January 27 marks the 73rd anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi concentration death camp. The commemoration of the day was initiated by the UN in 2005, the 60th anniversary. The objective of commemorating the day is to urge every member nation of the UN to pay respects to the millions of victims who lost their lives and to inculcate into education programmes, holocaust history so that people are made aware about the darkest side of human beings.
Further, this day is used to introspect and condemn religious intolerance, incitement of hatred, harassment, and prejudice against any community in all its manifestations.
Many in our generation are not aware of the horrors the human mind can conceive and execute. To get a glimpse of the evil normal human beings are capable of, one must recall the experiences of Gisella Perl, a Romanian-Jewish gynaecologist who was deported to Auschwitz in 1944. Though she was instrumental in saving the lives of many women, the scars of what she witnessed at the camp traumatised her for life.
Igor Malicki of Ukraine, a survivor of the former German Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz, at the camp in Oswiecim on January 26, 2015. (Credit: Reuters file photo)
In her memoir, I was a Doctor in Auschwitz, she recalls one particularly heart wrenching moment that stoked the nerve of revolt in her. She had witnessed pregnant women being encouraged to step forward so that they could be taken to another camp that treated people better. The unsuspecting mothers to be who were unfortunate enough to come forward were brutally beaten to pulp with clubs, dragged around by their hair, kicked in their stomachs, fed to belligerent dogs and finally were thrown into crematoria. That was the pivotal moment in her life, which made her resolve that she had to remain alive so that she could save the lives of mothers. And if there was no other way, she would save the lives of mothers by "destroying the lives of their unborn children". She operated on her "patients", without anaesthesia. Knives whetted on crude stone were her only surgical implements.
It is, therefore, important for us as a society to remind ourselves that when we are carried away by the false promises of authoritarian/dictatorial leaders, our darkest psychopathic nature comes to the fore. Promises like Hitler’s "New Order", whipped up by a Goebbelsian mass media will lead us to hell. We must hence be extremely vigilant about any authoritarian streak in our leaders and in our society.
It will be foolish to believe that such bestiality can be attributed only to the Nazis, forgetting that they were also "normal" people. They were people like us. We just need to look around us to realise that "normal" people can commit the most heinous crimes too. Recently, there were reports of Shambhu Lal Regar’s neighbours expressing their surprise that he didn’t seem "the type" who is capable of murder.
While it is unfair to compare India with Germany of the 1930s, there are nevertheless, enough reasons for us to worry and be alarmed. The fantasies of violence voiced on the internet, the hatred directed towards minorities and critics of the government, should make us anxious. It indicates our sociopathic nature that lurks beneath a seemingly placid society.
If we honestly assess where we stand on the list of "Early Warning Signs of Fascism", a poster at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which lists out the traits of an encroaching fascist/authoritarian government, we can’t but help be horrified.
We already notice rabid nationalism being worn on the sleeve by many, rampant sexism, disdain for human rights and intellectuals and many other traits that should worry us.
When such lumpen elements enjoy a free hand, only an incorrigible optimist would argue that it is the incompetence of the government. What most others dread is that the government is complicit and gives them tacit support.
It is indeed a matter of national shame that as the prime minister invited investors at the World Economic Forum, assuring them that India is a peaceful nation, even as back home there was sporadic violence and arson over the release of a film. If civil society doesn’t resist the extremist forces, they will gain credence.
With a morally lethargic government, and a media driven by pelf, India could descend into a tragic anarchy. If the powers that be don’t act now, our dreams could morph into nightmares. And "new India", could become another "New Order".