Crossed Out

I just happened upon Pass the Roti on the Left Hand Side, a collective blog devoted to issues and events pertaining to the South Asian diaspora and anything “moderately insulting to those who pass the roti on the right hand side.” Love these kids.

In “Hitler’s Cross But I’m Crosser,” roti-passer Vivek (as bloggers here refer to themselves) discusses yesterday’s report on a newly opened Mumbai restaurant, Hitler’s Cross, which has outraged the Indian Jewish community with its use of fascist iconography. The space is decorated with swastikas and propagandistic posters featuring Hitler himself. “We wanted to be different. This is one name that will stay in people’s minds,” owner Punit Shablok told Reuters. “We are not promoting Hitler. But we want to tell people we are different in the way he was different” Hitler’s cross was the award given to honor Nazi motherhood.

Hitlers’ Cross restaurant, Mumbai (not the improper apostrophe use) Photo courtesy the BBC.

Vivek identifies an increasing fixation on Hitler and Fascism throughout India:

Hitler’s Final Solution fits the Hindutva model quite nicely for the establishment of a Hindu Rashtra (or Hindu nation). M.S. Golwalker, an early leader of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), in his 1938 book We or Our Nationhood Defined, looked to Germany’s example as to how to deal with minorities:

…Germany has also shown how well-nigh impossible it is for races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by. (as cited in Khaki Shorts and Saffron Flags: A Critique of the Hindu Right p. 26).

He calls out a “seemingly innocent” fascination with Hitler and the Holocaust among some Indians, citing use of fascist iconography and an increased presence of Nazi literature in local bookstores while recalling conversations with other college students whose sympathies lie with Hitler and Golwalker as keepers of “pure” race.

Pass the Roti links to Sepia Mutiny, where author Siddhartha’s post on the subject has drawn 277 comments and counting, many of which highlight the differences between Eastern and Western cultures in terms of symbolism and iconography. One respondent recounted a story in which his cousin, recently arrived in the U.S., wanted to assemble a swastika made of Christmas-style lights in the front yard as an expression of his faith during Diwali. Another remembered having to produce documentation on the origin of the Hindu swastika after decorating her project with the symbol in a school pottery class; she recounts a moment of cultural enlightenment for a shocked-and-awed art instructor.

In post-WWII moment when fascist aesthetics remain not only prevalent, but even fashionable, may the swastika stand for anything but Hitler’s regime? Is to suggest so only to reinforce the problem of Western domination? Does an issue of cultural relativism lie at the heart of this debate, or would chalking it up to that simply excuse this particular group of neo-fascists–or all neo-fascists, even?

While many here are quick to condemn the Indian education system for failing to confront the Holocaust, others point out their doubts as to whether or not Westerners are aware of the bloody events leading up to the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan, for instance. While some rationalize that India wasn’t as affected by WWII as Europe was, others remind them of the Burma front, where thousands of Indian soldiers perished in 1942.

This “current event” was formed in the wake of several ships, crossing in the night. These boats could go by many names: “East,” “West,” “Ignorance,” “Avarice” … the list could go on. While many Westerners would be appalled to find a swastika displayed Stateside or in Europe, would an Eastern locale elicit a comparable response? Or does the East get a pass for having suffered under colonial rule, for having its own historical demons to contend with, let alone others’? Even while recognizing the complexity of the situation—and schooling me on Eastern manifestations of fascism while doing so—Sepia Mutiny’s discussants aren’t letting anyone off of this hook, including one another.


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Filed under Politicks, Visual Culture

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