The number of Indians in this country has tripled since 2014. In addition to apolitical and critical ones, there are also active Hindu nationalists.

A man is in a temple.

Vilwanathan Krishnamurthy, board member of the Sri Ganesha Hindu Temple Association, on the temple grounds in Berlin Neukölln Photo: Reto Klar/imago

SEDAN taz | Berlin, Tempelhofer Feld. On the first warm weekend of the year, three different cricket matches are held on the wide paved road leading to the western gate of the old airport. Youngsters, especially from the Indian subcontinent, take positions or chase the ball while others wait to be called back into the game. Cricket is the most popular team sport in India. Many languages ​​are heard on the Berlin cricket ground, although English predominates.

In the last decade, the number of Indian citizens in Germany has more than tripled. In addition to highly skilled workers, particularly from the IT sector, tens of thousands have also come to study, many of whom work in delivery services or other precarious jobs. With the German-Indian migration agreement of 2022, the migration trend has increased further. According to the Central Register of Foreigners, around a quarter of a million Indians already live in Germany.

In Tempelhofer Feld, some of the players say they have only been in the city for a few months or years. They really like Berlin, although they consider that learning the German language is a great challenge. The group of players is very heterogeneous geographically and linguistically: the men come from Karnataka in the south, Gujarat in the west or Uttar Pradesh in the north. Can you imagine life in Germany after your studies? Most say: yes.

That is why Germany is becoming more and more Indian. A reality that is hardly a topic in the media in the shadow of debates on immigration policies on asylum and refugees. Ahead of elections in India, the question is how this diverse community is developing and what problems it faces. Political unrest in India, under the increasingly authoritarian course of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is also being felt in Germany.

The diaspora cannot vote

Indians abroad cannot vote at embassies, not even in Berlin. A student from Gujarat, the state from which Modi also hails, is still following the election news and looking forward to the likely success of the BJP. He is not worried about the future of democracy: “India is getting stronger, also economically, and is acquiring a position of world leadership; that is why the government has the support of the majority. The other cricketers who are present prefer not to speak of it.” policy.

Family and youth advisor Vilwanathan Krishnamurthy is a member of the community board of the Sri Ganesha Hindu temple in Hasenheide and has lived in Berlin-Neukölln for 50 years. He is still very interested in the politics of his home country. During the conversation, numerous families come to the temple; Today in the halls an association of immigrants from southeast India celebrates the New Year.

For Krishnamurthy, the focus of community work is on integration. Many of the new immigrants want to stay here and some are even buying condos, Krishnamurthy says. The temple must be politically neutral and remain open to all. Of course, among the visitors there are discussions about the elections. He himself does not like politics and religion to be mixed, regardless of which side it is on.

Unlike Britain or the United States, Krishnamurthy does not notice tensions in the Indian community in Germany. He also attaches importance to this: “We are abroad and we can't change anything anyway. Whatever government comes, we have to live with it.”

“Something fundamental has broken”

Not everyone sees it that way. Cultural anthropologist Jagat Sohail grew up in Delhi and researches migration in Germany. He has lived in Berlin for five years. Here he feels very comfortable, also because of the growing number of inhabitants of the subcontinent.

Sohail is skeptical whether he will be able to reimagine life in India under current conditions. There is already a sense among his circle of friends that “something fundamental in our democratic institutions has broken, especially as a result of Modi's second term,” he says. Recent developments, such as the resignations of electoral commission members and the closure of opposition party bank accounts, felt like “the death knell of democracy.”

Bahaar, human rights activist:

“The Indian right has strong and essentially fascist networks that can operate unobserved in Germany”

In particular, academics and journalists no longer see a future in the country. Their acquaintances who want to marry interfaith also wonder what will happen next. This “oppressive atmosphere”, in addition to the very high youth unemployment, will undoubtedly determine the next migration from India.

In recent years, groups critical of the government have emerged in Berlin's Indian diaspora, staging protests against Modi's discriminatory citizenship law or in solidarity with farmers' protests in India. There are also initiatives to support and organize exploited bike messengers in the subcontinent. Overall, Sohail estimates that most Indians in Germany would prefer to “position themselves as apolitical.” Furthermore, as newcomers, they are very cautious when it comes to activism.

On the contrary, in Germany there are also active Hindu nationalist groups; This was seen during the “huge mobilization for Modi's visit to Berlin two years ago,” says Jagat Sohail. In several German cities there are local branches of the HSS, the foreign representative of the paramilitary RSS National Volunteer Organization.

The influence of the Indian right is growing

For decades, the Indian right has been extremely active in diaspora communities. “Not only are they an important source of donations for parties, but they can also be used for lobbying activities,” says Sohail. He also notes how BJP politicians are increasingly establishing contacts with other right-wing movements in Europe, adopting their anti-immigrant rhetoric and using it against the Muslim minority. “Twenty years ago, a speech that marks Muslims in India as foreigners would have been unimaginable.”

Bahaar also shares concerns about Hindu nationalist structures abroad, which is why he prefers not to see his real name printed in the newspaper. He works in the human rights sector and came to Germany a few years ago. “Currently the HSS organizes mainly in the cultural and social sphere and invites people to yoga camps. “But its activists have a clear political agenda,” he says. They are “strong and essentially fascist networks that can operate unobserved in Germany.”

In January, the HSS celebrated the controversial inauguration of the Ram Temple at the Hasenheide Temple, with thousands of guests, including the Indian ambassador. With the positive growth of the Indian community, Bahaar also fears a “greater threat to those who think differently” from these actors.

Bahaar would like to see greater commitment from German civil society against this right-wing influence. Unions in particular can play an important role in this, “because they can bring together and organize Indians, but also all other immigrants who work precariously, formally or informally.” This would make support networks divided along ethnic lines less relevant. It would also be important to criticize Hindu nationalism much more clearly while expressing solidarity with progressive struggles in India.

Jagat Sohail agrees with this point and also criticizes “a supposedly liberal understanding” among Germans that has difficulty “perceiving internal power struggles and relations of dominance based on class, caste, religion, language or gender among immigrants.” ”.

The Indian diaspora in Germany is an extremely heterogeneous group and it should not be taken for granted that “Indian” is always the most relevant category for them. Ultimately, this diversity stands in stark contrast to the nationalist vision that the BJP wants to propagate. And this vision, says Sohail, “should not become a reality in either Germany or India.”

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