- The 6-foot-tall bronze statue in Davis Central Park was broken off from its base at the ankles and its head was missing.
Indian American lawmakers have condemned the vandalization of the Mahatma Gandhi statue in California’s Davis Central Park. On Jan. 28, the 6-foot-tall bronze statue was broken off from its base at the ankles and its head was missing. The damage was discovered by a park employee, the Davis Enterprise reported. Deputy Chief Paul Doroshov of the Davis Police Department told ABC10 that the statue has been in Central Park since 2016. The remainder of the statue was removed from the area, and a fence has been put up around the statue’s base, the Davis Enterprise report said.
The vandalism has been strongly criticized by California Congressmen Ro Khanna and Ami Bera as well as Illinois Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, and by groups like the Hindu American Foundation. The Government of India also issued a statement condemning the attack.
Khanna, the Democratic Vice Chair of the Congressional India Caucus, in a statement issued on Feb. 1 said: “Nonviolent, respectful protest was the essence of Gandhi’s life mission. To see the desecration of this magnificent statue only underscores the need for more people to study Gandhi’s teachings, not unilaterally erase him from the public discourse.” Calling it “a shameful act,” he continued: “At a moment in our history when disagreement needs to be managed with tolerance and patience, I urge everyone involved to take the time to listen and talk instead of resorting to acts of public vandalism. As the Democratic Vice Chair of the India Caucus, I will continue to work with my colleagues to build bridges across these divisions. I encourage everyone to join me in working through disagreement with dialogue and discussion, rather than resorting to violence that tears at the fabric of our society.”
Similarly, Bera said: “I condemn the vandalization of the Gandhi statue at Central Park in Davis, California. Peaceful and nonviolent protest, which was championed by civil rights leaders at home and abroad, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi, is a hallmark of American democracy. The strength of our country lies in our diversity, but also in our ability to peacefully express our opinions and differences. Vandalization and the destruction of property is unacceptable and has no place in our society.”
Denouncing the vandalization, Krishnamoorthi called on the FBI to investigate the desecration as a possible hate crime. In a statement, a copy of which was sent to American Kahani, he said: “I condemn this malicious act in the strongest terms, and I call upon the FBI to investigate it as a possible hate crime intended to intimidate Indian-Americans, among others. The desecration of a statue of Gandhi, who championed peace and non-violence and who continues to influence countless nonviolent struggles for justice including in America, serves as a sad reminder of how important his teachings remain.”
HAF California Advocacy Director Easan Katir, a former member of the Davis Business and Finance Commission, stated: “We condemn this cowardly desecration and call upon the Department of Homeland Security and FBI to investigate this hate crime, as it was likely done with the intention of intimidating the Indian American community. We urge local police to apprehend the perpetrators and call upon the city council to resurrect the statue as a statement that such destructive acts are not in harmony with our community standards.”
Katir was among those who gathered at the park on Jan. 30, during the City Council to restore the statue, KCRA3 reported. “There are many thousands of Indian Americans here in the Central Valley, and we’re all very saddened that this has happened, and we hope for restoration, we hope for justice, we hope the ideal of peace on Earth and nonviolence Gandhi stood for prevails.”
The City of Davis released a joint statement condemning the vandalism and called on the community to address grievances and differences of opinion through dialogue and compromise. The city also promised “a thorough investigation and full accountability” of whoever perpetrated the crime. “We sympathize with those who are grieving the destruction of the statue,” the statement read, adding they also “sympathize with those who have sincerely voiced their opposition to the statue and who feel unheard. But we reiterate our belief that the solution to solving such differences is never in violent acts but through compromise and dialogue.”
In India, the Ministry of External Affairs criticized the attack in strong words. “The Government of India strongly condemns this malicious and despicable act against a universally respected icon of peace and justice,” a Jan. 30 statement said. “The Embassy of India in Washington D.C. has taken up the matter with the U.S. Department of State for a thorough investigation into the incident and appropriate action against those responsible for this despicable act. The Consulate General of India in San Francisco has separately taken up the matter with the City of Davis and local law enforcement authorities, which have initiated the investigations. The Mayor of Davis deeply regretted the incident and informed them that they have initiated an investigation. Local Indian community organizations have condemned the act of vandalism.”
Meanwhile, the incident was praised on Twitter by Sikh separatist groups in the state like the California Sikh Youth Alliance and a user named Khalistan1984, who wrote: “Today is a good day.”
The Sacramento Bee reported a statement issued by the CSYA. “After CSYA and hundreds of Davis residents lobbied to remove Gandhi’s statue, it seems like frustrations have come to a boiling point,” the statement read. “Whilst we want to make it clear that we do not condone such behavior, there is no disputing Gandhi represents racism, anti-Blackness and is a blatant affront to Davis’ values. These type of statues honoring someone who so many find reprehensible do not belong in a city that prides itself on inclusivity and diversity.”
A petition last summer called for the removal of a Gandhi bust from California State University, Fresno, the Bee reported. As per the report, San Joaquin Memorial High School student Akhnoor Sidhu started an online petition that garnered more than 6,000 signatures asking for the removal of the bust.
In a June 21, 2020 tweet, California Sikh Youth Alliance said “the Sikh Youth will continue to pressure cities till Gandhi Statue’s are removed across the state, adding that the City of Davis “should be on notice.”
News reports say the Davis park statue has been a target of repeated protests and vandalism. Last June, in the wake of racial justice protests that targeted Confederate and white supremacist statues across the United States, the Gandhi statue was spray painted with expletives and the word “rapist,” the Davis Enterprise reported.
In 2016, the proposal to erect the statue ignited a debate in the small Northern California city. ABC10 reported at the time that after Davis Mayor Pro Tempore Brett Lee approved the proposal of the statue in February 2016, a public outcry both for and against the statue ensued.
Steven Macias, Outreach Coordinator of the Lathrop, California-based Organization for Minorities of India (OMI), told ABC10 that placing Gandhi’s statue in public would be offensive. “Gandhi is a symbol of oppression to many of the Indian people he represents,” Macias said. Bhajan Sing, also with OMI, said Gandhi is not the person history has made him out to be. “This guy has nothing to do with peace, he believed in violence, he was a sexist, he believed in racism,” Singh told ABC10.
Supporting the statue, Madhavi Sunder, a professor at the UC Davis Law School and a member of the Davis Board of Education told ABC10 that the accusations against Gandhi are unfounded and coming from members outside the Davis community. “Mahatma Gandhi has been an international symbol of fighting for justice and equality for all people through peaceful means,” Sunder said, and added “the statue should be a welcomed gift for Davis to display proudly.”
However, on Aug. 23, 2016, the Davis City Council considered putting the statue placement on hold until more public comment could be heard. “In a split decision, the council voted to go ahead with the project,” ABC10 reported.
The statue was installed on Oct. 2, 2016 and was paid for by the government of India, the ABC10 report said. “The project is a part of a program funded by the Hindu Nationalist Party of India, which is funding similar projects to erect statues of Gandhi all over the world,” the report said.
Last December, the Gandhi statue outside the Embassy of India was desecrated by Sikh vandals. On Dec. 12, 2020, posters and banners were propped up against the statue and a yellow flag was sighted draped over it. Videos posted on social media showed people were seen waving ‘Khalistani’ flags and raising pro-Khalistan slogans at the spot.