Australia Lecture Tour of an Indo-Judaic Studies Scholar

Navras Aafreedi Announcement
Subject Fields
Holocaust, Genocide, and Memory Studies, Jewish History / Studies, South Asian History / Studies

Indo-Judaic Studies Scholar, Dr. Navras Jaat Aafreedi, Assistant Professor of History at Gautam Buddha University, India, will be a Visiting Fellow at the University of Sydney from August to December 2015 supported by Endeavour Research Fellowship awarded by the Government of Australia. He will be resident at Mandelbaum House, Darlington. During his stay there he would be available for lectures in Indo-Judaic Studies on a number of themes listed below. He does not expect any honorarium but would greatly appreciate if his travel expenses (local or within Australia) could be covered and also hospitality provided should he be invited outside Sydney (No requirement of hospitality in Brisbane as he already has a place there where he could stay).

His lectures have been well received in Austria, Australia, India, Israel, Switzerland, the UK and the US. One can read the feedback to his lectures here: Here are the Youtube links to a couple of his lecture videos:

One can read more about him here: May of his publications are available here:

 Following are his lecture themes:

  1. THE INDIAN JEWISH COMMUNITIES: India is home to three Jewish communities, two of which, the Bene Israel and the Cochini, have lived in the country for more than two millennia. The Baghdadis, who came not just from the city of Baghdad but from the entire Middle East in the decade of 1830s made significant contribution to India’s commerce and cinema. While the Bene Israel Jews remain in complete isolation and cut off from the rest of the world Jewry, the Jews in Cochin not only enjoyed great privileges but also continued to maintained links with Jews across the world for centuries, as revealed by their letters discovered in the Cairo Geniza. The lecture tells the stories of these three communities and explains the Jewish exodus from India in spite of the fact that it is the only country where they never faced persecution.
  2. TRADITIONS OF ISRAELITE DESCENT AMONG CERTAIN MUSLIM GROUPS IN SOUTH ASIA: The South Asian Muslim groups of Pathans, Kashmiris, Qidwais, and Bani Israil, in spite of being antagonistic towards Jews, Israel, and Zionism, claim Israelite descent, which is seen by some scholars as an attempt on their part to distance themselves from their pre-Islamic polytheistic past by fabricating fake genealogies ascending to the founders of Semitic monotheism, the supposed patriarchs, accepted by Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. Their antagonism towards Jews stems from the negative interpretations of Quranic references to Jews and also from the Arab-Israel conflict. The religious Jews who take their claims seriously are those who perceive themselves as Jews as part of a larger group of Israelites, which also includes people who according to them have descended from the Lost Tribes of Israel. Unlike the B’nei Menashe from northeast India, these Muslim groups have no desire to migrate to Israel. However, many religious Jewish organizations are keen on penetrating into their world and persuading them to do so. The involvement of religious Jewish organizations with these claimants of Israelite descent in South Asia can have some interesting ramifications for Jewish-Muslim relations and the world at large.
  3. THE JUDAIZING MOVEMENTS IN INDIA: There are seven groups in India that claim Israelite descent. Of these, the two that have started practicing Judaism were previously Christian. Thus, the Judaising movements among them are seen by anthropologists as byproducts of Christianity. While the four groups that have not yet started following Judaism are all Muslim. Although they have had traditions of Israelite descent for centuries, yet they refuse to embrace Judaism or even migrate to Israel, unlike the Christian turned Jewish groups in India. There are certain religious Jewish organizations that have been actively involved with the Christian turned Jewish groups since the last two decades, and have also been instrumental in facilitating the emigration to Israel of a number of members of one of the two groups. They now long for the emigration to Israel of the other Indian claimants of Israelite descent as well, as they believe that the dawn of the messianic era depends on the return of the Lost Tribes of Israel. Their involvement with such groups in India can have great ramifications for world politics.
  4. JEWISH CONTRIBUTIONS TO INDIAN CINEMA: The Indian Jewry, notwithstanding, its miniscule numbers, played a crucial role in the Indian cinema in its infancy and managed to make its mark in the Indian film industry, the largest in the world that produces more than nine hundred films annually, at the rate of three films a day. It would bring the awareness of Indian Jewish actors to the fore; and give them their due in terms of recognition, both informed and ungrudging. The lecture promises to significantly advance our understanding of the remarkable contributions Jews have made to the richness and variety of India's collective cinematic legacy. The lecture would be a critical appraisal of the work of India's Jewish film-actors, directors, producers, writers, journalists and film-personality-biographers, and would also consist of their biographies.
