By Navras Jaat Aafreedi, Ph.D.
Dr. Navras Jaat Aafreedi's
Facebook group "Indo-Judaica", dedicated to the promotion of friendship between Jews and Indians
Conscious as I was of how ignorant my fellow Indians were of the Holocaust and how a section of Muslims among them denied its scale and magnitude, I had for long wanted to do something to create awareness on the subject. Also, the fact that although Western History was taught at my alma mater, the University of Lucknow, yet the students were never told about the Holocaust, saddened me. The Open Space fellowship from the Centre for Communication and Development Studies, Pune, emerged as the means to that end and enabled me to organise, with the help and support from all corners of the world, largely in the form of film contributions, the first ever Holocaust films retrospective in South Asia, during which forty-six film screenings took place in fourteen days in three phases at five venues in Lucknow, India - two universities, two offices of non-profit organisations and the world’s largest school - over a period of two months, September and October 2009. The films screened during the retrospective absolutely free of charge were seen by four thousand people. It was an event driven completely by philanthropy. All the films at the retrospective had either been lent free of charge or donated. Almost all the films screened at the retrospective had never been seen in South Asia before. The films retrospective was accompanied by an exhibition of twenty posters, donated by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem. During the event a trilingual brochure containing the synopses of the films in English, Hindi, India’s national language, and Urdu , the lingua franca of almost all South Asian Muslims, and a poem written exclusively for the event by the great Urdu poet, Anwar Nadeem, was distributed among the audiences, which consisted of noted intellectuals besides academics and students. All film screenings were followed by discussions which were attended by celebrities like the acclaimed filmmaker, M. S. Sathyu, theatre personalities, Dr. Surya Mohan Kulshreshtha, Jugal Kishor, Salim Arif and Professor Thontadarya, Urdu litterateurs, Professor Malikzada Manzoor Ahmad, Dr. Ayesha Siddiqui and Anwar Nadeem, educationists and social activists, Professor Roop Rekha Verma and Dr. Jagdish Gandhi, religious leaders of almost all communities and a number of academics and university students. It was also perhaps the first event dedicated to the Holocaust to have been attended by Muslims in such large numbers.
While the event was in progress, the two largest circulated Urdu newspapers of Lucknow, Rashtriya Sahara and Aag, carried a story each denying the Holocaust and calling it “The Biggest Hoax of the Twentieth Century”, which only goes on to testify the event’s importance. It is highly significant that it took place in Lucknow, which is not just a major Muslim cultural centre but the centre of the Muslim heartland of South Asia, home to the world’s largest Muslim population. Muslim processions against Israel are common in Lucknow. During the American invasion of Iraq, flags of Israel and the US were drawn on the floor at the entrance to Lucknow’s most famous landmark, the Shia Muslim monument, the Bara Imambara, so that whosoever visited the monument trampled the flags. And Americans and Israelis were barred from entering it. Even India’s response to the Holocaust was largely determined by Muslim attitudes towards Jews, as “the opposition to the Jews came from the Muslim leaders in India who were pro-Arabs. For them the bonds of religion were stronger than the sufferings of Jews under Hitler. Keeping in view the sentiments of the Muslims towards this question, the government imposed many restrictions on the settlement of Jews in India. How far the policy of the Indian National Congress to appease the Muslims was also responsible for this stand of the government needs further study. But there is no doubt that INC’s pro-Palestinian policy encouraged the British to insist that each Jewish refugee have a guaranteed job before allowed entry into India.”
The Holocaust Films Retrospective was inaugurated by the Mayor of Lucknow, Dr. Dinesh Sharma, and during the first phase films were screened at the Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University from September 14th to 18th. The second phase took place at the University of Lucknow from October 12th to 15th, with a one day gap on 14th. During the third phase films were screened at the Open Space – Lucknow office from October 22nd to 26th, while the concluding day’s screenings took place at the office of the non-profit organisation, Saajhi Duniya, on October 27th. On October 2nd, Gandhi’s birth anniversary, observed as the International Day of Non-Violence as per a UN resolution, a Holocaust film was screened before an audience of three thousand and five hundred, at the World Convention Centre of the City Montessori School, which holds the Guinness record for the largest number of students and is also a recipient of the UNESCO Prize for Peace Education 2002.
I am glad that I did
not succumb to the pressure from various quarters to include films also on the
other genocides, conscious as I was that doing so would be comparing the Jewish
Holocaust in Europe to similar acts of genocide in the twentieth century, which
could result in the obfuscation and dwarfing of the Jewish trauma.
The biggest manifestations of Muslim anti-Semitism in the twenty-first century have all emerged in South Asia:
I have touched upon each of the above mentioned unfortunate events by organising programmes focused on them, viz.:
One can read about my efforts for the betterment of Jewish-Muslim relations on the following sites:
It is my hope, going forward from this point, that others will be inspired to further elucidate the ties and commonalities between Muslims and Jews, and thereby increase understanding between these ancient peoples and faiths.
 Qutubullah, “Holocaust: Beesveen Sadee ka Sabse Badaa Jhoota Afsana”, Rashtriya Sahara, Lucknow, September, 16, 2009
 “Sadee ka Sabse Badaa Jhoot? Holocaust”, Aag, Lucknow, October 18, 2009
 Tilak Raj Sareen, “Indian Responses to the Holocaust”, in Anil Bhatti and Johannes H. Voigt, eds., Jewish Exile in India: 1933-1945, Manohar in association with Max Mueller Bhavan, New Delhi, 2005, p. 59