Toronto: Following a rash of anti-Semitic incidents in Canada after the terror attacks by Hamas on Israel on October 7, Canadian authorities have moved against use of the Nazi “swastika” symbol, which has also been condemned by leaders like Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. To prevent it from being conflated with the Hindu sacred symbol, an Indo-Canadian community organisation has launched a campaign to “Reclaim Swastika”.
Anti-Semitic incidents have seen the Nazi symbol appear when Jewish synagogues, schools, community centres and even businesses have been targeted. On November 5, during a protest rally in Ottawa, that symbol was displayed, drawing a reaction from Trudeau, who posted on X, “The display of a swastika by an individual on Parliament Hill is unacceptable.”
The Toronto Police Services website also described the swastika as a “hate symbol” and warns its use could result in criminal charges.
This has led to concern within the Indo-Canadian community, with the organisation, Canadian Organization For Hindu Heritage Education (CoHHE), launching its “Reclaim Swastika Campaign”. In a letter to Toronto Police and other law enforcement authorities, it pointed out Swastika word in Sanskrit means auspiciousness and well-being of all” and the “Swastika symbol is very sacred and used extensively during worshipping rituals in our temples, homes and businesses”.
CoHHE board member Ruchi Wali said, “Swastika is not a hate symbol, it’s an ancient and sacred symbol used by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists. Nazis never used Swastika and they used hooked/ tilted cross or Hakenkreuz. Swastika is wrongly associated with the Nazi symbol. It’s deeply Hinduphobic to call Swastika a hate symbol, when it’s a symbol for peace and prosperity.”
That point of view has also gained support from Jewish groups. In a statement, Richard Marceau, vice-president, External Affairs & General Counsel, Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), said, “The Nazi version of the swastika has reared its ugly head at many hate rallies across the country in recent weeks. In this context it is indisputably the ultimate antisemitic emblem. However, we also recognise that the swastika is a holy symbol for Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, and Zoroastrians.”
“Context is everything. It is essential to ensure that the ancient and rich heritage of the Hindu symbol not only be respected but honoured, while also addressing the Nazi misappropriation of the symbol that has twisted and weaponised it into one of racism and hate,” he added. CIJA uses the term Nazi to qualify the term swastika in posts and statements.
“Finally, we are in close touch with the Hindu community about this issue, and many others. Only through dialogue will we understand each other better,” Marceau said.
Other Indo-Canadian organisations have expressed concern over the way the term has been attacked by Canadian politicians. The National Alliance of Indo-Canadians has taken exception to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s statement that public display of ‘Swastika’ is “unacceptable”, the organisation’s chair Dr Azad Kaushik said.
Dr Kaushik said, “By criminalising Swastika as a symbol of mischief and hate, religious sensitivities of Hindus, Jains and Buddhists are hurt, further marginalising these Indo-Canadian communities and making them a target of hate and discrimination.”