Author: Utsav Chakrabarty
The New York Bill declaring ‘Swastika’ as a symbol of hate, has stalled. But history tells us that we have to do more than stalling misguided legislation to reclaim back our enduring symbol of wellness from the White Supremacists. The reclamation of the Swastika is a metaphor for the reclamation and revival of Hindu Dharma from centuries of colonialism. We have to proactively work towards educating the rest of the world that maligning our ancient heritage would be a step backwards in promoting interfaith harmony and would lead to increase in hate crimes. For the sake of honesty, safety and well being of our future generations, we must demand that the meaning and significance of Swastika be redeemed, so that the hate crimes against Jews, Hindus or any other community is not perpetuated in the name of ignorance.
About 3 weeks ago, I got a call from Ajay Shah, my colleague at HinduPACT. He wanted us to urgently draft a response to a Bill that had been introduced in the New York State Senate by Senator Todd Kaminsky (D) 9TH SENATE DISTRICT and co-sponsored by Senators Joseph Addabbo Jr (D) 15TH SENATE DISTRICT, Alessandra Biaggi (D, WF) 34TH SENATE DISTRICT, John Brooks (D) 8TH SENATE DISTRICT, and David Carlucci (D) 38TH SENATE DISTRICT. New York State Senate Bill SS 6648 sponsored by has a stated purpose to require that the New York school children be educated regarding the meaning of swastikas and nooses as ‘symbols of hatred’ and intolerance.
My first thoughts were, “not again, Shouldn’t the Islamic State flag make it to this list? For how long do the Hindus around the world have to carry the baggage of colonialism and appropriation on their shoulders, for a horrible crime, they had nothing to do with?”
The history of the Swastika is over 10,000 years old. It has appeared in several civilizations all throughout the world. from pre-Christian Greece and Rome to the Druids and Celts, to proto-Vedic Hindu communities across Eurasia. The Swastika continues to be an integral part of Hindu iconography in India and in East Asian cultures that adhere to Buddhism. It has regularly been donned on Hindu homes, businesses, temples, and other objects. Hindu families gather round to place it in front of their homes for good luck and protection.
So, as a response to the New York Senate Bill SS6648, we started by compiling the tremendous amount of work that had already been done on this issue. In 2009, The American Jewish Committee (AJC) working with the World Hindu Council of America (VHPA) and other Hindu organizations in Washington, DC had produced a brochure titled, “Understanding Swastika, Use and Abuse of a sacred symbol.”
The AJC brochure
quotes, the following from Declaration of the Second Hindu-Jewish Leadership Summit, that was held in February 2008, in Jerusalem, The Declaration says “The Svastika is an ancient and greatly auspicious symbol of the Hindu tradition. It is inscribed on Hindu temples, ritual altars, entrances, and even account books. A distorted version of this sacred symbol was misappropriated by the Third Reich in Germany and abused as an emblem under which heinous crimes were perpetrated against humanity, particularly the Jewish people. The participants recognize that this symbol is, and has been sacred to Hindus for millennia, long before its misappropriation.”
At that time, I had hoped, that this would have put any further debate on this issue to rest, for future generations. But like with most things in the world of voluntary Hindu activism, the brochure was never popularized in the way it should have been. It never made it to the state and national level lawmakers, nor did it reach the hands of academics or education professionals. Now I feel that even if the AJC brochure had made its way to its intended audience, it may not have absolved the Swastika from its misrepresentation by White supremacists. The reason, there are people with a vested interest in keeping it misrepresented.
You see, Hitler actually never used the word “Swastika”, and instead used the same symbol, calling it Hakenkreuz (German, Hooked Cross). But instead of censoring the Hakenkreuz (hooked Cross), which essentially would have alluded to the Christian religious symbol of the Cross, the powers that be, found it much more convenient to use the word Swastika, to represent the Nazi symbol. Now, the 2 billion Hindus and other colonized proto-Vedic communities are left holding the baggage of the Swastika’s misuse by a murderous German dictator, who committed some of the most horrible crimes of the 20th century.
What is even worse, is that Indian American lawmaker like Pramila Jayapal (D-Wa), who positions herself as a leader representing the voice of ‘people of color’ communities, continues to associate the Swastika with White Supremacists and neo-Nazis. I expected that she would have realized by now that the best way to weaken White supremacists & neo-Nazis, would be to help Hindus, Buddhists and other proto-Vedic communities reclaim back their historical heritage. That would have actually helped the ‘people of color’, for whom the Swastika is a symbol of reverence.
As it stands today, the New York Senate Bill has stalled. Over 300,000 Hindu New Yorkers who come from diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds and contribute immensely to the community and economy, succeeded in forcing their lawmakers to re-evaluate the language and representation of Swastika. But something tells me that we have not seen the end of this debate here.
The reclamation of the Swastika is a metaphor for the reclamation and revival of Hindu Dharma, from centuries of colonialism. We have to proactively work towards educating the rest of the world that maligning our ancient heritage would be a step backwards in promoting interfaith harmony and would lead to increase in hate crimes and Hinduphobia. For the sake of honesty, safety and well being of our future generations, we must demand that the meaning and significance of Swastika be included in the educational curriculum so that the hate crimes against Jews, Hindus or any other community is not perpetuated in the name of ignorance. There would be no better way to disarm and disenfranchise Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists.