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Zara, UK Fashion Chain, Withdraws "Swastika" HandBags

September 19, 2007
B Shantanu

The Zara fashion chain owned the Spanish company Inditex has withdrawn a recently introduced handbag from its stores after the design was discovered to contain swastikas

From the BBC website:

A customer who returned the bag to the shop when she noticed the symbol said staff had been “shocked” to see it.

As well as being the Nazi symbol, the swastika is also a religious symbol for Hindus and Buddhists.

…Rachel Hatton, said, “I was quite shocked - I took it back to the shop.” “Then obviously the shop assistants were quite shocked as well to find out this symbol was on there - it was not something that they’d noticed either straight away,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“Had the symbol been seen we would not have sourced that particular handbag,” said Zara spokesperson Susan Suett.

It appears that:

  • Zara may not have selected the handbag had the “swastika” been visible before the order was placed
  • The staff may not have sold it had they noticed the “offending symbol” which so “shocked” them
  • There is no difference between the Nazi “swastika” and the Hindu and Buddhist one
  • Selling anything with a “swastika” on it may be asking for trouble (- does not matter if it is the Hindu symbol which is revered by millions of people - oh, but they are all “Third-world”, aren’t they?)

Of course, no one bothers to dig a bit and find out if the symbols are actually identical and how an ancient religious symbol became associated with Nazism in the first place.

For those of you who do want to find out, please read: Of Swastika, Nazis and sacred symbols.

Compare and contrast this response to another “incident” in the UK from about two years ago: ”Harrods apology over Hindu bikinis“.  Oddly, while a”Nazi symbol” evokes (justifiable but in this case, probably mis-directed) shock, people are surprised that Hindu Gods on bikinis caused offence.

:-(

Might it be something to do with our famed “tolerance” and perception that Hindus are “a community (that) can (be) victimise(d) with impunity?

Until about three years ago, B Shantanu was like any normal, middle-class Indian - long on debate/discussion and short on action. Something happened two years ago that changed all that for him. He still has to work, eat and sleep like most of us but for the past three years, he has been trying very hard to change a few things. A lot of that effort comes through his writings http://satyameva-jayate.org/ but the pen only goes so far. Someday, he hopes to be able to do a lot more to bring about fundamental and lasting change. To read more of what he writes on, please visit http://satyameva-jayate.org/
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#1
Deepti Lamba
URL
September 19, 2007
02:40 PM

Me thinks there is a difference between something that reminds people of mass genocide and something that merely offends certain faith driven sensibilities.

#2
Jawahara
URL
September 20, 2007
08:34 AM

Also, Zara is a European shop and needs to cater to what offends its major customers. If and when they come to India they might modify what they sell in their Indian outlets as well.

#3
smallsquirrel
September 20, 2007
09:25 AM

I covered the whole swastika thing on a post here a while back, and the responses were nothing if not animated.

Anyway, I think a lot of people do not know the difference between the nazi-type swaztikas and the hindu ones. clearly the one on this bag is not the nazi kind, but I would still not carry it around in europe...

I do not understand your snarky attitude about people not wanting to carry it. I can understand your upset at the fact that european companies inappropriately put hindu deities on things like underwear/bikinis. I also found that outrageous, and not to defend it.. but to many ignorant westerners, images of krishna and ganesha resemble cartoon-like images. but no need to be snarky about people not wanting to carry the handbag....

#4
B Shantanu
URL
September 20, 2007
09:39 AM

@ Deepti: I did not mean to compare but I feel depiction of Hindu deities on bikinis goes a bit beyond being "merely offensive".

***
@ Jawahar: Point taken.
***

@ smallsquirrel: I dont know why you got this impression - (about my) "snarky attitude about people not wanting to carry it" (I am behind the times when it comes to slang but I am guessing at the meaning).

I can understand (and sympathise with) why some people may not want to carry it - but before being "shocked" I hope they had a chance to think/realise that the symbol has a deep symbolic significance to a very large number of people and it is an integral part of art and culture - albeit of a land that is thousands of miles away (and to a lot of people is still about beggars and cows on the streets).

#5
smallsquirrel
September 20, 2007
09:54 AM

you said:

Selling anything with a "swastika" on it may be asking for trouble (- does not matter if it is the Hindu symbol which is revered by millions of people - oh, but they are all "Third-world", aren't they?)

which I thought was rather snippy (or snarky, as it were)... like I said, I can understand your point, but hey... I live in India, I understand the meaning of the swastika before it was perverted by the nazis and I STILL would not carry it on a bag. so.... just because someone doesn't want to carry it does not mean that they think all indians live in mud huts and ride elephants all day

#6
Ruvy in Jerusalem
September 20, 2007
11:55 AM

B. Shantanu,

I realize that the swastika has been a holy symbol to Hindus for millennia - and that it only became associated with the evil of Nazism because the Nazis took their ideas from a theosophist named Madame Blavatsky who lived in Madras for a time, and she grabbed up various symbols from Hinduism in constructing her philosophy; the Nazis adopted her symbol.

Having said all that, unless I saw a handbag of the type illustrated used in India, or another country where Hindus were a large percentage of the population, like the Guyanas or Fiji or in Natal in South Africa, I'd be offended. Hitler just wrecked the swastika for me. My family died under the sign of the swastika. And I will not forget that.

