World War II is one of the most devastating global incidents of the past 100 years—and the man behind the war is one of the most notorious figures in history. The world has, since then, reflected on its mistakes. Now, 80 years down the line, Hitler is no longer a man many look up to and Nazism is no longer an ideology most people would proudly declare their affiliation to. Nor is it an ideology whose symbol most people would be pleased to see a tattoo of.
Rahul Easwar, a popular social activist from Kerala in India and an alumnus of the London School of Economics, on May 17, tweeted he got a tattoo of the swastika on his forearm in an attempt to reclaim the religious symbol. A noble attempt, except, the tattoo he got isn’t the Sanskrit swastika.
It’s the Nazi Swastika.
The swastika became a symbol of genocide and intolerance the moment it was appropriated by Hitler as the symbol of the Nazi movement—something that historians believe was a symbol of the Aryan identity behind the decision of choosing this symbology. The Nazis weren’t the only ones to use the swastika either—other right-wing groups have taken it on as well, taking forward its association with the radically ‘pure’. The Sanskrit word, however, roughly translates to “making of goodness” or “marker of goodness”, and is a symbol of auspiciousness in many Asian religions, particularly Hinduism and Buddhism.
The symbol Easwar ended up getting, however, is, in fact, the very symbol the Nazis “misused against Jew bros and sis”. And while one might say the tattoo—regardless of the way it is portrayed here—is a tattoo of good fortune, people online weren’t happy.
After the Nazi Germany’s defeat in 1945, the ruling governments outlawed all Nazi organisations and criminalised the dissemination of Nazi propaganda and symbols. Today, in Germany and many other European states, public display of Nazi symbols is prohibited by law and individuals violating can be criminally prosecuted. So, as the Twitter user mentions above, Easwar would really have to hide his tattoo on his travels (whenever travels may become a part of life again, that is) if he doesn’t wish to be prosecuted.
Easwar seems no stranger to controversies even before his Twitter blew up with his tattoo post. When the Supreme Court of India overturned the ban on women of menstruating age from entering the infamous Sabarimala temple, he defended the ban and protested against the verdict—a decision that even got him arrested under Section 153 (wantonly giving provocation with the intent of causing riot) of the Indian Penal Code.
On May 18, he tweeted once again to clarify his decision of using the Swastika, by posting a screenshot of a Twitter complaint made against him, where Twitter denied finding any violation to its rules and German laws.
He tried even harder by putting up a photo of the Indus Valley Civilisation-time swastikas.
But the real question here is: can a culturally appropriated symbol—and in this case grossly misused—ever be truly reclaimed? Some say its “weaponisation” makes it “irredeemable” but some believe “people should not have to give up their traditions because they were misused by others”. In Easwar’s case though, the least he could’ve done if his intent was pure and not his ideology, is simply not having it tilted.
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