Joined: 11 November 2009
Across major cities in India, banners have gone up recently to promote a new television show on India's popular network ZeeTv. The Indian reaction to them has been negligible, but westerners, especially Europeans have had quite a different reaction to the billboards of 'Hitler Didi' , literally translated as Hitler Sister.
The name of the new television series is, for some, a painful reminder of how the dictator – whose name has become synonymous with ultimate evil - still has admirers in parts of the world.
Hitler Didi is perhaps a misleading name for what is essentially a television soap - a show about a woman who lives on her own, making it in a man's world, without the cushioned backing of a live in family. Not exactly edgy stuff for a western audience, but pretty radical for a country where most women are still expected to live at home till marriage after which they move in with their husband's family.
"The main character is a little tough and strict that is why we called her Hitler," says the show's executive producer, Amit Sharma.
Rati Pandey, the actress, who plays Hitler Didi, told an Indian website, "so far I have received good responses...people have started calling me Hitler Didi and I am glad about it"
Neither the producer nor the actress seem bothered at the thought of offending people's sensibilities by the flippant use of the name of one of history's most reviled dictators. Sharma says that the show's senior producers saw no harm in using the name for a lighthearted television comedy.
"The show is about a working women dealing with her own problems. She doesn't have a husband and has to provide for her family. She stands for today's modern women who have to be a little mean to get by in society"
The term PC (Politically Correct) seems to have permeated every aspect of life, especially in the West, so is it now time to include culturism to the growing list of ism's - ageism, sexism, racism - that are the metaphorical landmines of society? Hitler's crimes deeply affected generations of Europeans, but hardly touched India at all, and in fact, there are certain aspects of fundamental Hinduism and that have much in common with National Socialism (think of the concept of brown shirts, the adoption of the swastika, the militaristic worship of the male form).
Franziska Roschner a 25-year-old German student at Mumbai University knew before coming to India that some aspects of Indian culture could be shocking to her. The swastika for example stands for light and prosperity in Indian culture, but has a much darker meaning in Germany. The
"On my front door in Mumbai, there is a swastika engraved in the doorframe. So I can't get it out. If you want to enter my apartment you have walk underneath that Swastika and none of my German friends liked doing this."
And Hitler's "Mein Kampf" long banned in Germany and most European countries, is to be found in most book stalls and shops in Indian cities. And though Roschner has learnt to accept these sights from a past airbrushed out of her German world, living in India has forced her to confront other things she finds painful.
"When a guy, who tried to talk to me in a crowded club in Mumbai, heard I was from Germany he gave me a Nazi salute. I was shocked, said I couldn't talk to him and turned around. I just didn't
She finds it hard to understand why Indians don't empathise more with the kind of sentiments the younger generation of Germans have grown up with. After all, while Europe was battling Nazi oppression, India was going through its own freedom struggle. But Indians don't always consider the two World Wars as an integral part of Indian history. Indians were used as cannon fodder in both wars and suffered enormous casualties.
In a country famously touchy about so many subjects , ranging from Bal Thackery's militancy to lesbians to women in skirts, that cinemas, publishing houses and bars live in fear of attack, its seems strange for non Indians to see subjects that would be taboo in the west, as a topic of light conversation in India. Perhaps globalization will change that soon, but for now, Hitler Didi continues to entertain Indians with the idea of a woman being mean enough to survive on her own.
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Hitler was a terrible person, there is no doubt about that. But sometimes I feel the western obsession with Hitler is a bit unhealthy. The swastika story in the article is a good example. The Swastika was a symbol of auspiciousness in India long before civilization started in Europe. Just because one bad guy from somewhere appropriated a version of it for his nefarious purposes, we shouldn't use it anymore? Well neo-nazi groups have used various manifestations of the cross as their symbol of hate for ages (KKK had a white cross which symbolized the blood Christ shed for the white people!), so lets see churches all over Europe take down their crosses then. Overdone political correctness is just silly.
About the name of the show, Hitler usually has a different connotation in India than the west. Here it means overly strict (which was one speciality of his regime), there it means racist. Perhaps it was because they suffered through the atrocities of his concentration camps, while we only got to know of him through war reports. But there have been horrible incidents and terrible dictators throughout the history of mankind. Why single out Hitler? When I tell people my family live in Kolkata, they blithely say ''Ah, the Black Hole of Calcutta'' (which comes from a completely wrong reinterpretation of history) as if they are paying me a compliment. If people living in the west can have a wrong understanding of Indian history, its fine to do the same with western history. Hitler is NOT so important that the mere mention of his name will destroy the world !
I don't know whats wrong with me today, I'm in essay writing mode. Thanks for the article.
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