In January, New York State Senator Todd Kaminsky introduced a bill in the New York Senate that would require New York State schools to teach the “swastika,” a symbol of good. auspicious and sacred for dharmic religions like Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism, as an example of a symbol of hatred. The bill titled ‘Senate Bill S2727’ confuses the Dharmic swastika with the Nazi symbol of Hakenkreuz i.e. the hooked cross, and requires compulsory teaching of the swastika from grades 6 to 12 as an emblem of Nazi Germany and, therefore, as a symbol of hatred.
This push by Democratic State Senator Kaminsky sparked outrage, with a Change.org petition demanding an amendment to the bill garnering more than 40,000 signatures. The AsaMai Hindu Temple and Community Center in Hicksville, New York, is also a signatory to the petition. Another NY. State Senator Anna Kaplan, who is an additional co-sponsor of Kaminsky’s Bill, represents the 7th Senate District where Hicksville and its community of nearly 5,000 Indian-American residents are located.
This is not the first time that Kaminsky has pushed for a bill like this, without a clear distinction between the dharmic symbol of Swastika and the Nazi symbol of Hakenkreuz. In 2019, Kaminsky introduced a bill very similar to Senate Bill S2727, this one titled S6648, which amalgamates the terms “swastika” and “Nazi,” without any consideration for the sentiments of various Dharmic religious communities. As the bill gained traction in 2020, it encountered opposition from the American Hindus Against Defamation (AHAD), an initiative of the World Hindu Council of America (VHPA).
In its statement at the time, the AHAD said: “New York State Senate Bill SS 6648 requiring instructions regarding symbols of hate be incorporated into grade 6 through 9 school curricula. Grade 12 perpetuates ignorance and promotes Hinduphobia in New York State schools. AHAD is committed to working with other Hindu organizations to ensure this legislation is amended to remove references to the swastika.
The director of advocacy and outreach for the VHPA at the time, Utsav Chakrabarty, also weighed in on this issue and said: “We recognize the horrific way the swastika has been misused and misinterpreted. Even though Hitler never used the word “swastika”, and instead used the same symbol, calling it Hakenkreuz, over the past 70 years the swastika continues to remain a vilified and slandered symbol. This needs to be corrected. Instead of censoring the symbol, we need to celebrate the positive history of it. We must demand it from Hitler and the supporters of his hateful ideology. This wrong must be repaired.
The Coalition of North American Hindus (CoHNA) launched a petition campaign in mid-2020, asking people to write and email local officials in New York State to rename the swastika in Hakenkreuz in Bill S6648, to promote and disseminate educational material on the difference between these two symbols and to consult with stakeholders in the Jewish community as well as the Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, African American and Indigenous communities to help develop “culturally competent resources and messages on this issue”. As a result of all of these efforts, this bill stalled in the New York Assembly. However, an extremely similar form in the form of S2727 appeared, again threatening to falsely label the dharmic swastika as a symbol of hatred.
In recent years, the dialogue between the Hindu and Jewish communities regarding the swastika has been generally positive. The American Jewish Committee, one of the oldest Jewish advocacy groups in the United States, published a pamphlet explaining the difference between the swastika used by the Hindu, Jain and Buddhist communities for thousands of years and its twisted Nazi version.
Citing the Declaration of the Second Hindu-Jewish Leadership Summit held in 2008, the brochure states: “The swastika is an ancient and very 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 has been hijacked by the Third Reich in Germany and abused as the emblem under which heinous crimes have been perpetrated against humanity, in particular the Jewish people. Participants recognize that this symbol is, and has been, sacred to Hindus for millennia, long before its hijacking.
Currently, Kaminsky’s Bill S2727 is before the New York Education Committee, which will then allow the bill to be voted on in the New York Senate. Ignorance of the dharmic swastika cannot be an excuse to reject an amendment for a distinction between the swastika and the Hakenkreuz. With over half a million American Indians living in New York State, it is imperative that the religious sentiments of these communities be respected.
If the swastika were to be taught as a mandatory symbol of hatred in New York City schools, it would undoubtedly lead to increased discrimination or even violence against Dharmic communities like Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, etc. for whom the swastika has deep religious or cultural significance. . This would only spawn a new cycle of hatred and defeat the purpose of the bill to reduce racial animosity. The only way forward is to amend S2727 to explicitly refer to the importance and sanctity of the swastika in Dharmic culture and make a clear distinction between the dharmic swastika and Nazi Germany Hakenkreuz.