Protesters at an Indian Independence Day parade in California were bullied and called ‘dumb Muslims’

A large Indian Independence Day parade and festival in Anaheim, California earlier this week turned into scuffles and Islamophobic slurs after a group of demonstrators brought signs protesting Hindu nationalism and the discrimination in India.

In video seen by NBC Asian America taken during Sunday’s physical confrontation, men can be seen jostling and grabbing the young group of protesters, some shouting things like “stupid Muslims” and “get out” along with various nationalist chants .

The parade celebrates India’s independence from British colonialism in 1947, which occurred with the violent partition between India and Pakistan. On the 75th anniversary, activists said they had come out to raise the voices of oppressed minorities on the subcontinent.

“It was really urgent, especially around India’s Independence Day,” said Shanelle Gulabi, one of the protesters. “Because whose independence is celebrated? Who can celebrate freedom? And whose freedom when there has been so much active violence and targeting of Muslim communities, oppressed by caste, Christian communities, Sikh communities.

They intended to just walk around the festival with their posters, they said.

“I don’t think we went there with any expectations other than to hold our signs,” Gulabi said. “Maybe we can have conversations or plant seeds. At least that was the intention of entering. Within seconds of entering there was so much concern from these older men.

The 14 or 15 protesters easily outnumbered the hundreds at the event, they said. But the event took place in a public space in Anaheim, and it was advertised as open to everyone.

“They just started pushing and shoving us,” said another protester, who chose to remain anonymous for security reasons. “It was just a line of men. They were pushing us, grabbing us, grabbing our signs and shouting obscenities in Hindi and English.

The shouting quickly turned into insults, protesters said.

“We were called terrorists. We were asked questions like: ‘Are you Pakistani?’ “said Gulabi. “A lot of Islamophobic insults were thrown at us as a group.”

“One guy said ‘stupid Muslims’,” the anonymous protester added. “Nothing marked our identity. It was just that assumption.

Video shows the men rushing into the group of protesters, knocking their phones out of their hands and snatching their signs.

Signs brought in by protesters during India’s Independence Day Parade in Anaheim, Cali on Sunday.Shanelle Gulabi

But event organizer Manoj Agrawal denied any physical violence, telling NBC Asian America in a statement that protesters were scaring children at the event.

“All were wearing masks and didn’t want to show their identities and were recording on cellphones,” he said. “It was a very planned and coordinated activity. One person recognized two girls from Pakistan and he shouted and that might have gotten other people to say something about religion. Our event was not biased by religion and we had booths and event coordination from many Muslim vendors. Like I said, their intention was to create problems and then record something that can help them present something.

But activists say that before being attacked by participants in the event, they were walking quietly in space.

“We went into total silence,” said Rita Kaur, who was also present at the protest. “We could have done the whole course in 30 seconds. But they started stalking us. They stopped the music and started singing “bharat mata ki jai”.

Bharat mata ki jai, which translates to “victory for mother India”, is an Indian military song that has become synonymous with Hindu nationalism and silences Muslim and caste-oppressed groups on the subcontinent.

When parade participants converged on the group, they said they should use their signs to protect themselves from physical violence.

“They continued to feel entitled to catch us,” Kaur said. “They could have just looked at our signs, they could have come up to us and hired us. But for their instinctive reaction to become physical…it was really alarming.

The group was shocked at the level of anger that was immediately directed at them, they said, and that they felt this was hiding a much deeper rooted issue.

“This action really showed us how much Hindu nationalism is here in the diaspora,” Gulabi said. “These uncles, these men who were aggressive with us, exist in community with us. These are people at the grocery store and in shared religious institutions. And the dynamic that we see in India is very present here.

As Americans with roots in the subcontinent, Kaur says they should have been as welcome in the parade space as anyone else there.

“We all see ourselves as the voices of India,” she said. “We should also be able to come and represent India. We should be allowed to criticize.

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