Recognizing Hinduphobia – A Canadian Perspective (Part 10)

This is one of the 10-part series of posts is based on the author’s detailed brief for the Human Rights Commission of Ontario highlighting the rising anti-Hindu sentiment in Canada in general, and Ontario in particular.

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Examples of Hinduphobic Incidents in Canada

Below I have provided some recent examples of Hinduphobia in Canada, primarily from Ontario.

Attempts to criminalize the Swastika

On Feb. 3, 2022, NDP MP, Peter Julian, moved a private member’s bill to ban hate symbols. The Hindu community across Canada had strongly objected to Bill C-229 [1], which seeks to amend the Criminal code to criminalize and ban symbols of hate, including the “Nazi Swastika”

… 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.

Hindus are concerned with the proposed wording of the bill, which perpetuates misunderstanding, misuse, and hatred towards the Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains and violates their civil rights and religious freedom. Specifically, the concern is with the use of the phrase “Nazi swastika” for the Nazi symbol instead of the historically accurate German word Hakenkreuz (“hooked cross” in English). The swastika is a Sanskrit word that means well-being, and as a sacred symbol, it has been used for millennia and continues to be used in Dharmic traditions (including Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains) who account for over 2 billion people worldwide.

This is the second time the Swastika issue had flared up. In June 2021, the Hindu community made a counter-petition [2] in response to a petition initiated by Randy Guzar from Cambridge, Ontario, and sponsored by Bryan May (MP, Cambridge, Liberal Caucus). Randy’s petition sought to declare the Swastika as a hate symbol associated with the Nazis.[3]

Randy Guzar’s petition declared that whereas “the swastika is an odious and hateful symbol most readily associated with the Nazi regime”, a street in Puslinch, Ontario called Swastika Trail should be renamed and “no public place in Canada should be associated with the Swastika.” Due to the strong opposition to the petition to ban the Swastika, including contact with Bryan May, MP, this petition appears to have died.

Hindus continue to advocate against the recent Bill 229, which attempts to criminalize the Swastika.[4] The community has been verbally assured by Peter Julian, MP, of a change in language. The term ‘Swastika Nazi’ is to be replaced with ‘Nazi Hooked Cross’ but the amended wording of the bill has yet to be publicly posted.

Addressing Hinduphobia with School boards

Peel District School Board

In 2021, a number of Hindu parents of students attending PDSB schools had reached out to principals and teachers, about their concerns about issues related to Hinduphobia in schools. A petition was initiated by these parents which were signed by almost 3,350 people. [5] These parents also had an online meeting with Minister Lecce about their concerns. The situation appears to be worsening at the level of the classrooms. Parents report that their children continue to face harsh and hurtful comments in classes based on prejudice and hate. A PDSB teacher reports observing a group of students in her class trying to convert a student into their religion.  Teachers and parents need to be supported to even report such incidents to school administration, let alone know how to label or address such incidents appropriately in schools.

Further to the community complaints, and a previously planned process of community consultations will diverse community on the review of their Anti-Racism and Inclusion policy, the Peel board appear to be making a sincere effort to respond to the Hindu community’s feedback. Hindu parents are currently participating in the second round of the community consultation process for its policy. The community has requested that the term Hinduphobia be included in the glossary of terms of their policy. As well, since Hindus make up a significant proportion of the population of Peel and students, teachers, and staff, the community has recommended that training and education about Hinduphobia need to be included in the policy. The community awaits the outcome of the consultation process on these two points.

Toronto District School Board

The Hindu community applauds TDSB for its inclusive and strong support in celebrating Hindu Heritage Month in its schools since November 2018. The board’s model of community engagement is excellent when compared to other school boards.  The community would recommend that OHR look into promoting the TDSB model to other boards because it allows for strong and positive community engagement. The Hindu Heritage month celebration over the past four years has included the development of Daily Tweets and Daily Announcement and activities such as Poster competitions, author readings, speakers, performances by students, and a tool kit of artifacts about Hindu tradition. The program is well organized with support from senior management, library, and staff. For those who are interested to learn more, they can contact the board and view posts on their Twitter account[6] and library website.[7]

At the same time, TDSB’s anti-racism and inclusion policy does not recognize Hinduphobia in its glossary of terms, and it’s an issue that needs to be raised and addressed with the staff and board.

