Indian society is finally addressing the Holocaust – in the theater.
As an intern of the Society for Social Regeneration & Equity (SSRE), an NGO dedicated to the prevention of mass violence and the promotion of peace, and the only Indian NGO committed to raising awareness of the Holocaust, Rajat Prajapati, a senior at Gautam Buddha University, last week staged a Holocaust-themed play named Sipāhi (Soldier). Written and directed by him under the auspices of the SSRE’s Holocaust Education Project, this play is extremely significant since it is perhaps the only play on the Holocaust in Hindi, the most widely spoken language in India. It is also extremely relevant to India, given the absence of Holocaust education in the country despite the frequent occurrence of mass violence there. The paradox of the popularity of Hitler in India in spite of the absence of anti-Semitism here, except in certain sections of its Muslim minority, makes the play even more significant.
The play is the story of the horrors of the Holocaust as witnessed by one of the soldiers of the Indian legion of Hitler, which had been created by Indian nationalist leader Subash Chandra Bose, by recruiting soldiers from the Prisoner-of-War camps in Germany which, at that time, were home to tens of thousands of Indian soldiers of the British Indian army captured by German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel in North Africa. Bose intended to use this legion to liberate India from British rule.
In addition to this Indian element in the story, the Roma also figure in the play. The Roma are a people of Indian origin, resident in Europe for the last six hundred years. Seventy percent of their population was eliminated during the Holocaust. The protagonist, Indian POW Gurudas Singh, finds refuge among them after his escape from prison, but is later mistaken for a Roma and sent to a concentration camp along with the Roma and Jews.
Despite All Odds – the Play Went On
It is commendable that students succeeded in staging this play despite all odds. Driven by a strong desire to raise awareness of the Holocaust and counter the popularity Hitler has come to enjoy in India because of yearning for a strong leadership, the students themselves took care of all the expenses of costumes and props.
The play was accompanied by a poster exhibition on the Holocaust. The SSRE will be helping the students stage this play at institutions of higher education across India, in the belief that Holocaust education is required in India more than any other subject because of the frequent occurrence of mass violence in the country. It would be easier for Indians to study the Holocaust in order to understand how genocide can be prevented, than trying to learn from any episode of mass violence that took place in India. This, because the Holocaust did not involve any section of Indian society nor any of the two major religious communities of India – Hindus and Muslims. Considering this and the fact that no other genocide can match the scale and magnitude of the Holocaust, it serves as an ideal case for the study of genocides and their prevention.
By: Dr. Navras Jaat Aafreedi
Navras Jaat Aafreedi, executive director of the Youth Outreach Programme of the SSRE, was credited by playwright Prajapati with inspiring him to write the play. Aafreedi may be contacted via [email protected]. Read about SSRE at its blog: http://socialregenerationandequity.blogspot.in/