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Anti-Nationals, Cockroaches And Gutter-Level Debate: Are We Flirting With The Language Of The Third Reich?

24/02/2016 7:09 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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It is perhaps the bleakness of the times we live in that a character actor Anupam Kher -- and a Padma Bhushan awardee, no less -- would effortlessly liken the ideological opponents of the Sangh to cockroaches that must be driven out.

The Bollywood actor made the contentious observation in a Hindi tweet, not by any fluke, mind you, but by a smugness that he later went on to defend. By now an established rabble-rouser for the extreme right, here is a screenshot of his tweet in Hindi.

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Loosely translated it means: "Cockroaches, insects and vermin scurry out when pest control is done in the house. That cleanses the house. Likewise, the country's pest control is being carried out at the moment."

It is alarming to see how easily anxieties can be exploited to widen faultlines and polarize the country further. Social media has made it astonishingly simple.

The symbolism is not lost to many. In Kher's mindscape anyone who doesn't agree to a certain worldview can be likened to an insect, a pest that must be eliminated. By using this analogy in the context of the JNU controversy he is literally taking the debate to the gutter level.

Although Kher is hardly a thought leader, it is alarming to see how easily anxieties can be exploited to widen faultlines and polarize the country further. Social media has made it astonishingly simple.

Immediately after his comment was re-tweeted by thousands of fans, senior journalist Rajdeep Sardesai called him out on social media. In a satirical tweet, the well-regarded TV anchor wrote:

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Kher had an uncouth response ready:

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For Kher and his like, social media is not so much about engagement. It is more about demagogy. This is your flash-in-the-pan celeb, gatecrashing into a serious debate that he cares little about, except that everyone is talking about it.

The larger point that Rajdeep and many other well-meaning people are trying to make (ironically lost to Kher and his ilk) is this: This loose talk of decontamination is not new. It was put in currency by another set of 'nationalists' and totalitarians -- in another day and age. And it left the world a very very, ugly place.

By what alchemy did sceptics and dissenters become insects and parasites in India? Just who are these Ungeziefer, a preferred Nazi term for vermin and bacteria?

Exactly this sort of intemperate and incendiary language was deployed by the Third Reich (during pre-WW II Germany) to demonize and 'otherize' those who didn't agree with them. They selectively applied it to Jews and gypsies, opponents and gays alike. In Mein Kampf -- under The Great Chain of Being -- Adolf Hitler constantly referred to the 'others' as insects and vermin to drive home a point that they were lesser human beings who had to be extirpated.

Are those who disagree with you lower-level beings? By what alchemy did sceptics and dissenters become insects and parasites in India? Just who are these Ungeziefer, a preferred Nazi term for vermin and bacteria?

Ironically enough, the Zyklon gas that Hitler used in the infamous gas chambers was supplied to the internment camps by a firm called Deutsche Gesellschaft für Schädlingsbekämpfung (German Company for Pest Control).

It is in an atmosphere of bigotry and incivility that the likes of Kher -- and many harebrained demagogues -- thrive. A world of binaries, of straitjacketing, of labelling, of stereotyping, of you-versus-us.

What we are witnessing in reality is part of a ripple effect. The relative ease with which these 'motivational' speakers and their troll army throw quotes around, forms an extension of the shrill commentary that some -- if not all -- of India's electronic media practices.

No wonder that plenty of scrupulous people -- including a host of journalists, academics, columnists, students -- have decided to close ranks to reclaim the space of dialogue and engagement.

That is, after all, a silver lining amidst all the gloom and gaali-galoch.

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