One morning I was casually flipping through The Hindu’s children’s supplement, Young World, when something caught my eye on the page where they feature drawings made by schoolchildren (see image above). Among the innocent drawings of cute and colourful animals was a stark pencil portrait of Hilter. Below that was a swastika. I was taken aback. What was this dictator and murderer doing here, in a child’s drawing? What inspired this child to draw this assassin? Why did his teacher let him? Why did this respectable newspaper publish it? In many countries, this would not be possible, even illegal, considering the swastika is banned in many places. Such a drawing would definitely not be encouraged and it would certainly not be published in a newspaper! The child could even be expelled from school.
India seems to have a fascination with Hitler. Walk into any bookstore and you’re sure to find a copy of Mein Kampf. This is always a bit of a shock for any Westerner. I took the photo below with my phone last week at my local bookstore. As you can see, several copies were available, in several different editions! Again, this is a book which is banned in several countries.
So what’s the fascination with Hitler? Why is Mein Kampf a bestseller in India? Apparently this book is required reading for many management courses! Some posit that people in India are curious to read a book which is so polemic in the West. This article says that Hitler is idolised and admired by young people in India and that they are “attracted by his ‘discipline and patriotism’”. The article includes quotes by young Indians who say things like: “I have idolised Hitler ever since I have had a sense of history. I admire his leadership qualities and his discipline… He mesmerised the whole nation with his leadership and iron discipline. India needs his discipline.” Apparently these adolescents are not completely ignorant and do know about the Holocaust, but they seem to easily overlook it and not realise the magnitude of this black page of history.
More recently, an incident in Gujarat revealed this innocent ignorance of what Hitler stands for. A shop selling men’s clothing opened in Ahmedabad with the regrettable name ‘Hitler’. If this wasn’t controversial enough, on the shop’s sign, the ‘i’ in Hitler was dotted with a swastika. The shopowner apparently did not realise the enormity of his gaffe or the controversy that this would stir up!
Or course, the swastika is a Hindu symbol which was misappropriated by the Nazis. In the West, it will always represent Nazism, while in India it hasn’t lost its religious significance and is still very much present, represented in its original context. In this post, I give examples (and mention an incident of an Indian who travelled to the US obliviously wearing a swastika on his jacket).
The fascination with Hitler however, is baffling. Another insightful blogger did his own examination of India’s fascination with Hilter here.