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Uber invalidates, then reinstates, Indian name Swastika

Uber learns there’s nothing offensive about Indian woman Swastika Chandra’s first name.

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The term Swastika has been in the news again – this time, as a woman’s name.

The Indian name Swastika, as it appeared on ridesharing app Uber, was deemed offensive due to its fascist connotations. Uber reportedly did not allow Sydney-based Swastika Chandra to use her first name on its app. But, according to The Australian, it has now backed down and made an exception in this case. It said that Swastika’s name, which in Hinduism means spirituality and divinity and is also a sacred symbol, got caught in the middle of their goodwill policy of banning certain terms after the recent unrest in the Middle East.

A distressed Swastika reached out to the Hindu Council of Australia, who then through the NSW government, took the matter up with Uber. Chandra, a regular user of the app, said the Uber booking system’s flagging of her name was a violation of its terms of use and called for a change. Uber said initially that it understood the “cultural significance” of her name but noted the “sensitivity surrounding historical events … and the symbol’s appropriation by the Nazis”.

Good sense however, soon prevailed. A spokesperson said, “Uber is committed to facilitating a safe and welcoming environment. For that reason, Uber has a policy of restricting access to users whose names entered into the app contain potentially offensive words.” She added that the company understands that there are cultural nuances to names, and it evaluates such instances case by case, and has decided “to reinstate Ms Chandra’s access to the app.”

Swastika is a common name in South Asia

Faith-based leaders who took up Swastika’s case have called for better education of the faiths in our society, including sacred symbols. The Hindu Council of Australia has long been advocating this. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Hinduism is the fastest growing religion in Australia, and among the top three religious groups in the nation, if you exclude ‘No religion’. It consulted strongly with the governments of Victoria and NSW in 2022 when they chose to ban the public display of the Nazi swastika as part of anti-vilification laws.

This ban now excludes the display of the swastika in religious and cultural contexts. The Sanskrit term ‘swastika’ is the combination of two root words Su (meaning good) and Asti (meaning existence) and as such, refers to wellbeing. In this sense, the sacred Hindu symbol of peace and wellness is the very antithesis of what the Nazis intended it to be. The four ‘arms’ of the symbol signify wellness or good form in the four basic endeavours of human life – moral, economic, emotional and spiritual (which Hindu readers may know of as Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha). Indian name Swastika

The bans in Australia had then created some public discussion of the cultural and historical significance of the swastika for the Buddhist, Hindu, Jain and other faith communities, but clearly more needs to be done.

Months before then, a Sydney Dance Company production that had aimed to do exactly that – resanctify the sacred symbol – was advised to run a content warning at the beginning.

Hopefully this week’s resurgence of the issue here in Australia, will go some way in further reclaiming of the swastika from its hateful anti-Semitic connotations. In 2020, it took all but five minutes for a town council in New York State, to reject a suggested name change for the hamlet of Swastika. It had then prompted a young woman by the name Swastika Budhathoki to call in to a local radio station to talk about her name.

A cursory search on your own social media platform of choice, will demonstrate the very large number of South Asian women who go by this beautiful name.

READ MORE: Hindu community’s 2021 concerns on proposed bans on the swastika

Rajni Anand Luthra
Rajni Anand Luthra
Rajni is the Editor of Indian Link.

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