The denial and minimization of the Holocaust and the abuse of its memory are some of the most prominent manifestations of antisemitism. Although a predominantly non-Muslim country, India is home to the third-largest Muslim population in the world. With 14 per cent of the population being Muslims in India, the second-most populous country, they make up the world’s largest minority segment. Their population in India is estimated to be 213 million by Pew Research Center. Holocaust denial is common in their discourse, for it is seen as a means to delegitimize the State of Israel. In their perception, it is only because of the Holocaust that the Zionists managed to win international support for the creation of the State of Israel and it is only because of it that they are able to justify its existence. Hence, it is so important for their anti-Zionist aspirations.
However, what is interesting is that this record of Holocaust denial by them has not kept them from increasingly invoking Holocaust terminology to draw attention to their plight in India when they find themselves facing an existential crisis with fears of their disenfranchisement and internment [Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the National Register of Citizens], and threats of their annihilation. There have recently been explicit calls for genocide against Muslims in India by Hindu nationalists who see the Holocaust as a model to emulate. Genocide Watch has already released an alarm for the millions of Muslims in Assam, drawing attention to signs of the early stages of the genocidal process there. It has been pointed out that “if genocidal massacres occur, India will violate its obligations to prevent genocide under the Genocide Convention” (Stanton). The Early Warning Project, a joint initiative of the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Dickey Center for International Understanding at Dartmouth College, ranks India second on its list of 162 countries most at risk of mass killing breaking out in 2022.
The Hindu nationalists call for retributive violence against Muslims to avenge the genocide allegedly perpetrated by their coreligionist Muslim invaders from Central and West Asia and the Muslim dynasties of Central and West Asia (Middle Eastern) origin who ruled over India from the 13th to the 19th century. They claim that the Hindus have been suffering in their own country, Greater India (including the neighbouring Muslim countries – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, with the persecuted Hindu minority populations there) from an ongoing genocide for several centuries on a scale that dwarfs the Holocaust. There is little, though, in terms of historical evidence to support this claim of theirs. This is a clear case of competitive victimhood and Holocaust obfuscation amounting to its trivialization. This is also an abuse of Holocaust memory as a trope against Muslims. Their estimates of Hindus murdered during this alleged centuries-long genocide range from 75 million to 536 million. The interesting thing is that there is an intersectionality of antisemitism and philo-Zionism in the Hindu nationalist discourse. The same Hindu nationalists who indulge in antisemitism also admire the State of Israel, not for its ancient Judean civilization or its resilience and achievements in spite of adverse conditions, but for what they perceive to be its high handedness against their common enemy, the Muslims, as the Hindu nationalists perceive them.
What is noteworthy, however, is that the Muslim sensitivity to the Holocaust is generally manifested only when they find themselves threatened. There are sections of Islamist antisemites who have a genocidal vision for Jews, for which they find validation in a highly controversial hadith Sahih Bukhari. According to certain interpretations, it contains the prophecy of the killing of Dajjal (antichrist), followed by the annihilation of his Jewish followers. This also explains to a certain degree the popularity of Adolf Hitler among such Islamist antisemites; many of whom would like to do to the Jews exactly what the Nazis did to the Jews under Hitler’s leadership. It is important to note here that the Qur’an does not call anywhere to “kill the Jews”. Hitler is popular among sections of Hindu nationalists too, but not because of any genocidal designs for Jews; rather, their admiration for Hitler is mediated by their attitude towards Muslims in India, as they aspire to emulate him and do to Muslims what Hitler did to the Jews.
Yet another example of the abuse of Holocaust memory in India is Holocaust inversion in the English language press there. It must be noted that one of the several examples with which the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) illustrates the definition of antisemitism it adopted in 2016 – which has since been adopted or endorsed by the United Nations, European Union, and 33 countries, including three permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (France, UK, and the USA) – is “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis” (IHRA). Gunther Jikeli explains that “equating Nazi genocidal policies with policies of the Israeli government— what scholars have termed Holocaust inversion—is not only bad taste but false to an extent that it can only be regarded as a form of libel, not criticism.” (Jikeli) Of the many instances of Holocaust inversion in the Indian press, the one that particularly stands out is when the author is aware of his Jewish lineage and feels that his admission of it makes his argument(s) more compelling. It is common for anti-Zionist Jews to mobilize their Jewish identities in their rhetoric to create an air of legitimacy to hostility to Israel. David Hirsh finds this phenomenon influential in the rise of anti-Zionism and antisemitism. One of India’s best-known novelists, playwrights, film and drama critics, and screenwriters, Kiran Nagarkar (1942-2019), conscious of the prominent position he enjoyed in the Indian civil society, opened his essay, “Alone-ness of being Palestine”, in the newspaper The Indian Express, with a disclaimer, which read, “Perhaps at the outset, I should make it clear that I am a quarter Jewish.” As his essay progresses, he mentions how the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reminds him of Adolf Hitler (Nagarkar). “The force of the ‘as a Jew’ preface is to bear witness against the other Jews,” as David Hirsh puts it (228). Its basis is the presumption that being Jewish provides a sort of privileged insight into what is antisemitic and what is not— “the claim to authority through identity substitutes for civil, rational debate (Hirsch 228). Hirsh observes that “antizionist Jews do not simply make their arguments and adduce evidence; they mobilize their Jewishness to give themselves influence. They pose as courageous dissidents who stand up against the fearsome threat of mainstream Zionist power” (Hirsch 228).
