Back in January, New York State Senator Todd Kaminsky introduced a bill in the New York Senate which would mandatorily require schools in the State of New York to teach ‘Swastika’, an auspicious and sacred symbol for Dharmic religions like Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism, as an example of hate symbol. The bill titled ‘Senate Bill S2727’ conflates the Dharmic Swastika with the Nazi symbol of Hakenkreuz i.e. Hooked Cross, and requires compulsory teaching of the Swastika from grades 6 through 12 as an emblem of Nazi Germany and therefore, as a hate symbol.
This push by Democrat State Senator Kaminsky has resulted in outrage, with a Change.org petition demanding an amendment of the bill amassing more than 40,000 signatures. The AsaMai Hindu Temple & Community Center, Hicksville, NY is also a signatory to the petition. Another NY. State Senator Anna Kaplan, who is an additional co-sponsor to Kaminsky’s bill, represents the 7th Senate District where Hicksville is located and its community of almost 5,000 Indian-Americans residents.
It’s not the first time Kaminsky has pushed for a bill like this, lacking the clear distinction between the Dharmic symbol Swastika and the Nazi symbol of Hakenkreuz. In 2019, Kaminsky introduced a bill very similar to Senate Bill S2727, this one titled S6648, which conflated the terms ‘Swastika’ and ‘Nazi’, without any consideration to the sentiments of various Dharmic religious communities. As the bill gained traction in 2020, it was opposed by the American Hindus Against Defamation (AHAD), an initiative of the World Hindu Council of America (VHPA).
In their statement at the time, AHAD said, “the proposed NY State Senate Bill SS 6648 requiring instruction regarding symbols of hate to be incorporated into the curricula for grades six through twelve perpetuate ignorance and promotes Hinduphobia in schools across New York state. AHAD pledges to work with other Hindu organizations to ensure that this legislation is modified to remove the references to Swastika.”
Director of Advocacy and Awareness for VHPA at the time Utsav Chakrabarty also weighed in on this issue and said, “We acknowledge the horrid 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, for the past 70 years, the Swastika continues to remain a vilified and maligned symbol. This must be corrected. Instead of censoring the symbol, we must celebrate the positive history of it. We must reclaim it from Hitler and the followers of his hateful ideology. This wrong must be righted.”
The Coalition of Hindus from North America (CoHNA) launched a petition campaign in mid-2020, asking people to write and email local representatives from New York State to rename the swastika as the Hakenkreuz in the S6648 bill, to promote and circulate educational materials about the difference between these two symbols and consult stakeholders from the Jewish community as well as the Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, African-American and indigenous communities to help develop ‘culturally competent resources and messaging about this issue’. As a result of all these efforts, this bill stalled in the New York assembly. However, an extremely similar in the form of S2727 has emerged, again threatening to falsely label the Dharmic Swastika as a hate symbol.
In recent years, the dialogue between the Hindu and Jewish communities regarding the Swastika has generally been positive. The American Jewish Committee, one of the oldest Jewish advocacy groups in the United States, issued a brochure explaining the difference between the Swastika used by the Hindu, Jain and Buddhist communities for thousands of years and the twisted Nazi version of it.
Citing the Declaration of the Second Hindu-Jewish Leadership Summit held in 2008, the brochure states, “The Swastika 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.”
Right now, Kaminsky’s bill S2727 is in the Education Committee of the New York, which will then later allow the bill to be voted upon in the New York Senate. Ignorance of the Dharmic Swastika cannot be an excuse to disallow an amendment for a distinction between Swastika and the Hakenkreuz. With over half a million estimated Indian-Americans living in New York state, it is imperative that the religious sentiments of these communities are respected.
If the Swastika were to be taught as a hate symbol compulsorily in New York schools, it would undoubtedly lead to a rise of discrimination or even violence against Dharmic communities like Hindus, Jains, Buddhists etc. for whom the Swastika holds deep religious or cultural significance. This would only result in a new cycle of hate and will go against the objective of the bill to reduce racial animosity. The only proper way forward is to amend S2727 to explicitly give reference to the importance and sacredness of the Swastika in Dharmic culture and make a clear distinction between the Dharmic Swastika and the Nazi Germany Hakenkreuz.