  5. JEWISH CONTRIBUTIONS TO INDIAN LITERATURE:  Although resident in India for more than two millennia, Jews remain India’s smallest religious minority. They have produced literatures in Marathi, Hindi, Urdu and English. In fact, the person considered father of India’s modern English Poetry was a Jew, Nissim Ezekiel.  Yet their literature never attracted the attention that the writings from other marginalised groups in India did, when it comes to subaltern studies. The lecture attempts to explore whether at all the pang of marginalisation gets reflected in the writings of India’s Jewish litterateurs and also tries to bring into sharp focus the contributions made by Jews to the collective multilingual literary heritage of India.
  6. A CULTURAL PROFILE OF INDIAN JEWS: A detailed study of Indian Jewish culture as reflected in literature, art, cinema, dance and music. Biographies of Indian Jewish writers, poets, painters, sculptors, actors, musicians, dancers, sportsmen and journalists, and a critical appreciation of their works. A comprehensive inquiry into the influence of India's predominant Hindu culture on Indian Jewish creativity and vice versa. An honest assessment of the Jewish contributions to Indian culture.
  7. JEWISH-MUSLIM RELATIONS IN SOUTH ASIA: An exploration of Muslim-Jewish relations in South Asia and how the South Asian Muslim attitudes towards Jews affect the Muslim-Jewish relations across the world. The South Asian Muslims make up the biggest Muslim population in the world. What shapes their perceptions of Jews would be investigated. The lecture explores the historical and contemporary relations between the Muslim and Jewish communities of South Asia. Dr. Aafreedi draws on his ongoing research to provide examples of both Muslim-Jewish amity and areas of conflict. He explores the impact of India’s foreign policy with respect to Israel and explain why he is convinced that work amongst Muslims and Jews in South Asia may be pivotal to the betterment of Muslim-Jewish relations across the globe.
  8. SARMAD - THE JEWISH SUFI OF INDIA: Sarmad is undoubtedly one of the most complex, abstruse, yet interesting characters of history. A towering intellectual, a great linguist, a sensitive poet, a divine Sufi, a Jewish theologian, a nudist, a gay, a globetrotter, a merchant, a metaphysical fusionist, a philosopher, a naturist, an Indophile, a lover, and a martyr – he was all this and much, much more. The subtleties, complexities and intricacies of this extraordinary mind remain largely unexplored and hidden from public view. He enjoys a special place in history for his divine madness, which made a deep impact on successive generations across countries and nations. Little wonder, if he remains a subject of interest to this day!
  9. THE MARGINALISATION OF INDIAN JEWS: In this analysis of Indian Jews in India and Israel, the concept of marginality is based on their peripheral positioning due to their function of possessing the elements and orientation of two disharmonic cultures, viz., Jewish and Indian, while simultaneously being denied membership from both these cultures. It is important to note that here marginality means partially belonging to both cultures rather than belonging totally to one. An attempt is made to understand the marginalisation of Indian Jews through two angles: how they perceive themselves and how they are perceived by others, viz., Hindus and Muslims in India and by Ashkenazim, Sephardim and Mizrahim in Israel.  The nature of their marginalisation and community identity disintegration is probed through an analysis of the setting in pre- and post-independence India and emigration factors, the positioning of Indian Jewry in contemporary India and Israel in spatial, social, economic and political spheres and community disintegration as reflected in the social institutions of marriage and religion. The lecture also brings into sharp focus the cases of the expression of anti-Semitic feelings among Indians as reported in the Indian Jewish publications and also recent trends in Muslim attitudes towards Jews. It gives a short account of the struggle of Indian Jews for equality in Israel. Along with all this it also tries to explain the alarmingly growing popularity of Hitler among the Indian youth and the absence of Holocaust education and Jewish Studies in India.
  10. INDIAN JEWS IN ISRAEL: After the establishment of the modern state of Israel, Indian Jews made aliyah in large numbers. Today there are far more Indian Jews in Israel, around eighty thousand, than in India, around five thousand. The lecture narrates the story of their initial struggle in Israel and how they have prospered there and enriched the Israeli culture and nation through their many contributions.