Durham District School Board

The community became engaged with the DDSB recently when its Twitter handle posted a comment which said that the Swastika was a hate symbol.[8] I along, with a group of parents approached the head of the Diversity and Inclusion office and they are currently in process of negotiations. Overall, DDSB board policy has presented less commitment to engaging with parents in planning the Hindu Heritage Month, which they do not appear to organize to celebrate in their schools. Their response to parents’ offers to help with planning HHM activities has been unfruitful so far.

During discussions with senior staff on Zoom, parents were told that DDSB has not received a single report of Hinduphobia. In response, parents informed staff that they had in fact themselves reported instances of Hinduphobic attacks on their child(ren) to the teachers on numerous occasions. Parents gave details about incidents of their children being asked “Why do you worship many gods? …. is the only god”. Another comment made was “Hinduism is mostly about caste, you have untouchability”. A group of students from a different faith made Hindu students recite verses that they said had been converted the Hindus to a different faith. Hindu students faced constant hate speech against India. Comments such as “India is a shit country, a stupid country” are regularly made. Parents stated that their complaints were either not understood or not taken seriously by the teachers, parents were told that comments could be a ‘misunderstanding’ or that ‘students have a right to their opinion’.

Parents stated that overall, their complaints were dealt with ineffectively – the incidents were treated as misbehavior or bullying and not as an expression of anti-Hindu hate. More importantly, these incidents continue to happen in the classroom and Hindu students involved feel unsafe and unhappy at school. Parents spoke of their children crying and not wanting to go to school.

In response to the parents’ concerns, DDSB staff told parents at the meeting that they can contact their office to discuss their complaints; they did not view the incidents as related to Hinduphobia.

It is our contention that the reason the D&I department in DDSB has not received even a single report of Hinduphobia is because of the teachers’ lack of awareness about ‘spotting Hinduphobia’.[9] It is our assertion that the board’s incorrect data is a reflection of the absence of the term Hinduphobia in the anti-racism glossary and the teachers not being trained to recognize and handle incidents of Hinduphobia.

Our experience with DDSB schools has convinced us that Hinduphobia cannot be addressed if the problem of Hinduphobia is not recognized in the policy. In the absence of the recognition of Hindupobia, the policy has itself become an expression of Hinduphobia.

While presenting as cordial, the DDSB staff have therefore presented as unable and unwilling to engage with training staff about Hinduphobia or accept our request for the term to be included in the glossary of terms in their anti-racism policy. The following rationale was given to us:

…we are following the definitions as outlined in the Anti-Racism act which is one of the legislative policy documents that have informed the Human Rights policy. To exceed that at this time will open the door to many other groups coming forward which will delay the approval of the policy. As we update these documents as part of the natural cycle, we can consider including language within the guiding documents. As mentioned before, the Human Rights Policy is just finishing final approvals. We will not be adjusting the policy or accompanying procedures, guidelines, etc. for the moment.

The community’s impression is that while the OHR police state that “Organizations may choose to extend protection beyond that mandated by the Code” organizations would be more inclined to include Hinduphobia in their anti-racism policy if the OHR code includes Hinduphobia in its glossary.

Peel CAS: Dalit Awareness speakers at Peel CAS

Hindu community members living in Peel are in the process of discussing their concerns about the Hinduphobic content of both the speakers on Dalit Awareness Month, in 2021 and 2021. These work and profile of these speakers include the portrayal of Hindus as oppressive in general and blaming Hindu religion, rather than social conditions as the root cause of class oppression. The role of British colonial policy is not mentioned whereas they focus on teaching the inflammatory Hinduphobic ideology ‘Brahmanical’ to denigrate and shame ordinary Hindus in North America, who have nothing to do with the problems that exist in Indian society across all religions.[10]

The community is deeply disappointed by the lack of response from the Diversity and Inclusion department about their concerns. As well, Peel CAS has presented as completely closed to any discussion about staff training about Hinduphobia. The community is in considering the next steps.

Addressing Hinduphobia at Peel Police

The Hindu community has a long history of engagement with the Peel police because over 5% of Peel’s population is Hindu. During the past year, there have been some important cases that have upset the community. A number of Hindu community members participated in the community consultation process with Peel police in March 2022 to express their concerns about the lack of recognition of Hinduphobic incidents and attacks on Hindu individuals and temples.

