Since the BJP was re-elected to power in 2019, tensions between Hindus and Muslims have escalated.

Rahman Abbas' "Zindeeq"
Who's learning lessons from the Holocaust?

Set in a dystopian future, Rahman Abbas’ new novel “Zindeeq” draws on the Indian author’s worries about recent trends in his home country, where aggressive identity politics have been – and still are – gaining momentum. Almuth Degener read the book

Constant agitation against the Muslim minority in India is part of the BJP’s agenda. The BJP is the Hindu-supremacist party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Recurring violence is tolerated or even endorsed by government agencies. Such episodes, which increasingly resemble pogroms, are played down as “communal violence”. For Rahman Abbas, the current situation calls to mind the brutal racism of Germany under Nazi rule.

In India, the tendency to marginalise Muslims, as well as other minorities, has been gaining momentum in recent years. Aggressive agitators claim that minorities want to harm the nation, which, according to their right-wing attitudes, must be defined by Hinduism.

Cover of Rahman Abbas "Zindeeq", literally 'heretic' (published in Urdu by Arshia Publication, New Delhi)
Rave reviews: "Zindeeq" is the eagerly awaited latest work by critically acclaimed Urdu writer Rahman Abbas, who bagged the Sahitya Akademi Award for his fourth novel "Rohzin" in 2018. Abbas received an International Research Grant funded by the ‘Crossing Borders’ programme of the ‘Robert Bosch Foundation’ and the ‘Literarisches Colloquium, Berlin’ to conduct the research needed to write "Zindeeq"

The ruling BJP and its allies are guilty of promoting the idea. According to Abbas, a disaster like the Holocaust could be just a matter of time. International experts, such as Gregory Stanton of the international civil society organisation Genocide Watch, share that concern.

"Heretic"

The title of the new novel is Zindeeq, which means 'heretic' in Urdu. The main protagonist is from an educated and liberal Muslim family. After succeeding in school, he rises fast in the ranks of the military. From that point on, the plot turns to other issues. The young man’s life is marked by unrest in Kashmir, growing nationalist and racist sentiments and increasing tensions with Pakistan. In both countries, minorities are hounded with diminishing restraint and escalating brutality. The protagonist, however, is equally appalled by Islamist extremism and Hindu supremacism.

In 2019, a grant from Robert Bosch Foundation and Literary Colloquium Berlin (LCB) enabled Rahman Abbas to visit Germany for a month. He visited former extermination camps and information centres dedicated to the Nazi genocide.

He also talked to Holocaust survivors and descendants of victims. Parts of the novel relate directly to Abbas’ experience in Germany.

The trip seems to have done little to allay Abbas’ dreadful fears. His novel is dystopian, its ending foretold at the very beginning: "The sky over the garrison, where he had last been stationed, was dark. Looking around, one saw, to one side, the sad sea, which sounded as though it were crying and thus reinforced the depressing mood. Some 600 kilometres away to the other side, the metropolis was now mostly in ruins. To the north and south, several cities were reduced to rubble. To the west – along the coast and in the dense forests – a few villages had been spared, but people there were suffering poverty, desperation and insecurity."

More than politics

Zindeeq’s plot is gripping. The novel spells out a dire warning: do not allow narrow-minded identity politics to suffocate a liberal and pluralistic social order. Moreover, the book also tackles many things that are not of immediate political relevance, though they do have socio-political implications, such as sex, philosophy, drugs, a dose of Sufism and, not least, poetry. That will not surprise anyone familiar with Abbas’ award-winning novel Rohzin.

Zindeeq was released in Urdu to rave reviews in 2021. By June 2022, a third edition had already been printed.

Almuth Degener

© D+C | Development & Cooperation 2022

Almuth Degener teaches Indian languages at Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz. She is currently preparing a German translation of "Zindeeq" and was previously responsible for the German edition of "Rohzin".

 

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