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How to resist Trump: Lessons from the Indian Student Movement

“So what’s the deal with Trump?”

It’s a question I’ve been asked time and time again by peers here in Delhi, and I have only one answer: The global right wing is in ascendancy, and it is really motherfucking scary. 

My friends aren’t asking because Trump is an aberration; they’re asking because he seems all too familiar.

For the past month and a half, Indian student activists have led movements protesting right-wing central government assaults against dissent and the rights of minority students – including the jailing of student activists from my host university, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), under an archaic sedition law. Witnessing this intersectional student struggle against the authoritarian excesses of the often Islamophobic and anti-indigenous Indian right has been nothing short of inspirational — especially considering what we’re facing at home in the U.S.

When I saw news of the aggression displayed by Trump supporters at his cancelled Chicago rally on Friday, and the way Trump encouraged this violence — the incendiary and racist rhetoric; the deliberate and starkly explicit endorsement of force against dissent — I was struck by an eery similarity. This is what it felt like to sit on JNU’s campus watching right-wing mobs attempt to storm our gates; this is what it felt like to witness a group of right-wing lawyers beat journalists and professors in full daylight in a courthouse in the middle of the Indian capital in front of police who looked on, doing nothing.

People of color, the poor, the indigenous, and the disenfranchised, have of course known this feeling as long as there’s been a United States. It’s the feeling of a cop shooting a kid in the street or a person detained and strip-searched at an airport for having the wrong kind of name. It is the fear that you might be detained for not having papers and held in a legal limbo from which you will never return. It is the fear of the state on your back. We can understand the current climate as not a break with this reality, but the surfacing of it in a nasty, public form – a form whose blatancy disrupts the ability of even the privileged to pretend that violence is not happening.

And we can understand this climate as global. Rhetoric about the other, about “those people,” about “anti-nationals,” about those protestors and dissidents and minorities who must be “purged” or even killed are common in the current political climate of both India and the United States. When we consider long and bloody American and Indian histories of racial and ethnic violence, we understand that this is not rhetoric to take lightly. 

Of course it’s not surprising: If there is anything human history has told us, it is that when a powerful guy walks onto a stage and starts talking about how “those people” are ruining “our” country, something very, very, very bad is happening.

Right-wing logics the world over — in India and in the United States and many points in between — are racist logics. They are logics of self versus other, us versus them; logics that talk about minorities as contagions that must be dealt with. They are rhetorics that advocate violence. They are also rhetorics that appeal to a lot of people, both powerful and populist, both to those who rule countries and those largely victimized by the systems who rule them. They tell us: If you’re having a bad time, blame people who, by merit of their skin color or their history or their identity or their dissent, don’t toe the proper nationalist line. They are the ones preventing America from being great, and to hell with all critics who say that perhaps a hegemonic, white-supremacist, capitalist, militaristic state isn’t so great anyway. Get rid of them, and you can “make our nation great again.”

A friend of mine acknowledged the similarities in right-wing rhetoric in his recent comic of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, distributed at a protest.

The caption? “Make Bhaarat Mahaan Again.”

Translation? You guessed it: “Make India Great Again.”

The similarities have been frightening. But if I have learned one thing in the past month and a half of witnessing this movement – with all its pitfalls and inconsistencies, with all its flaws – it is this: Wherever there is repression, there is resistance.

We have seen that resistance in the Black Lives Matter movement, in immigration rights movements, in movements against Islamophobia. We saw that resistance in Chicago on Friday. We saw it in the critical mass of people who spoke loud and clear saying that Trump’s blatant and intentional sparking of violence is one that will not be tolerated. (Lots of other kinds of less-public violence, violence that rarely crosses the TVs of the rich, should be and are protested just as loudly, too.)

That’s why it’s important for those of us who care about the right to dissent, the rights of minorities to dignity and equality, the rights of all of us to shout down our governments for the vile shit they get up to in the name of national integrity and security and pride to pay attention to what’s happening right now in India. To pay attention to how people resist and to how we can resist together. Anyway, a lot of us don’t have a choice. And the way this shit works is that eventually most of us won’t have a choice. 

I know umpteen articles have been written about Trump and fascism: How Trump is a fascist, how he’s not a fascist, how it doesn’t matter whether we call him a fascist or not because it’s all pretty damn terrifying. What I would say, however, is that we can look less to Hitler and start looking to other countries, and not just European countries, whose governments we collaborate with, and whose right-wings share our tendencies towards neoliberalism, anti-intellectualism, and anti-minority violence. And we can look at their resistances, too. We can, and need to look at the intellectual and political contributions of progressive forces in countries facing similar outpourings of demagoguery and xenophobia. The contemporary student movement in India is a good place to start. 

And in case we’re still interested in the fascism question, which I think we should be: check out the below lecture by School of Oriental and African Studies Professor Jairus Banaji, speaking at the JNU protests on “The Political Culture of Fascism.” When we think about factors like jingoistic and racist rhetoric and the idea of the will of the nation as a mystical source that only an authoritarian figure can read, we find that recent developments across the globe certainly fit the bill.

Of course, we also know that India and the United States have also shared some pretty remarkable histories: Histories of civil disobedience, of vast anti-oppression movements, of incredible though unrealized plurality, and of marginalized people who will not give up. If xenophobic and exploitative right-wing forces are global, our resistance can be global, too.

It already has been. It already is.

Reina Gattuso is passionate about empowering conversations around queerness, sexual ethics, and social movements with equal parts rhapsody and sass. Her writing has appeared at Time, Bitch, attn:, and The Washington Post. She is currently pursuing her masters.

Reina Gattuso writes about her sex life for the good of human kind.

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