Given here is a series of email exchanges between myself and the local Diwali program organizing committee members. As a volunteer, I was assigned publicity work for the event. I designed a poster for the event that was to be printed and distributed at local businesses. On four corners of the poster I added the official symbols of four Dharma Traditions that celebrate Diwali. Swastika is the official symbol of Jain dharma. Some of the members objected having swastika on the poster, mostly out of fear that it could be misunderstood and cause unnecessary trouble. One member privately supported to keep the symbol, but was too scared to do so openly. Here are the emails where members expressed their objections and I explained my stance. If you are one of the committee members reading this – don’t worry, I have removed all your names. This is just to showcase the level of cowardice we have stooped to and use this opportunity to introspect. Nothing personal.
Team, please review the attached flyer and suggest improvements.
Just an observation on the swastika , I know it’s significance but isn’t it misunderstood here ?
Disclaimer : If you have already discussed and hashed it out prior to my email just ignore this.
Good point. Yes, swastika is misunderstood here and I think it is about time to reclaim it and make it holy once again. It is the official symbol of Jains. The flyer has the symbols of our four dharma traditions that celebrate Diwali. It is an auspicious sign in many cultures around the world representing Surya, Jnana, Prosperity, Charity, Good-luck Goodwill etc. In fact if you go to Chinese, Thai or Vietnamese grocery stores in Atlanta you can see swastika on several packages. This is an opportunity to reeducate people about the true meaning of such ancient symbols.
Good work! A couple of suggestions –
1. We need to mention that admission is free for all
2. Let us replace the Swastika (that can be misinterpreted ) with another symbol or not have symbols altogether. Keep it generic.
Otherwise it looks good.
Thanks for all the feedback. I will add that the admission is free.
The only people who have any reason to have qualms about swastika are Jews.
1. In the past four, five years a lot of inter-faith understanding has been accomplished between the two ancient culture groups, Hindus & Jews, by the respective leadership teams.
2. As Hindus we have the responsibility to take these positive developments further by building on them at the local community level.
3. The 2008 Hindu-Jewish Summit made significant progress in resolving some of the major misunderstandings and prejudices that practicing Jews have towards Hindu dharma – which included swastika, the Aryan race theory etc.
Please take some time to read the joint declaration and other important achievements at the summit.
I am willing to go speak at the synagogue and invite the local Jewish community to our Diwali event. Several years ago I did visit a synagogue and had some good discussion along these lines. I can have the above declaration printouts available during the event as well.
Since there seems to be some apprehension among the committee, I just would like to remind ourselves about the stated India Association mission:
Our Mission – The goal of the India Association is to spread Indian cultural heritage to the future generation. We strive to do this through many functions and activities open to the public. We re (sic) open to any constructive feedback and would love to know how you think we can do an even better job.
Keeping the mission in mind, please vote whether to use the symbols or not, as these symbols are indeed part of our “Indian cultural heritage”:
Yes – Keep the symbols – We need to use every opportunity we get to promote better understanding of our ancient heritage among the local community wherever we live, and also give our future generation a strong, positive, foundation which they can then build upon, without feeling ashamed about our heritage, and live free without fear of being misunderstood, in an increasingly pluralistic American society. Since the academy and the media are not going to promote such understanding, we will do it at the grassroots, local community level.
No – Remove/replace the symbols – because I don’t agree with the statement above.
Please consider all information and just respond back ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. I want everyone to vote and let majority decide.
From: #3 [private email to me, not to the whole group]
Yes – Keep the symbols
I agree and applaud your leadership on this issue. If we don’t do it, who will?
Thanks for being strong:-)
You are doing the right thing by gentle persuasion. This is a tough crowd to get to think your way, but by being open, you are letting everyone have their say. Great idea of the vote.
(this is not an email voting issue to resolve)
Remove the symbol…
– not worth our time in answering potential issue..
– People in this part of country are not as educated to realize the difference …
– we can debate this in a future committee meeting if necessary
Great , great points . I agree with you on every point. Except for your choices for the yes or no vote. It isn’t as black & white like you put it.
Im going to vote a “No” not because I don’t agree with the points you mention in the “Yes” option and my No isn’t diametrically opposite to that, its because I feel that the time isn’t right. We need to lay some background on , I’m not embarrassed about the swastika, but I know second hand of a case where a friend’s swastik locket enraged a Jewish doc.
It all boils down to the context , if an American , Jewish or otherwise , saw the swastik in India, this wouldn’t be an issue ,but we live here and I love that in America you can be what you want to be and practice what ever religion you choose. Unfortunately here you have racists and neo nazis who use the swastika as a symbol of hate. You are right that we should reclaim it and educate people (especially kids ) of the true meaning, but in my opinion a poster advertising Diwali isn’t the right way to do it . We should organize talks on this specific issue or even publish an article in the local news paper . If everybody strongly feels that this years poster is the right place to do it, then my suggestion is you that we put a note explaining the Hindu symbols as a footnote .
