now here's a case of cultures colliding. an indian family in auckland have painted a swastika on the roof of their home, thereby causing much angst to their neighbours. one of whom is a WWII veteran.
i have to admit that i was pretty surprised to find swastikas all over the place on my first visit to india at age 12. i'd only ever known it as a nazi symbol, one that represented heinous crimes, oppression and death. i couldn't understand why it was so prevalent, until it was it was explained to me that this is an ancient symbol, well predating the germans' use of it in the twentieth century.
the hindus have been using this symbol for hundreds, maybe thousands of years. it was originally:
a symbol of prosperity and good fortune and is widely dispersed in both the ancient and modern world. It originally represented the revolving sun, fire, or life. The word swastika is derived from the Sanskrit swastika which means, "conducive to well- being". The swastika was widely utilized in ancient Mesopotamian coinage as well as appearing in early Christian and Byzantium art, where it was known as the gammadion cross. The swastika also appeared in South and Central America, widely used in Mayan art during that time period.
for hindus, buddhists and jains, the symbol has a spiritual or sacred aspect which can not be erased because another, more sinister group chose to use it. to expect them to stop using is like another form of cultural imperialism, another act of oppression by a vastly oppressive regime.
i can also understand the feelings of the WWII veteran, and many others, for whom this symbol evokes fear, anger, and pain. given that neo-nazis across the world continue to use the symbol, it cannot even be said to be an historic fear. the oppression continues today. i remember when the mosque in hamilton was being built, someone broke in one night and carved swastikas into the gib board. it is continued to be used as a symbol to intimidate and harass racial and religious minorities.
so what then of the swastika on the roof? a search on google shows there are many who wish to reclaim the symbol, to restore it to its original meaning. there are others who say that redemption is not possible. an interesting debate, based on differing cultures and histories.
which view should prevail? the depth of feeling on either side is equal. to my mind, reclaiming the symbol would lessen its impact by those who continue to use it to intimidate. it would also allow people to follow their religion in peace. in order to do this, however, there needs to be a lot of discussion and education around the historical and religious significance of the swastika. it might be a good idea for the gupta family to visit their neighbours, or invite them over, and have a discussion about what it means to them. that would help to break down some of the barriers.
there is still the wider of issue of what the rest of the world will think:
Mr Johnston is worried that it will be visible to traffic when the new motorway is built through the area. "People will be driving along wondering what kind of a country this is," he says.
that's a little more difficult to solve. it requires a wider level of action than just going to meet the neighbours. but it's an effort that must be made, because to do less would be to devalue the suffering caused by reference to the swastika.