT Director Bhaskar Ramamurthy said he was out of station and did not know about the incident. When contacted by The Indian Express, both K Sethupathi, head of the Department of Physics, and S Sivakumar, Dean of Students, said they were unaware of the “incident” involving Lindenthal. Sources said an IIT official had sent a report about Lindenthal’s participation in the protests to “higher-ups.” Asked about this, Sivakumar said he wasn’t aware of such a report.
A senior FRRO official, saying he was unaware of Lindenthal’s case, told The Indian Express that if the German student had attended a protest, it was a “clear case” of violating visa rules for foreigners staying in India. “If there is a violation, the institution is bound to report the matter to authorities…FRRO comes much later in issuing a letter to leave the country with immediate effect…This isn’t the same as deportation. His visa may be cancelled soon,” the official said.
“A security official accompanied me to the security gate at the airport as they knew about my trip,” Lindenthal said. “I will be in Europe Tuesday morning,” he said.