  11. THE TRADITION OF ISRAELITE ORIGIN AMONG PATHANS/PASHTUNS: The Lost Tribes of Israel is a subject that is largely relegated to the realm of myth by academics, though unfairly so, as the desideratum for further research into the matter still remains unfulfilled. Even if it is a myth, it has inspired people from all three Abrahamic religions to undertake long journeys in their search and continues to do so even today. The one group that stands out among all the claimants of Israelite descent across the world because of the innumerable references one finds to its putative Israelite origins in texts written by Jewish, Christian and Muslim scholars alike across a millennium is Pathan, also called Pashtun or Pakhtun. What makes the group even more interesting is the fact that in spite of their own tradition of descent from the lost tribes of Israel they refuse to convert to Judaism or to migrate to Israel. Although considered to be best contenders for the status of the lost tribes of Israel by anthropologists like Dr. Shalva Weil of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem they remain antagonistic towards Israel, Jews and Zionism. Attempts to analyze their DNA have been made in the past and are still being made. If the much talked about Israelite connection does get scientifically corroborated it can have interesting ramifications for Jewish-Muslim relations across the world, considering the fact that they are also the people who largely fill the ranks of the Taliban today, people inspired by an ideology considered responsible for 9/11.
  12. MALIHABAD - A PATHAN/PASHTUN SETTLEMENT IN INDIA: Malihabad, a small town in Lucknow district of Uttar Pradesh in northern India, is far too well known that its small size warrants. What makes it such a special place is not just that it enjoys the distinction of being the mango capital of India, but also the presence of Pathans there, about whom legends abound, and the great Urdu poets that it has produced. Since late it has attracted lost tribes enthusiasts because of the tradition of the Israelite origin of the Pathans there. Two attempts have already been made to genetically confirm their Israelite descent through DNA analysis at University College London, UK and at Haifa Technion, Israel.
  13. THE PARADOX OF THE ABSENCE OF ANTI-SEMITISM AND THE POPULARITY OF HITLER IN INDIA: It is a paradox that in a country that has never known anti-Semitism and where it remains largely unknown even today, Hitler is gaining popularity, as manifested in the increase in the sale of his autobiography by fifteen percent in just a decade, the release of films in various Indian languages with the eponymous protagonist as the namesake of Hitler, the recent popularity of the name Aryan as a first name among Indians. Although Jews have been resident in India for more than two millennia, yet most of the Indians are ignorant of their presence among them. This is another paradox, which is explained by the small numbers of Jews. Yet another paradox is that in spite of a continuous Jewish presence in the country for more than two thousand years, India refuses to teach about them, whereas in the neighbouring China, which does not even have any Jewish community of its own other than the recently discovered Kaifeng Jews, Jewish Studies are flourishing at ten of its universities. There are a number of reasons for it which the lecture highlights.
  14. INDIA'S RESPONSE TO THE HOLOCAUST: India’s response to the Holocaust was ambivalent in nature. Although anti-Semitism has been unknown among the Hindus of India, who make up around eighty-five per cent of the Indian population and the British, who ruled India at that time, were not against Jews, yet only two thousand Jews from Nazi Europe managed to get asylum in India, as it was made mandatory for them to give proof of guaranteed employment in India before being allowed entry. This was done keeping in view the Indian Muslim attitude towards the issue. The Indian Muslims were critical of the ongoing Jewish migration to Palestine (now Israel) and sympathetic to the Arab movement against it. It is a matter of enquiry as to what role did the posture of the Indian National Congress on this matter, which is understood to be somewhat indifferent and muted, play in determining the British policy regarding Jewish refugees. It is important considering the fact that for most of the time independent India has been ruled by the Indian National Congress, the political party that decided not to have relations with Israel for four decades. How far did Subhash Chandra Bose’s pro-Nazi attitude influence the Indian National Congress’s policy also needs to be investigated. Many among the European Jewish refugees and migrants were intellectuals who made great contributions to India’s cultural life, viz., composer, conductor, pianist and musicologist from Germany, Walter Kaufman (1907-84), one of the great literary editors, film critics and film script writers, besides being an essayist, raconteur, friend and critic of great writers, Willy Haas (1891-1974), academic and scholar from Germany, Alex Aronson (1912-1995), and a teacher and a linguist from Germany, Margaret