The attack on our military convoy that killed 40 of our CRPF members on the 14th of February, 2019, in the Pulwama district, shattered the Indian community living across the world. Our ever alert media and friends in the social media made sure that everyone was informed about the gruesome incident within hours. For me, the information came from a message by Vipul Singh in his Facebook wall. I was submerged with works of my newly created language school, when I learned about the incident.
The first reaction from me was like most of we do, a message on the FB.
I was, however, not satisfied with that and wanted to do something more. These unnecessary deaths because of terrorism happening around the world has always troubled me. So I had a discussion on this with two of my most trusted friends, Sanjay Kamath and Swetank Sourav, through a Facebook group chat. That brainstorming helped me put my ideas in place, and the next hours I spent googling how to organize a protest march in Paris.
I started by sending an email to the Prefecture asking for an authorization on the morning of 15th, email that I prepared with the help of Olga Urrestarazu. As I spent an anxious day waiting for their reply, and as no reply came till sunset, I decided to visit them personally the next morning. The same night by around 10pm, I got a call from Shailesh Bhavsar of BAPS. He was inviting me to a peace meeting in the memory of our dead policemen, on Sunday evening, the 17th of February. I asked him casually, if he was interested to come with me to the Prefecture the next morning, and I explained him the plan. He readily agreed and the next morning both of us were in front of the Prefecture of Police, by 10.30am.
The time was too short to get an authorization for the next day, and this was the first time I was at the prefecture asking for any permission. The day being a Saturday, most officers were on leave. The demand was refused. However, we were told that if we ask for an authorization for the next weekend, by coming on Monday or Tuesday, there is a high chance of getting the required authorization. We returned back with a plan to come back. On my return, I made a post on this in our Facebook group.
The peace meeting organized by Shailesh Bhavsar at BAPS premises, was held on the first Sunday after Pulwama attack, and was attended by a large number of people. Shailesh was very co-operative and he let me announce the planned protest from his stage. The announcement was greeted by large applauds.
As the week started, I visited the prefecture again to submit my new application, this time for the 24th of February. There was a need to modify the initial plan of protest march, as the French police was fully occupied with Yellow Vest protestors during weekends. Hence, they sublty refused the demand of a protest march, and suggested a protest gathering. After some hesitation between Place du Trocadero and Place de la République as the right place of our protest, the former was chosen because of it's international nature.
A Facebook event was created to promote and gather support for the protest. On Wednesday, I went to the police station again after getting a call from them, to receive the reply of my request.
The next 4 days were extremely busy, juggling between the work I was doing in OFPRA, my new French language school, and preparation for the big event of Sunday. I got precious support from various community leaders like Sanjay Parekh and Jayesh Bhavsar of Gujarati Samaj, Rajaram Munuswamy of GOPIO France Metropole and Rajeev Dhar – a Kashmiri Pandit. I contacted most of the community leaders I was connected with, and all were supportive to the idea, and assured me of their presence. Among them were Samarasam Taniga of OFBJP, Mehen and Vikas Talwar of GOPIO France, Maurice Gérard of Pondicherry association, Sylvain of Tamil Youth Federation, etc.
The day of the event, Sunday, I was helped by young Indians: Ramesh Bhavsar, Abhishek Pandey and Ila Tyagi came to my office to help me prepare details of the event. Akshata Kulkarni helped by sending a design of our protest banner. A presentation of our protest was made after discussion with various community leaders, which was distributed to people present there to convey the reason of our gathering and things we were protesting against.
A team of about 30 volunteers were prepared to help manage the crowd. Minute plans were made on how to tackle if we are attacked by people of our neighboring country, given that we got one threat message from one of them. This was duely reported to the French police who assured proper security in case of any mishap.
We decided that we were not protesting against Pakistanis, but was denouncing the Pakistani state’s use of terror as a state tool. Our other demand was to the FATF, to bring Pakistan to the black list from their current grey list, for financing terrorism.
The protest event happened with the right spirit of positiveness, love and brotherhood, even though we were angry and protesting and asking the world to come together against terrorism happening across the world, and to take action against countries that support and use this as a state tool. Aditya Joshi played guitar, Surabhi Joshi’s 12 years old daughter performed a traditional dance and Jitendra Kumar took lead with much energy throughout the day. Anwar Hussain sung songs. Rajeev Dhar gave a very spirited speech. Irina Jdanova was with the camera. The Sardars came in the midway and joined our large group.
This is the first time in the history of Paris people of all across of the Indian community came together. We were over 500. The Trocadero was flooded with our tricolor. Associations who do not go along normally, came and joined for the sake of our tricolor. Teams of BJP and Congress came, teams of both GOPIOs, both FAFIs, besides members of various associations. Amongst all, the Gujaratis gave the biggest support as they outnumbered everyone.
A few Pakistanis came to the protest event, who took photos of our event, of those who were speaking. I assumed that they were sent by their embassy.
The aftermath: I planned and got authorization for a second protest for the next week near the Pakistani embassy and informed our community leaders about the same. Joginder Kumar of FAFI and Rajaram Munuswamy of GOPIO France Metropole came with me to the prefecture this time to show their support to the cause.
The next day, during the intervening night between the 25th and 26th, Indian warplanes crossed the International border, the first time since 1971, and bombed a terror training facility near Balakot, in northern Pakistan, killing about 350 trainee terrorists. Abhinandan Varthaman, our pilot got captured by them, we lost one chopper which killed about 6 of our soldiers, and the two nations came close to war. The situation was getting spiraled up very quickly. Some of our community leaders suggested that we should drop the idea of our second protest and give us some time to see in which direction things were evolving. After discussing with a few community leaders, we decided to temporarily suspend the idea of our second protest.
The protest got mentioned in OFBJP's document on protests by NRIs, and also a mention in one punjabi newspaper.
Sourav Choudhury is a social entrepreneur living in France since 2003 and working for the cause of Indian community of France, since 2007. He is founder of multiple projects: the largest social network of the Indian community of France, a French language school for english speaking expatriates, this website, and few other projects.