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An exchange student from Germany studying at IIT Madras has reportedly been ordered by our immigration authorities to leave India for violating visa rules. Jakob Lindenthal, 24, was participating in protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and was spotted holding placards against the new law. One of them seemed to make a reference to minority oppression in Nazi Germany. Another placard appeared to equate the police with criminals for their alleged excesses against student protesters.

The conditions imposed on foreign students in India are unclear, and it’s possible that Lindenthal did violate these and thus deserved to have his visa revoked. But the timing of this discovery sends out awkward signals to the rest of the world on the freedom of speech that India allows people who reside here, temporarily or otherwise. Many would wonder if he was asked to depart because his views do not concur with those of the ruling political dispensation. One could argue that overseas students ought not to engage in political activities in their host country if education is their stated purpose for being here. But joining a protest can hardly be considered subversive, and it’s hard to see how Indian interests would be damaged by a foreign student acting in solidarity with domestic students. His ejection would do little except become a campus talking point.

Also, efforts to silence youngsters tend to be counterproductive. A better way for the authorities to deal with the crisis would be to explain India’s citizenship policy clearly, and ensure that nobody bears an arbitrary burden of proof to retain his or her freedom, regardless of religious identity. That is likely to quell the unrest.

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