Spiegel (1897-1968), among others. There is also an instance of about six hundred and thirty-six Polish children, some of whom were Jewish, and twenty-two guardians finding asylum in the principality of Nawanagar (now in Gujarat), not all at the same time. A treaty signed between the Polish Government in Exile in London and the Soviet Union led to the efforts to create an army of the Polish Prisoners of War. Some of their families were then permitted to accompany them out of Russia and it was as part of this that the Polish children, orphans or half orphans, found refuge in Jamnagar. The British helped the displaced Poles find asylum across the world. However, they decided not to offer them refuge in British India, but in the Indian princely states, which were in subordinate alliance with them. There was also a much larger camp in Valivade in Kohlapur State (now in Maharashtra).
  15. SOUTH ASIAN MUSLIM ATTITUDES TOWARDS JEWS, ISRAEL AND ZIONISM: The academics have largely focused on the Arab Muslim attitudes towards Jews, not realizing that the Arabs are only twenty per cent of the world’s Muslim population, whereas South Asian Muslims are almost forty-five percent, with a diaspora larger in size than that of the Muslims of any other region of the world. They were influential in keeping India from having diplomatic relations with Israel for the first four decades of the Jewish state’s existence and are still influential in keeping India from introducing Jewish Studies in its academia. Their proportion in India’s population is only thirteen per cent, yet it the second largest Muslim population in the world. With their huge numbers in their diaspora they are particularly influential in the UK, Canada and the US. The lecture stresses upon their importance and explains why there is a higher chance of success in bringing about a positive change in their attitudes towards Jews, Israel and Zionism , than it is with the Arab Muslims and explains how it can be done.
  16. EFFORTS FOR THE PROMOTION OF JEWISH STUDIES IN INDIA: Although India is the only country in the world where Jews have lived in peace and complete harmony with their non-Jewish neighbours for more than two millennia, yet Hitler's popularity is rising at a rapid rate in the country. This rise in Hitler's popularity is not a result of any-Semitism, because that is something which has been largely unknown in India. It can, however, be ascribed to the absence of Jewish Studies in India, where Islamic Studies are available at almost all major Indian universities. The level of ignorance among Indians about Jews is hysterical and the state has been unwilling to introduce Jewish Studies in India, whereas in the neigbouring country China, Jewish Studies are available at ten of its universities. Dr. Aafreedi would speak about his efforts to educate Indians about the Jews, the state of Israel and the Holocaust and to create an awareness of the Holocaust and check its denial or minimisation by certain sections of Muslims, in spite of the adversities involved in doing so.
  17. THE USE OF FILMS FOR CREATING HOLOCAUST AWARENESS IN INDIA: Dr. Aafreedi would explain how he has used films on the Holocaust to spread awareness of the Holocaust among the largely ignorant Indians at a time when admiration for Hitler, Nazis and Fascists is on a rise in India, in spite of all kinds of obstacles and adversities, though anti-Semitism still remains largely unknown in India.
  18. INDIA’S VARIED JEWISH CONNECTIONS: India is the only country in the world where Jews have lived with their non-Jewish neighbours in complete harmony for more than two millennia. Jews are India's smallest religious minority and Muslims its biggest, and the two have produced beautiful examples of amity, unlike anywhere else in the world. India is home not just to three Jewish communities, viz., the Bene Israel, the Cochini and the Baghdadi, but also to two Judaizing movements, the B'nei Menashe and the B'nei Ephraim, that have emerged during the second half of the twentieth century, and to four such Muslim groups (the Kashmiris, the Pashtuns, the Qidwais and the Bani Israil) about whom there are traditions of their having descended from the lost tribes of Israel. India was also a refuge to more than two thousand Jews during the Holocaust. Jews, in spite of their small numbers, have contributed to all aspects of Indian culture. Indian cinema, the world's biggest film industry, which produces three times more films annually than Hollywood does, in particular, owes a deep debt of gratitude to Jews for almost all its earliest female actors were provided by the community. India is visited by young Israelis in astoundingly large numbers every year and Indian studies are booming in Israel.  Dr. Navras Jaat Aafreedi will bring into sharp focus the above mentioned varied Jewish connections of India. 
Contact Information

Dr. Navras Jaat Aafreedi

Assistant Professor

School of Humanities & Social Sciences

Gautam Buddha University

Greater NOIDA

Gautam Budh Nagar - 201 312

Uttar Pradesh


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