Modified based on #1’s feedback. Added the different dharma names to the symbols. Added text about free admission. Please see attachment.
I do not agree with some of the points being raised. I really cant have this debate by emails. I request everyone think about this and other important issues confronting the future of our dharmic heritage in today’s world. If we don’t take some initiative for positive transformation in whatever small ways we can, we will never be able to overcome the challenges we face. People who don’t want to face the problems head-on say things like – we cannot do it, we don’t have the time, this is not the right time, others are not ready yet, they are not educated enough to understand, this not the way to do, we should go to the media, etc. Every time we throw such defeatist arguments we have already lost, and every time we take a courageous stand we win. If this is the attitude we pass on to the next generation they will eventually give up “Indian cultural heritage” or worse end up living in ghettos. If we truly appreciate the fact of – “I love that in America you can be what you want to be and practice what ever religion you choose” – let us show that by practicing it, by living it, by being free.
The swastika symbol has not been removed!
For valid reasons, Both #1 and I responded with “NO swastika symbol”…
#2 wanted it removed too….
As I responded in an earlier email… this is not an email voting issue.
Lets not waste effort “back and forth” on this issue and delay matters.
I appreciate your passion on this issue and all of us agree – they are legitimate, and well intentioned. But I would like to draw your attention to the purpose of the Diwali program – it is a cultural event that thrives in participation, collaboration and show casing the Indian dance and music. It does not go into the religious angle (though some dances may have the influence). Our request for the removal of the symbols was due to the goal of the program being different and hence not the appropriate forum – the symbols on the poster may indicate otherwise.
Again, I would like for you to follow through (identify a forum) where we can help remove these misconceptions by dialog and understanding – we will help in any way possible.
I appreciate the feedback. But I still have to disagree. You are trying to say though we call it Diwali cultural program we should secularize it. This is of course better than #4 saying NO without giving any intellectual argument, and shutting everyone up without an opportunity to vote, which is dictatorial, IMHO. I have given so many arguments in favor of, & you and #1 reached for the familiar covers – secular & fear of the unknown, so let’s not take risk. Curiously no one publicly wants to say Yes though they privately agree with me. If this is the level of courage, I think we should be honest and change the mission statement, and tell the next gen Diwali is secular and not to encourage a strong dharmic identity among them.
>It does not go into the religious angle
What are we going to say when someone asks why we celebrate Diwali?
>Again, I would like for you to follow through (identify a forum) where we can help remove these misconceptions by dialog and understanding – we will help in any way possible.
Diwali cultural program is our biggest show of the year with the highest number of participation and attendance by local community. This is “the best forum” to make such subtle but bold attempts to correct misconceptions. If we do this in any other forum it won’t have as much reach. If we don’t have the courage now, we never will. If the committee does not see this as valid point I seriously doubt Association’s ability to “remove these misconceptions” on important but controversial issues.
Those out there secretly agreeing with me – thanks but no thanks.
Modified flyer attached. Please review and let me know ASAP.
From: #3 [email to the whole group]
I am ok with this version.
*** END ***
The maligned and demonized Swastika symbol needs to be reclaimed and made holy again. Just because it was used for a decade by a group that caused immense suffering, the holy symbol in use for many millenniums should not be considered evil forever. What happened during a violent decade cannot be allowed to permanently taint an ancient sacred symbol that is thousands of years old. Other groups carrying different symbols also cause enormous suffering, even almost virtually wiping out entire nations & cultures, which still continues today as cultural genocides by evangelism and physical genocides by terrorism. Why single out swastika? Can we not attach similar stigma to all such symbols? This stigmatizing of swastika is a western universalism which must be challenged. When dangerous ideas, theories and beliefs are allowed to exist and freely propagated, we are not achieving much by merely stigmatizing a sign. It does not guarantee that human beings will never repeat the horrors of recent history. The attitudes, behaviors & ideologies needed for inspiring and recreating colossal suffering are still not stigmatized, but a mere symbol is. Also notice, the symbol appropriated & used in the past is taboo, but not the ones still being used for genocide today. This idiocy must be understood if we sincerely hope to prevent future carnage.
International Draw Swastika Week
Every year, the week starting on second Sunday of February, let us declare as International Draw Swastika Week. During this week, children can create, draw swastika of all shapes, sizes, colors, patterns & types, using many different kinds of materials. Schools and libraries can display children’s art work. Since this is also the time many cultures traditionally celebrate the season of Love, welcoming Spring, renewal and rebirth, this is a good week for reclaiming swastika and associate it back with positive memories.
Now, go and make swastikas, friends!
You can upload your swastika artwork to your website and post the link to it in comments below, if you would like for it to be featured on the Sacred Swastika page << Follow this page on Google+ !
♥♥♦♦♥♥♥♥♥ May you all always enjoy
♥♦♥♦♥♦♥♦♥ peace, prosperity, charity,
♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥ good-luck, goodwill,
♥♥♥♥♥♦♦♥♥ unconditional love!
Swastika & Arya appropriation and its continuing impact in India: