Prime Minister Narendra Modi's recent comment over the way to identify protesters hitting the streets against the citizenship law was in poor taste and was slammed widely. He had reportedly said “people indulging in arson can be identified by their clothes”.
The protesters addressed this remark by dressing up as Muslims and holding up posters that ask ‘Can you identify me by my clothes?’
While the PM's comment got the thumbs down for raking up communal sentiments, it is worth recalling that the Nazi regime made a cultural symbol into a legitimate mark in order to isolate the Jews from the rest of society.
After the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939, in many parts of the country, Jews were required to wear distinct signs. These signs included a white armband with a blue Star of David and a yellow badge with the Star of David on it along with the word ‘Jude’, which is German for ‘Jew’.
A cultural and religious symbol of the Jews was thus made into a mark that degraded them in society by the Nazi Regime. But these signs were not just worn by the Jews; they were also worn by people who were not Jews as a symbol of protest against the antisemitism of the Nazis.
A movie released in 1975 called ‘The Hiding Place’ is based on the true story of a Christian family in the Netherlands who hid the Jews from the Nazis and got caught. It has a scene that is worth mentioning here.
In the movie, the character of Casper ten Boom stands in line with the Jews to receive the Yellow Badge even though he is a Christian. To a Jewish man in the line, who points out that only Jews need to get the Star, Casper says, ‘If we all wear them, they wouldn’t know who’s a Gentile and a Jew’.
Nearly a century later, here in India, we once again see people protesting against the targeting of a community by using its religious and cultural symbols.
Secular India has used the same logic to protest against communalism and it is very possible that they are repeating history.