First for India: Presidency’s Holocaust-focused course on history of mass violence

First for India: Presidency’s Holocaust-focused course on history of mass violence

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Sahana Ghosh/Kolkata

Presidency University here has launched a course on the history of
mass violence, featuring the Jewish Holocaust, with the aim of
understanding the causes of the phenomenon and how it can be prevented
by tracing its history from the 20th century to our times. Outside
China and Israel, the 200-year-old Presidency is the only Asian
institution to offer a course on Jewish Holocaust studies, according
to course coordinator Navras Jaat Aafreedi, an Indo-Judaic Studies
scholar working as Assistant Professor in history in the varsity.

The recently-launched postgraduate course is titled “A History of Mass
Violence: 20th Century to the Present” and is taught to MA (History)
third-semester students. “Although China is the biggest Communist
country in the world and Communists haven’t been perceived as very
favourably disposed towards Israel and Jews, yet the country currently
has 10 universities with Jewish studies programmes and four of those
universities even give PhD degrees in Jewish studies. “Wherever there
are Jewish studies there are Holocaust studies too. There isn’t any
country other than China and Israel where universities are offering
courses in Holocaust studies and Jewish studies,” Aafreedi said.

The course explores how in times of violence people can be seen
playing different roles — of perpetrators, victims, rescuers and
bystanders — and how different sections of society respond. “Though
Holocaust does stand out, we have kept the framework of the course
wide enough to discuss other episodes of mass violence too,” said
Aafreedi, author of “Jews, Judaizing Movements and the Traditions of
Israelite Descent in South Asia” (2016). The course content includes
the Armenian genocide, the Indonesian killings of 1965-1966, genocide
in Burundi, Pol Pot and the Cambodian genocide, episodes in Rwanda,
and the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, among others.

The course tells students about the challenges of rehabilitation and
reconciliation, and how memory can be politicised because of
conflicting narratives. Some of the key aspects of the course are
challenges of definition and nomenclature, causes, warning signs,
propaganda, hateful or inflammatory speech, the state’s connivance or
inaction, mass atrocities, remembrance and memorialisation.
Incidentally, mass violence in India is not a part of the course.

“I have deliberately not included any episodes of mass violence from
India because I felt that it could be a challenge to the students to
retain their objectivity. Holocaust did not involve any section of
Indian society and it is a genocide that remains unmatched in its
scale and magnitude,” said Aafreedi. Also discussing mass violence
episodes from India could lead to discrimination and discord, he felt.
“If one decides to talk about the anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat,
some students might stand up and say why aren’t you discussing
anti-Hindu violence in Kashmir.

“This underscores the importance of this course in India. I can’t
think of any democracy which has suffered from mass violence at the
frequency and of the scale and magnitude that India has without being
in a state of war, neither inter-state nor civil,” the scholar
explained. “There are a number of scholars in India who are devoted to
the study of mass violence… but Mass Violence Studies had not been
part of the curriculum in India until the launch of this post-graduate
course,” Aafreedi said, acknowledging the varsity’s support in
launching the module.

According to university Vice Chancellor Anuradha Lohia, the paper
deals with one of the most socially-relevant subjects in the world
today. “You can really hide your faces in the sand and say ‘this is
not going to happen to me’, but reality is different. So students must
understand what it is because they have to go out in the real world,”
Lohia said. IANS

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