London: Swastikas carved into the walls of a county hall building in a small town in the east of England have triggered a row, with a Hindu group claiming that Nazis "abused" the symbol of peace for selfish purposes.
A Freedom of Information (FOI) request by a member of public questioning their presence on the Chelmsford County Hall in Essex led to a research which found that the building pre-dates World War II and the inclusion of the symbol was within its peaceful connotations.
While Hindu groups have argued that it is time to reclaim the swastika from its Nazi association, members of the council have called an emergency meeting to discuss ways of getting them removed.
"Swastika is a symbol of wisdom and well being. The Nazis abused it for selfish purposes and ultimately they got destroyed as the power of the symbol opposed what they stood for," Anil Bhanot, director of Hindu Council UK, told PTI.
"The West has to understand its value for the welfare of all and I commend Essex County to remind people of its power so that others may not abuse it again," he added.
The word swastika is originally derived from Sanskrit and translates as "good to be".
However, Jamie Huntman, leader of the far-right UK Independence Party (UKIP) group on the Essex County Council, said he has requested an "extraordinary meeting" with the authority`s chief executive Joanna Killian to discuss the removal of symbols.
He said although he understood the swastika was an ancient Hindu symbol of peace, the County Hall was "not a Hindu temple".
According to English Heritage, the block bearing the swastikas was built by J. Stuart between 1929 and 1939 and has "imposing external architectural quality".
Mark Curteis, curator of social history and art at Chelmsford City Council, said the swastikas on County Hall were "lifted and adapted from previous designs", including those from ancient Greece, where swastikas were used.
"The swastika is still a symbol of peace," he said.
The FOI request, submitted to the council by the unnamed member of public, read: "This struck me as strange seeing as the Nazi party formed in 1933 and by March 1938 were beginning an invasion into Austria.
"...It`s potentially offencive and upsetting to those who lost loved ones in the war or those who fought for their country."
A spokesman for the county council said: "Given similar designs are featured on a number of other public buildings of similar age across the world, including churches and universities, it is important that the symbol is seen in its architectural context.