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‘Straight out of the Nazi playbook’: Hindu nationalists try to engineer ‘genius’ babies in India

The Washington Post logoThe Washington Post 5/9/2017 Annie Gowen
Newborns rest at a hospital in the northern Indian city of Lucknow. These are not the babies mentioned in the story. © Pawan Kumar/Reuters Newborns rest at a hospital in the northern Indian city of Lucknow. These are not the babies mentioned in the story.

Members of a Hindu far-right organization called Arogya Bharati say they are working with expectant couples in the country to produce “customized” babies, who, they hope, will be taller, fairer and smarter than other babies, according to a report in the Indian Express newspaper.

The group's health officials claimed that their program — a combination of diet, ayurvedic medicine and other practices — has led to 450 of these babies, and they hope to have “thousands” more by 2020, the report said.

“The parents may have lower IQ, with a poor educational background, but their baby can be extremely bright. If the proper procedure is followed, babies of dark-skinned parents with lesser height can have fair complexion and grow taller,” Hitesh Jani, the group's national convener, told the newspaper.

Jani explained that the program consists of a “purification of energy channels” and body before a pregnancy, and mantra-chanting and “proper food,” such as meals rich in calcium and vitamin A, after the baby is born.

The newspaper identified the group as the “health wing” of the conservative Hindu group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, but Ramesh Gautam, Arogya Bharati's national general secretary, said the group was merely “inspired” by the conservative ideology of the RSS rather than being officially supported by it. Arogya Bharati's website says it is a "voluntary organization of service minded people who have an interest in the health of society.”

On Saturday, the chairwoman for a state child rights commission tried to attend one of the workshops where couples are counseled on how to produce these “genius” babies — as the Economic Times termed it — but was barred by organizers, that newspaper said.

“This is an unscientific thing that’s happening here. It cannot continue,” Ananya Chatterjee, the chair of the West Bengal Commission for Protection of Child Rights, said. The group countered that her charges were “politically motivated.”

Responding to a petition from the commission, the West Bengal state high court later mandated that organizers present an affidavit and video of the proceedings, which went off as scheduled.

The program launched over a decade ago and has spread to several Indian states. Organizers said it was inspired by a RSS leader who met a woman in Germany more than 40 years ago. An official said the woman led a post World War II re-population effort in Germany for “signature children” based on the same principles, according to the Indian Express report.

This comment — and its evocation of the legacy of Third Reich era eugenics — prompted immediate backlash on social media, with one critic writing on the Daily O opinion website that this “dystopia in the womb” was “straight out of the Nazi playbook.”

The RSS was founded in 1925 as a volunteer organization to advance the rights of Hindus. Over the years, it has given rise to many of the country’s more successful conservative politicians, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi. A few of its founders praised in essays and books the totalitarian movements of Nazism and fascism sweeping Europe at the time, scholars have noted.

“The original RSS stalwarts found a political validity in racial resurrection championed by Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich,” Angshukanta Chakraborty, an opinion writer on the Daily O website, wrote, adding, “And even now, a racially pure search for homeland or creation of one along racially/communally pure lines appeals to the RSS and is the heart of its ideology.”

This post has been updated.

More from India: 

Teen girls with stones are the new threat in India’s Kashmir conflict

Five families slipped away from southern India, moving to ISIS territory in Afghanistan

Indian politicians rush to limit booze and beef in ‘ban mania’

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