The following excerpt is taken from a community newspaper:[11]

In February 2022, Deepak Punj, an Indo-Canadian media person, and host of a Punjabi-language talk show network in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) was assaulted by a group of three persons, for apparently criticizing pro-Khalistan elements in Canada. he day prior, he had featured a show during which he had criticized the display of Khalistan flags and anti-India slogans during a vigil in Brampton, a GTA town, on Sunday. That, he told the Hindustan Times, appeared to be the provocation for the attack. “They asked me if I did a show on this topic, and then attacked me.” One of the as yet unidentified assailants was armed with a handgun, while another hit Punj on the head with an empty beer bottle and punched him. Punj said he reported the assault to local law enforcement and it was being investigated.

The community has expressed its frustration with the lack of an arrest in this case. They have had a meeting with the police to express their concerns.

Over a period of about 6 months ending in February 2022, a series of about a dozen break-and-enter incidents happened at Hindu temples. The community was upset that even before the investigation was complete, the police had declared on Twitter that “There is no evidence to suggest that these crimes are hate-motivated.” [12]

Even after three Sikh persons were arrested, Peel Police has continued to maintain that the thefts were not hated crimes. The community disagrees because the videos of the incidents show the criminals walking with shoes on the temples’ sacred alter, ripping jewelry from the deities, and smashing temple premises and articles around the alters. It appears that attacks on Hindu temples not being referred to as hate crimes are due to political and social sensitivity related to the criminals being from the Sikh community.

This is in contrast to attacks on places of worship of other faiths when incidents are labeled as hate crimes

Concluding Remarks and Recommendations

In this 10-part series of posts, I have attempted to provide a picture of Hinduphobia faced by Hindus. At the same time, I would like to support the following statement by Hindu scholar, Jeffery Long.

To assert that a Hinduphobic discourse exists, and to critique that discourse, is not to say that Hindus and Hinduism can never be on the receiving end of legitimate criticism. At the same time, any discourse that is built upon or that serves to cultivate fear and hatred is likewise an impediment to God-realisation, whether it is Hinduphobia or phobia of some other religion or ideology. Even the critique of Hinduphobia ought to be pursued not out of fear or hatred of any individual.

Hindus in Canada are mostly open-minded and introspective because debate and dialogue are a tradition in Hindu philosophy. Hindus would welcome further engagement with the OHRC (Ontario Human Rights Commission) about how their concerns can be addressed while keeping an open mind about their own biases or limitations in understanding the scope and mandate of the OHRC. The Hindu community at large feels that Hinduphobia is rampant in Ontario and across Canada. Hindus are collectively requesting OHRC and the Govt. of Canada to commission a comprehensive study on Hinduphobia in Canada to understand the extent and nature of Hinduphobia and launch a plan to educate all Canadians, including in schools, to address Hinduphobia and to recognize historical events such as the genocide of Kashmiri Hindus in the 1990s to publicly show support for the rights and freedoms of Hindu Canadians.

  1. Bill C-229
  3. Link to Randy’s e-petition can be viewed here:
  4. The significance of the Swastika to the dharmic traditions of Buddhists, Jains and Hindus is explained in this brochure.
  6. Hindu Heritage Month is @tdsb_hhm
  9. A brochure on “Spotting Hinduphobia is attached in Appendix B
  10. Please read this article to learn more about why Brahminical is a slur.
  12. February 14, 2022

Go directly to specific parts of this series
  1. Part 1: Hinduphobia in Ontario and Canada – Introduction
  2. Part 2: Why HRC does not fully address the problem of Hinduphobia
  3. Part 3: What is Hinduphobia?
  4. Part 4: A Theoretical framework to understand Hinduphobia
  5. Part 5: Generalized Hinduphobia
  6. Part 6: Appropriation and lack of acknowledgment of positive contributions of Hindu civilization
  7. Part 7: Canada’s White Only History policy: overcoming a legacy of Racism
  8. Part 8: Hinduphobia in the Media
  9. Part 9: Hinduphobia in Academia/Universities
  10. Part 10: Examples of Hinduphobic Incidents in Canada

Dr. Ragini Sharma, PhD, has worked for over 25 years with individuals, families and communities of diverse backgrounds to support their human dignity and for their economic, social and political rights. She is a passionate educator of Hinduism and has represented Hindu perspective at numerous interfaith events.

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