The section of the English language press in India influenced by the left has often been found indulging in Holocaust inversion. Its significance lies in the following statistics: India, the region’s largest and most populous country, home to one-sixth of the global population, has 82,237 newspapers and news magazines, out of which 12,000 are daily newspapers, with 1,406 of these in the English language, over 397 television news-channels, with 12 of these in the English language, and 462 million internet users (Pattanaik). India is also the third-largest Internet user after America and China (Anonymous). Thirty-nine per cent of 1.2 billion Indians read newspapers (Sarma). Newspapers sell 125 million copies every day in India (Mishra). According to the World Association of Newspapers, one in every five daily newspapers in the world is published in India (Vaidyanathan). In 2015, the newspaper industry in India grew by eight percent (AAK). In India, print publications attract forty-three percent of all corporate advertising; while in the United States the figure is less than fifteen percent (AAK). Between 2010 to 2014, advertising revenues from newspapers in India grew by forty percent (AAK). In addition, India is the world’s second-largest English-speaking country. It is estimated that around ten percent of its population or 125 million people speak English, which is second only to the United States. The number is expected to quadruple in the next decade.
Widespread ignorance of the Holocaust and Jewish history makes people susceptible to antisemitic propaganda aimed at denying or minimizing or trivializing the Holocaust. Expressions of antisemitism in India range from Holocaust denial and minimization by certain sections of Muslims to indulgence in competitive victimhood by Hindu nationalists amounting to Holocaust obfuscation and its trivialization, and Holocaust inversion in the press, for which certain sections of both Muslims and left-liberals are guilty. Abuse of Holocaust memory as a trope is common in the Hindu nationalist tirade against Islamism and underscores the Hindu magnanimity in granting shelter to Jews by particularly emphasizing that the Jews were never tolerated for centuries by any nation other than (Hindu) India.
I have been trying to promote the study of global Jewish history, including the history of antisemitism and the Holocaust, for more than a decade in India with some degree of success. In 2009, I organised a Holocaust Film Retrospective in Lucknow, a major centre of both Muslim scholarship and Islamist antisemitic rhetoric and the capital of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state. Altogether 46 films were screened in a span of 14 days in three phases at five different venues, including the two biggest universities there and a secondary school with the largest number of students in the world. The films were seen by more than three thousand people. The event was organised with some financial support from the Centre for Communication and Development Studies, Pune under its youth outreach programme called Open Space. I also held Holocaust poster exhibitions at universities in Lucknow, Greater Noida, a town in the National Capital Region (NCR) of Delhi, and Kolkata, and international multidisciplinary academic conferences at universities in Sonipat, another town in the National Capital Region (NCR) of Delhi, and Kolkata. I was successful in inspiring my students to stage a Holocaust-themed play in 2015 at Gautam Buddha University, where I used to teach prior to joining the Presidency University in Kolkata. It happened to be the first-ever Hindi language play on the Holocaust. San Diego Jewish World and United with Israel did stories on it. In 2016, Presidency University in Kolkata permitted me to launch courses in Holocaust Studies (IANS and Basu) and Global Jewish History, the only such courses in the region. I have guest-edited special issues of the online magazine Café Dissensus on “India’s Response to the Holocaust and its Perception of Hitler” and “Hatred and Mass Violence: Lessons from History” and have published extensively in both peer-reviewed publications and popular media drawing attention to the need for Holocaust Education in India. In 2021, I and political scientist Priya Singh jointly published a book with Routledge titled, Conceptualizing Mass Violence: Representations, Recollections, and Reinterpretations, with contributions from scholars of eight countries, with the aim of stimulating Indian scholarly interest in Holocaust Studies. Ten of its 19 chapters are focused on the Holocaust and its education. Besides the above-mentioned book, I have published several studies on antisemitism and the denial, minimization, distortion, inversion, and trivialization of the Holocaust in South Asia, and have spoken at a number of scholarly forums (including commemorations of the International Holocaust Memorial Day and Yom HaShoah) on these topics with the aim of raising public awareness and drawn attention to the need for Holocaust education in India. Video recordings of some of those talks/lectures/paper presentations can be accessed on my YouTube channel and many of my publications can be accessed on Academia and ResearchGate.
