Over the past weekend Reuters India found itself at the center of no doubt unwanted attention.
During a recent trip to New Delhi, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley was apparently photographed at a Hindu temple with a swastika in the background. I say ‘apparently’ because the photo with Haley in front of a swastika was pulled from the photo package Reuters was promoting.
Reuters has removed an earlier photo of U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley with a swastika seen behind her at a Hindu temple in Delhi. The swastika is an ancient religious symbol for Hindus and Buddhists. It was also used as a symbol by Nazi Germany https://t.co/rQa4VcIOdy pic.twitter.com/rJTUjd8C4f
— Reuters India Photos (@IndiaPhotos) June 28, 2018
It’s unclear who instigated the deletion of the image: someone at Reuters or, equally as plausible, someone on Haley’s team.
Criticism of Reuters on social media has been vocal. There’s at least one petition circulating accusing Reuters of “trampling on the dignity of Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and other Indians” and calling on the Government of India “to act decisively to stop this scourge of global truth-piracy. The future of India will be secure only when its cultural borders are respected as clearly as its territorial borders.”
I’m personally not sure that removal of a single photograph, whatever the motivation, is actually trampling on the dignity of Hindus. It’s not as if all the images of Haley at Hindu sites in Delhi have been removed — she was photographed at Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, and Christian places, as well as with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
I do feel however that in acting as they did Reuters India rather cowardly missed an opportunity for education and failed as journalists.
Haley had a photo taken in front of a Hindu swastika. That is fact. Presenting that image to the public would’ve led to public questions, some of them perhaps uncomfortable, about what the image was about. Given the history of the swastika’s use in the past hundred years by Nazis and Nazi-inspired groups, that’s natural, if unfortunate. But shying away from the positive use of the swastika that continues enthusiastically to this day by Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains, is a failure of journalistic duty.
The job of journalists is not to shield the public from information that challenges their preconceptions. And with the swastika, in 2018, there are plenty of preconceptions.
I won’t rehash those pieces, but the short version is: The swastika is an symbol as old as humanity itself. It’s been used, with stylistic variation, by many cultures in the world. It’s been used similar to its use today in India and South Asia as a symbol of auspiciousness, blessing, and hope dating back to the earliest recorded settlements there. Until its adoption by the Nazis it was experiencing an upsurge in use in the West, in the exact same positive way as it is used in the dharmic traditions.
The only way we will be able to overcome misconceptions about the swastika as used by Hindus is by education. Make the general Western public so familiar with the image that they can easily separate our usage of the swastika from that of the Nazis.