New Jersey, March 25, 2021. The Coalition of Hindus of North America (CoHNA) welcomed Senator David Kaminsky’s decision to withdraw a bill that would require New York schools to teach the Swastika as a symbol of hatred and intolerance. The decision comes against the backdrop of intense public outrage around the bill from the Hindu, Buddhist and Jain communities across New York and the United States, and the negative impact that such a bill may have on students from these traditions who attend New York schools along with those outside of these traditions. Over 2 Billion people from the Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Native American, and other traditions consider the Swastika and its equivalents as symbols of peace, well-being, and prosperity. Teaching the Swastika as a symbol of hatred rather than the Hakenkreuz (“hooked cross”) – the symbol used by Hitler and Nazi Germany – would further perpetuate the popular misconception about a sacred sign as a sign of death and destruction.
Speaking with CoHNA this morning, Senator Kaminsky clarified that his intention was to promote tolerance and not cause friction with the Hindu community. The bill seemed to have the opposite effect. Thus, he was officially withdrawing this bill and will try to find other ways to create education around hatred and tolerance.
Remarking on the bill’s withdrawal, Nikunj Trivedi, president of CoHNA shared: “Our community has always been in support of education around racism and hatred. However, we wanted to ensure that any legislation does not inadvertently stoke hatred against our community. Declaring the Swastika to be taught as a symbol of hatred can lead to attacks on and bullying of students who consider it as a symbol of peace, well-being, and prosperity.”
After the reintroduction of the bill in 2021, several community organizations and leaders made calls to their district lawmakers, signed petitions, and held public meetings to discuss the issue and spread awareness about the Swastika, along with discussions with Jewish community leaders in New York. The efforts galvanized favorable public opinion and ensured that the community’s concerns were taken seriously.
CoHNA, in partnership with the Heiwa Peace and Reconciliation Foundation of New York (Heiwa) and over thirty-five Hindu, Buddhist and Jain organizations, launched the Swastika Education & Awareness Campaign (SEAC) to create a better understanding about the Swastika and its wrongful association with Hitler and Nazi Germany. A three-day international seminar on Swastika, held during the UN Interfaith Harmony Week in early February, brought together spiritual and community leaders from these traditions, along with members from the Jewish community, to discuss the significance of the Swastika while encouraging dialogue and mutual understanding around this ancient symbol. Similarly, subsequent townhalls, educational sessions, interviews on radio shows and in news outlets provided the opportunity to amplify the messaging around the Swastika and its wrongful association with Hitler’s Hakenkreuz or “hooked cross.”
Commenting on the developments, Dr. T.K. Nakagaki, Founder and President of Heiwa and the author of The Buddhist Swastika and Hitler’s Cross: Rescuing a Symbol of Peace from the Forces of Hate shared: “I appreciate everyone’s support and all those who voiced their concerns on this matter. Many political leaders were unaware of the true meaning of the Swastika. Thus, education is desperately needed to avoid misunderstandings around this sacred symbol and to de-link it from Hitler’s Hakenkreuz or “hooked cross.” Our efforts must continue to create better mutual understanding and respect about symbols of hatred versus symbols of peace.”
CoHNA, Heiwa and all the campaign partners, along with various community organizations recognize the intergenerational trauma of the Jewish community caused by the Nazis, along with the fact that the Nazi “hooked cross” symbol is a painful reminder of genocide, death, and suffering. Any attempts to promote such hateful ideologies must also be condemned. Yet, one must also be careful not to create an atmosphere of hate against Hindus, Buddhist, Jains, Native Americans, and others.
CoHNA, Heiwa and various campaign partners plan to continue their educational efforts around the Swastika so that this ancient and sacred symbol is not confused with Hitler’s symbol of hatred.