The following steps can go a long way in raising awareness of the Holocaust in India, so badly needed:
- Launch of a training programme in Holocaust education for secondary level teachers
- Introduction of Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the secondary level of education through the incorporation of the subject in the syllabi of the various national boards of education
- Publication of books on the Holocaust for secondary level education in South Asian languages
- Establishment of faculty positions in Holocaust Studies at premier institutions of higher education
- Translation of Holocaust literature and dubbing of Holocaust cinema into South Asian languages
- Establishment of Holocaust museums in major cities
- Public commemoration of the International Holocaust Memorial Day (January 27)
India is still not a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, an international organization dedicated to raising Holocaust awareness and promoting its education. It funds the training of teachers in member countries for the launch of Holocaust education. Its members include several countries not affected by the Holocaust, including a number of countries from Asia, yet India abstains from becoming its member, although the IHRA has had Indian scholars participating in its annual conferences. There are lessons to be learned from the study of the Holocaust. A number of countries, such as Australia, South Africa, and the United States, geographically far away from Europe where the Holocaust took place, have introduced Holocaust education in their curriculum. It is high time India followed suit. If India does so, it would not be a favour to Jews, rather she would do herself good by doing so, for the fact is that India, an impoverished country that it is, can continue to exist even with widespread poverty but I doubt if it can continue to exist as we know it if the genocidist tendencies in the country are not checked. Suffice to say, India does not need anything more than Holocaust education at the moment.
AAK, “Why India’s newspaper business is booming”, The Economist, February 22, 2016, https://www.economist.com/the-economist-explains/2016/02/22/why-indias-newspaper-business-is-booming
Anonymous, “India is now world’s third largest Internet user after U.S., China”, The Hindu, New Delhi, August 24, 2013, http://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/technology/internet/india-is-now-worlds-third-largest-internet-user-after-us-china/article5053115.ece
Basu, Somdatta, “Mass violence in Presi history book”, The Times of India, February 27, 2017, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kolkata/mass-violence-in-presi-history-book/articleshow/57366155.cms
Hirsch, David. Contemporary Left Antisemitism (London and New York: Routledge, 2018).
IANS, “First for India: Presidency’s Holocaust-focused course on history of mass violence”, Business Standard, March 21, 2017, https://www.business-standard.com/article/news-ians/first-for-india-presidency-s-holocaust-focused-course-on-history-of-mass-violence-117032100275_1.html
IHRA. What is antisemitism? Ed. International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. 2018. International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. 16 October 2021, https://www.holocaustremembrance.com/resources/working-definitions-charters/working-definition-antisemitism
Jikeli, Gunther. “Why Is There Resistance to A Working Definition of Antisemitism?” JewThink 15 January 2021. Online Magazine. 16 October 2021, https://www.jewthink.org/2021/01/15/why-is-there-some-resistance-to-a-working-definition-of-antisemitism/
Mishra, Atul Kumar, “Newspapers in India and their political ideologies”, Rightblog.in, July 13, 2015, https://rightlog.in/2015/07/newspapers-in-india-and-their-political-ideologies/
Nagarkar, Kiran. “Alone-ness of being Palestine.” The Indian Express 12 April 2018. 20 August 2020, https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/alone-ness-of-being-palestine-jounalist-yasser-murtaza-death-5133603/
Pattanaik, Smruti S. and Ashok K. Behuria, “Media-scape in South Asia and the Issue of Regional Cooperation”, in The Role of Media in Promoting Regional Understanding in South Asia, ed. Priyanka Singh (New Delhi: Pentagon Press, 2016), 28-30.
Sarma, Dibyajyoti, “39% of Indians read newspapers: IRS 2017 Report”, PrintWeek India, January 19, 2018, http://www.printweek.in/News/-indians-read-newspapers-irs-2017-report-27836
Stanton, Gregory H., “Genocide Watch for Assam, India – renewed”, Genocide Watch, August 19, 2019, https://www.genocidewatch.com/single-post/2019/08/18/genocide-watch-for-assam-india-renewed
Vaidyanathan, Rajini, “Newspapers: Why India’s newspaper industry is booming”, BBC News, August 1, 2011, https://www.bbc.com/news/business-14362723