On Friday, Simran Tatuskar, a 21-year old student at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, became the focus of criticism from anti-racist groups when she called for the addition of the Hindu origins of the Nazi Swastika to the teaching curriculum as a “peaceful symbol.”
Tatuskar is the student union president and the president of a United Nations charter organization that supports women’s empowerment and gender equality. She is a strong advocate of issues concerning diversity and combatting racism. She is a Hindu and it can be assumed that her motives were to clear the records, removing any concerns connecting the Hindu religion with Nazi ideology.
Her call to teach the Hindu origins of the symbol came under fire from StopAntisemitism.org who claimed she was “trying to normalize the largest symbol of hate in America.”
“In Nazi Germany, one of the first thing antisemites did was erase the history and persecution of the Jews, minimize their struggles and appropriate their beings,” the organization tweeted. “By normalizing the swastika, this is repeating that vicious cycle.”
Tatuskar issued a response, clarifying her original position. She noted that her call to teach about the Hindu symbol came in response the passage of a new bill by the New York State Senate (S6648) says that students in grades 6 to 12 will now be taught about swastikas and nooses in an effort to further educate and prevent hate crimes. The American Hindus Against Defamation (AHAD) opposed the bill, urging the New York Senate to differentiate between Indian Swastika and the Nazi Hakenkreuz claiming the bill would promote “Hinduphobia”.
“To label the Swastika as a symbol of hate would be a grave insult to 1.8 billion Hindus and Buddhists around the world,” American Hindus Against Defamation (AHAD) said in a statement.
The bill is currently stalled and will not be brought up by the Assembly Committee on Education.
“While this is vital and necessary learning for all students, the bill neglects to mention that has and continues to carry meaning to all cultures in South Asian and East Asian cultures and religions,” Tatuskar wrote on Instagram.
She added that the ‘Nazi swastika’ represents the horrors of the Holocaust. However, she said, “As someone who is not Jewish, I know I cannot fully understand the Jewish experience and feelings my post evoked, but I never wanted to harm anyone.” ‘When I included both symbols in my original post, I wanted to show the visual differences of the left-facing hooked cross Nazi swastika and the right-facing Hindu/Buddhist/Jain swastika for those who were unaware of the difference,” she wrote.
Tatuskar noted a powerful precedent to support her position. In a 2008 Hindu-Jewish leadership summit the Chief Rabbinate of Israel recognized that the Swastika has been sacred to Hindus for millennia prior to its misappropriation.
It should be noted that Tatuskar’s claim is accurate. In the ancient Indian language of Sanskrit, swastika means “well-being”. The symbol has been used by Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains for millennia. Before it was appropriated by the Nazi party, the symbol was widely used by designers in the west, even appearing on bottles of Coca Cola and Carlsberg Beer. The Boy Scouts adopted it and the Girls’ Club of America called their magazine Swastika. They would even send out swastika badges to their young readers as a prize for selling copies of the magazine. It was used by American military units during World War One and it could be seen on RAF planes as late as 1939.
The black straight-armed hakenkreuz (hooked cross) was adopted by several organizations in pre–World War I Europe, and later by the Nazi Party and Nazi Germany before World War II, albeit with the arms facing in the opposite direction as its Hindu predecessor. The Nazis based their understanding of the symbol on the now disproven Aryan Invasion Theory. The Nazi usage imagines that there was a “master race” or group of people known as the Aryans, some of whom physically invaded the Indian subcontinent.
Public display of the Swastika is currency banned in Germany, Austria, and Poland.