India flags concerns over Canada bill banning swastika

Updated on Feb 18, 2022 03:36 PM IST

The private members bill violates the community’s freedom to practise their religion by conflating the ancient religious symbol with the HakenKreuz -- a Nazi party derivative, the community says

A supporter carries a US Confederate flag during the Freedom Convoy protesting Covid-19 vaccine mandates and restrictions in front of Parliament on January 29. A private members bill tabled in the Canadian parliament is seeking to ban symbols of hate like the Confederate flag and the swastika. (AFP)
A supporter carries a US Confederate flag during the Freedom Convoy protesting Covid-19 vaccine mandates and restrictions in front of Parliament on January 29. A private members bill tabled in the Canadian parliament is seeking to ban symbols of hate like the Confederate flag and the swastika. (AFP)

India has flagged to Ottawa the Indo-Canadian community’s concerns over a bill before Canada’s Parliament to ban the sale and display of hateful symbols, including the swastika for its association with Nazism.

A private members bill, tabled by National Democratic Party MP Peter Julian last week, which has the support of party leader Jagmeet Singh, has infuriated the Indo-Canadian over “demonization” of a sacred symbol of the community.

The bill seeks to “prevent the display or sale of symbols or emblems such as the Nazi swastika and the Ku Klux Klan’s insignia, flags such as the standards of Germany between the years 1933 to 1945 and those of the Confederate States of America between the years 1861 to 1865 and uniforms, including the German and Confederate States of America military dress of those periods, as well as the hoods and robes of the Ku Klux Klan”.

It was brought after such symbols were seen at the first weekend of the truckers protest against cross-border vaccine mandates, during which protesters laid siege to the Canadian capital of Ottawa.

“Swastikas and confederate flags have no place in Canada. We have a responsibility to make our communities safe for everyone — it’s time to ban hate symbols in Canada,” Singh said earlier this month, promoting a petition in this regard.

India’s Consul General Apoorva Srivastava said India has “formally flagged this issue to Government of Canada and shared with them the petitions received from Canadian groups in this regard”. He was responding to Toronto-based rights advocate Ragini Sharma, according to whom, those who revere the swastika -- including Hindus, Buddhists and Jains -- found “deeply hurtful” the remarks by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau alluding to “the inherent violence of the swastika”.

Canadian MP Chandra Arya, from Trudeau’s Liberal Party, is likely to raise the matter in the House of Commons. His office said that he was “very concerned on the plans to ban Hindu sacred symbol Swastika. He is taking the lead to stop this from happening”.

Sharma also said there was a campaign to oppose the bill as it would “criminalise the swastika”.

While empathising with the trauma suffered by Jews during the Holocaust, the campaign is against “the incorrect linking of The Nazi HakenKreuz or hooked cross to the Swastika. We need Canadians to be educated about the differences and to understand that the Swastika has nothing to do with Nazi hate symbol”.

She pointed out that if it became law, it could cause problems for individuals and even for organisations like the Canadian Buddhist Association, which prominently features rows of the symbol at the entrance to its temple in Toronto.

A rally against the bill Indo-Canadians was also held in the town of Surrey in British Columbia. Organisations, including the Hindu temple in Burnaby and the Gurukul Cultural Society of Canada, participated in the protest last Sunday.

One of the participants, Neema Manral said they are demanding that the swastika word be removed from the bill and replaced with Nazi symbols. “How can we not have a swastika displayed at home or in a temple?” she asked.

In a letter to all MPs and Senators, copied to Trudeau and other federal party leaders, National Association of Indo-Canadians president Azad Kaushik said the umbrella body “strongly opposes” the bill as “it would infringe upon the rights of Hindus, Jains and Buddhists to freely and publicly practice their religion”.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Anirudh Bhattacharya is a Toronto-based commentator on North American issues, and an author. He has also worked as a journalist in New Delhi and New York spanning print, television and digital media. He tweets as @anirudhb.

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