In no way am I looking down my long Jewish nose (which isn't all that long) at Hindus in saying this. In Israel, one does not use the + sign in addition: the top of the plus sign is shaved off so as not to write a cross. Anybody wearing a cross (other than a Christian) is criticized here. The Christians and their persecution of my people have ruined even the + sign for us. The Nazis and their death camps accomplished the same for the swastika.

IN INDIA, were I to see I swastika, I'd keep quiet. To Hindus, this symbol does not mean jack-booted thugs murdering my people (well, there are exceptions, as I've recently learned). Were I to see one in a picture of a Hindu temple in Los Angeles, or anywhere else where it is truly a symbol of holiness, I'd keep quiet for the same reason. BUT EVERYWHERE ELSE the swastika means Nazism. And to me, Nazism means an ultimate evil to which man sinks.

You can blame Hitler for that. Now you now why Jews say y'mH sh'm (may his name be erased) after saying Hitler. And now you know why you should do the same.

PS. Sticking pictures of Hindu gods or goddesses on bikinis is offensive in the extreme. Like a lot of things in secular western culture, it stinks of disrespect.

#7
B Shantanu
URL
September 20, 2007
02:36 PM

@ smallsquirrel (#5): I see. And I may have compounded my "snarkiness" by my follow-up comment (#4)...

Anyways, the point that I was trying to make (which possibly was not clear - my fault) is that things/objects/symbols may have different meaning for different people and it would be nice if all of us could make an effort to understand the others' viewpoint...

***

@ Ruvy: I can fully understand where you are coming from, and your anguish and discomfort. If I were in your shoes, I would have most likely felt the same way.

But you said something VERY IMPORTANT right at the beginning...which is, "I realize that the swastika has been a holy symbol to Hindus for millennia"

this was THE POINT..

I appreciate that.

I am not sure if the customer and the shop assistants who were shocked realised that or made an attempt to understand how the symbol might have made its way into a handbag.

Here is what MIGHT have happened.

Zara, like many other retailers sources designs and items from all over the world including India (See Slide 39 in this presentation

http://www.som.surrey.ac.uk/research/groups/globalizingretailseminar/Tokatli.pdf )

In India where the design was sourced from, the swastika of course has a completely different association - and is commonly found in art, craft items and in folk as well as contemporary designs.

It was part of the "design" that you see on the bag (thanks for including the picture, Aaman).

The design itself was just one amongst the several that were "approved" by a buyer - possibly from a sample. That is how it ultimately made it on the handbags sold in London.

Note that this is a "possible explanation"...

I may be wrong but I find it hard to believe that anyone in Europe would knowingly and deliberately put such a symbol on a bag and try to sell it in the shops.

***

@ Jawahara (#2): Sorry I mis-spelled your name in my earlier comment (#4). Looks like Zara may turn up in India in a few months time. Check the link:

http://richardorange.net/?p=47

***
Everyone, Thanks for contributing to the discussion.

#8
B Shantanu
URL
September 20, 2007
02:56 PM

@ smallsquirrel (#5): I see. And I may have compounded my "snarkiness" by my follow-up comment (#4)...

Anyways, the point that I was trying to make (which possibly was not clear - my fault) is that things/objects/symbols may have different meaning for different people and it would be nice if all of us could make an effort to understand the others' viewpoint...

***

@ Ruvy: I can fully understand where you are coming from, and your anguish and discomfort. If I were in your shoes, I would have most likely felt the same way.

But you said something VERY IMPORTANT right at the beginning...which is, "I realize that the swastika has been a holy symbol to Hindus for millennia"

this was THE POINT..

I appreciate that.

I am not sure if the customer and the shop assistants who were shocked realised that or made an attempt to understand how the symbol might have made its way into a handbag.

Here is what MIGHT have happened.

Zara, like many other retailers sources designs and items from all over the world including India (See Slide 39 in this presentation

http://www.som.surrey.ac.uk/research/groups/globalizingretailseminar/Tokatli.pdf )

In India where the design was sourced from, the swastika of course has a completely different association - and is commonly found in art, craft items and in folk as well as contemporary designs.

It was part of the "design" that you see on the bag (thanks for including the picture, Aaman).

The design itself was just one amongst the several that were "approved" by a buyer - possibly from a sample. That is how it ultimately made it on the handbags sold in London.

Note that this is a "possible explanation"...

I may be wrong but I find it hard to believe that anyone in Europe would knowingly and deliberately put such a symbol on a bag and try to sell it in the shops.

***

@ Jawahara (#2): Sorry I mis-spelled your name in my earlier comment (#4). Looks like Zara may turn up in India in a few months time. Check the link:

http://richardorange.net/?p=47

***
Everyone, Thanks for contributing to the discussion.

#9
[imKAT.]
September 21, 2007
03:36 PM

I wouldn't say this is a large issue, considering that the Swastika was originally a sign of peace or good luck. We can't frown upon the symbol completely just because it was also used by the nazi's. Things in the world have mutiple meanings and if we don't acknowledge that this particular symbol has a positive meaning, we are just passing judgement on that which we do not fully understand.

#10
zara
URL
March 2, 2009
09:47 AM

but it looks quite funny:)))

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