your golden hair Margareta
your ashen hair Shulamite
Addressing a rally at Ramlila Maidan in Delhi on Sunday, December 22, last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said: “Rumours of detention centres are being raised by the Congress and Urban Naxals. There are no detention centres, nobody is going there.” This was a complete lie, and several news organisations immediately pointed out that several such camps had been built across the country. Modi’s colleague in government, Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai had also told the Rajya Sabha in November 2019 that 988 alleged illegal immigrants were held in six detention centres across Assam. Twenty-eight had died in these camps since 2016, when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in the state, according to human rights group Citizens for Justice and Peace.
Social activist Harsh Mander, who has been a vocal campaigner against the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, led a mission of the National Human Rights Commission in January 2018 to these camps in Assam. (When the Commission did not take cognisance of the report, Mander resigned from it and filed a case with the Supreme Court.) In an article for Scroll.in (“The dark side of humanity and legality: A glimpse inside Assam’s detention centres for ‘foreigners’”, June 26, 2018), Mander has narrated harrowing stories of those trapped in these camps and appealed for a more humane approach to determining citizenship in the country.
In The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, Bruno watches a Nazi
propaganda film showing how the Jews in Auschwitz are happy and healthy, and he imagines that Shmuel, with his numbered uniform, is playing a game in the “farm”. This has echoes of the 1998 Oscar-winning Life is Beautiful, written and directed by Roberto Benigni. The protagonist of the film Guido Orefice (Bengini), a bookseller, pretends to his son, Giosué (Giorgio Cantarini) that the camp in which they are interned is a complicated game. Giosué must follow his father’s instructions to win the game; the prize for the winner is an army tank. Guido does this to ensure that his son his protected from the horrors of the camp and survives.
“In the camp, one of the reasons that can drive a prisoner to survive is the idea of becoming a witness,” writes Giorgio Agamben in Remnants of Auschwitz. “To justify one’s survival is not easy — least of all in the camp. Then there are some survivors who prefer to be silent… Yet, for others, the only reason to live is to ensure that the witness does not perish.” Bruno and Shmuel do not survive the camp — they perish in the gas chambers. The last shot of the film focuses on the iron doors of the gas chamber, with an undeniable finality of the Final Solution.
Asked if he had ever thought of giving them a happy ending, Boyne — the author of the novel from which the film is adapted — said: “Never… there was one thing I knew that I could not change, and that was the simple fact that the stories of the people who arrived at the concentration camps almost always ended tragically.” Nevertheless, the book and the film have been criticised for trivialising the Holocaust. The New York Times said, “(it) glossed over, kitsched up, commercially exploited and hijacked for a tragedy about a Nazi
family.” Research by Holocaust educator Michael Gray showed that young students seeing the film or reading the book thought Germans did not know about the Holocaust because Bruno’s family seems ignorant about it.
On arrival at the camp, Bruno and Elsa see smoke emanating from the chimneys of the camp and detect an offensive odour. “They smell worse when they burn,” a young soldier tells Elsa, after which she confronts her husband about the realities of the camp. Research has shown that most Germans were well aware of what was going on at the detention centres for the Jews. At Dachau, one of the earliest concentration camps, visitors — I went there in 2018 — are told how many of the residents of nearby villages worked there. One of the reasons that sparked violent student demonstrations across Germany 1968 was the realisation among young people that their parents were complicit in the running of the concentration camps.
Decades from now, no Indian will be able to claim that they were unaware of detention camps that are being built across the country.
will be out in February
Business Standard has always strived hard to provide up-to-date information and commentary on developments that are of interest to you and have wider political and economic implications for the country and the world. Your encouragement and constant feedback on how to improve our offering have only made our resolve and commitment to these ideals stronger. Even during these difficult times arising out of Covid-19, we continue to remain committed to keeping you informed and updated with credible news, authoritative views and incisive commentary on topical issues of relevance.
We, however, have a request.
As we battle the economic impact of the pandemic, we need your support even more, so that we can continue to offer you more quality content. Our subscription model has seen an encouraging response from many of you, who have subscribed to our online content. More subscription to our online content can only help us achieve the goals of offering you even better and more relevant content. We believe in free, fair and credible journalism. Your support through more subscriptions can help us practise the journalism to which we are committed.
Support quality journalism and subscribe to Business Standard.