Over three months into Israel’s indiscriminate bombing of the Gaza Strip, demonstrators across the world have rallied to call for an immediate ceasefire and urgent humanitarian action in Gaza. 

Cities in the United States, England, Scotland, France, Germany, and across the Middle East have witnessed massive marches in solidarity with Palestine. 

India, too, has seen protests emerge across the country, expressing support for both the Palestinians and Israel. 

However, these demonstrations have elicited a contrasting response from the authorities in India. Protests in support of Palestine have faced a brutal crackdown, while demonstrations in support of Israel have been given a free hand. 

On October 23, various student-led organizations gathered outside Israel’s embassy in New Delhi to condemn Israeli war crimes in Gaza. Mir Suneem Gul, 25, a student at Jamia Millia Islamia, joined the protest, holding placards in support of Palestine along with her friends. As the protest began, a group of policemen charged at the handful gathered, injuring a few and detaining others.

“We hadn’t even started protesting, and a policewoman dragged me by my collar to detain me,” Gul told Mondoweiss.

Gul, along with fellow protestors, were taken to Jaffarpur Kalan police station and released after three hours.

“We did not utter a single word while being detained. On that very day, the pro-Israeli demonstrations were allowed to happen outside Israel’s embassy.”

Gul, a Muslim and Kashmiri, says she has consistently faced suppression while voicing rights in India. Drawing parallels, she expresses a similar sense of suppression when advocating for Palestine. 

This sentiment reverberates across the country, with numerous reports highlighting severe repercussions for those showing solidarity with Palestine.

In India, the police have denied permission for protests and assaulted demonstrators, charging them with disturbing communal harmony. In mosques, Imams have been restricted from discussing Palestine during Friday prayers.

Public lectures have been canceled, and organizing events like film screenings on the Israeli occupation have been smeared as terror sympathizing.

Gul says that crackdowns like these have forced people to self-censor themselves while voicing their support for Palestine.

“Even if people believe in the cause, the fear of repercussions stops them. There’s a lack of trust in the system and fear of the state,” she adds. 

In the state of Uttar Pradesh, the police booked four students from Aligarh Muslim University after a pro-Palestine march on campus. 

Under the directive of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, the Uttar Pradesh government implemented strict measures, targeting social media posts favoring Palestine in Kanpur and Lakhimpur Kheri. Muslim clerics were arrested under the charges of posting ‘inciting’ content on social media in support of Palestine. 

In the southern state of Telangana, a group of students were detained for a pro-Palestine protest at the University of Hyderabad. Raniya Zulekha, 27, a student at the university, faced police assault during the protest. Authorities attempted to tear down the placards calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

“A security person attacked me; she even tried to tear off my hijab while trying to reach the posters,” Zulekha told Mondoweiss. She explained that the university routinely sees several protests daily, but this was the first incident where a demonstration faced this kind of clampdown. 

While Zulekha and other protesters encountered a severe response from authorities for a pro-Palestine stance, the treatment of expressing support has received no such backlash.

Vishnu Gupta, the chief of Hindu Sena, a Hindu nationalist organization, is among those who organized pro-Israel demonstrations in India. 

Gupta, along with other Hindu nationalists, had earlier volunteered to be enlisted in the IDF in support of Israel’s current onslaught in Gaza. 

According to Gupta, the Palestinian people elected “terrorists” as their representatives and cannot be deemed innocent. He believes that Indian Muslims supporting Palestinians are endorsing terrorism in India. “The reason for our support to Israel is the shared problem of Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism. Israel and India are going through the same situation,” Gupta told Mondoweiss in an interview. 

This view has found its resonance in major Indian media houses and right-wing handles on social media that have backed Israel’s war on Gaza. 

The platforms are filled with fake news, disinformation, and hateful narratives against Palestine.

Historically, India has backed the Palestinian cause, a stance rooted in its own struggle against British colonization. 

In 1938, Mahatma Gandhi, widely revered as the ‘Father of the Nation’ in India, famously remarked, “Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same manner that England belongs to the English or France to the French.”

In 1947, India voted against the United Nations resolution that divided Palestine, leading to the creation of the state of Israel. India was among the first to recognize the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian population in 1974. India later established a Representative Office in Gaza in 1996, later relocating it to Ramallah in 2003. 

Until 1992, India didn’t engage in diplomatic relations with Israel. 

Gupta believes it’s time to change this unequivocal support. 

“Palestine is a terrorist country, we should sever all ties with them. The Palestinian ambassador should be expelled, and the embassy should be closed in India,” he adds. 

In recent years, India has grown closer to Israel, with Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party being the first Indian prime minister to visit Israel in 2017. 

This policy change is often linked to the ascent of Modi and the growing sentiment of Hindu Nationalism in the country. 

This sentiment is loudly echoed by Hindu fundamentalists like Gupta, who share a deep admiration for Israel. Incidentally, they also form a crucial voting bloc for Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party.

In an interview with Mondoweiss, Apoorvanand, a political commentator and a Hindi professor at the University of Delhi, explains, “The government’s crackdown on pro-Palestine protests mirrors its closer ties with Israel, the increasing support for Israel in the country aligns with the rise of anti-Muslim, anti-minority politics represented by the Bhartiya Janta Party.”

Highlighting the parallels between Hindu nationalism and Zionism, Apoorvanand adds, “Hindu nationalism or Hindutva advocates for a Hindu Rashtra (Hindu nation), a supremacist ideology, while Zionism seeks a Jewish state in Palestine. Both assert the entitlement of a distinct, superior people to their homeland.”

Despite crackdowns, demonstrations in support of Palestine are happening all across India. 

Mir Suneem Gul acknowledges the risks in voicing support for Palestine but remains committed to joining future protests.

“I know the consequences can impact my career and personal life,” she says, “but even with that awareness, I feel a sense of duty to stand up for Palestine and stop this genocide.”