Hindu, Jain and Buddhist Community leaders working against a potential Swastika ban proposed by the Victorian government were pleasantly surprised by a phone call on Monday morning.
This call came from the office of Federal Assistant Minister for Multicultural Affairs Jason Wood. Mr Wood’s advisor Ranj Parerra advised community leaders that after the initial meeting of top Hindu community leaders on Friday Minister Wood has worked over the weekend to bring together Victorian Deputy Leader of the Opposition David Southwick and Shadow Minister for Multicultural Affairs Craig Ondarchie along with Co-CEO – Executive Council of Australian Jewry Peter Wertheim.
A joint meeting was scheduled for late Monday evening to find a common ground to negotiate with the Victorian Government on the Swastika issue.
More than fifty-five religious and community leaders from Hindu, Jain and Buddhist temples and organisations presented their point on the Swastika issue. The common sentiment was that Swastika (a Sanskrit word) is a symbol of peace and well-being and has been used for centuries by these communities.
Minister Wood agreed and said,
“The actual correct word for the Nazi symbol is the Hakenkreuz and not the Swastika.”
“For most of us, the Nazi symbols are one of hate, horror, terror and nothing but evil,” added Mr Wood.
Victorian deputy leader of the opposition, David Southwick said, “I will not play politics in this and want to be clear with all communities. The Jew people are one of the worst affected by persecution for their religious beliefs however we will not in any way let another religious community suffer any persecution to practice their faith. We will certainly work with the Hindu community to have acceptable legislation.”
“We are not in favour of dropping the legislation after working on it to protect the Jew community from hate attacks, but he will certainly support removing references to Swastika and have consultations to refer properly as Nazi symbols.”
Executive Council of Australian Jewry is elected peak representative body of the Australian Jewish community, with approximately 200 major Jewish organisations across Australia under its umbrella.
Its CO-CEO Peter Wertheim suggested advocating for a generic offence of displaying any symbol which in all the circumstances is reasonably likely to promote or advocate hatred on the grounds of race, religion, disability or sexual orientation or identity.
“There could be express exclusions for the use of symbols reasonably and in good faith for any religious, educational or artistic purpose.”
Ramesh Rao, Joint Treasurer of the Australian Hindu Temples Council said, “Governments should educate children right from school, the differences between the Hindu Holy symbol Swastika and the Nazi Hate symbol Hakenkreuz (Hooked-Cross).”
“It is essential, so no one is persecuted for following their faith and the wider community will understand not only the difference visually but also the meaning and purpose of it,”explained Mr Rao.
In the meeting, Minister wood was concerned with what he called a notorious reputation of the Victorian government for passing legislation through parliament without consultation.
He said, “At least on this occasion, I urge the Victorian government to consult all relevant communities.”
Victorian Shadow Minister for Multicultural Affairs Craig Ondrachie was very forthcoming and supportive to Hindu, Jain and Buddhist communities.
He said, “I will not support any legislation which affects the Hindu, Buddhist or Jain communities, I will push for proper consultation with the communities and only accepted legislation by all faith communities will be allowed in the Parliament.”
“We will not allow the State Government to pass the legislation before all communities are consulted and the legislation doesn’t affect any faith community,”assured Mr Ondrachie.
Rakesh Raizada is the Founding Director of Vedic Global.
He told The Australia Today, “The Vedic communities including Hindus, Jains, Nepalese, Buddhist and others who use Swastika almost everywhere – at home, religious places, cars etc. may face constant problems and harassment if this legislation is passed the way it is currently proposed.”
“And the reason is simply because particularly law enforcing agencies and people from other religions and faith may not be aware of the importance of Swastika in our day to day life and may confuse us to be of Nazi ideology,”added Mr Raizada.
Parth Pandya is a member of Melbourne’s BAPS Swaminarayan management committee.
He says “When you say drinking is prohibited, we all understand drinking alcohol is prohibited in that environment not drinking water or fruit juice. In the same way, when they say Nazi symbols are prohibited they should never relate that with Hindu Holy symbol Swastika, extensive education to all stakeholders should be provided by the Government”
Sateesh from Sree Narayana Mission told a very personal story.
“My daughter’s First name was Swastika, we moved to Melbourne from India when she was 4 years old, one of the school teachers (lovingly ) advised us to change it as it may offend the Jewish community. So we changed her name, with Births Deaths, and Marriages Victoria.”
Sateesh says, “I don’t want to offend any other community. But would like to request the Victorian government to educate the general public about whats the real positive meaning of how significant the Swastika symbol is for the Hindu Community.”
It was agreed by all parties that the new legislation that the Victorian government is looking to introduce to ban the Nazi symbol must allow for religious use in religions such as Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism and proper education should be programmed to educate the community.
Minister Jason Wood said, “I will be working with the communities closer to ensure we support them in achieving their objective of protecting their religious practices. This is what multicultural Australia and diversity are all about. Coming together and discussing issues and working together on reaching a common goal for the mutual benefit of all communities.