In a dismaying trend, memorials to the late Mahatma Gandhi across the country are coming under regular attack. The past few weeks have seen multiple statues vandalized in cities across the country. On February 05, 2022, his life-sized bronze statue located in New York City’s popular Union Square was defaced with black paint. This was followed in short order by an attack on February 8, 2022, on the statues of Gandhiji in both Chicago as well as San Francisco.
Making matters worse, these crimes have occurred during Black History Month, an affront to both the Mahatma as well as the late Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. — two public figures and global leaders who sought to eradicate hate on the basis of race, religion, and creed, via non-violent means.
Even more, unfortunately, these are not isolated incidents. As we reported last year, on January 26, 2021, Mahatma Gandhi’s statue in California’s City of Davis was brutally attacked, with half of the face severed/missing and the statue sawed off at the ankles to topple it over. In 2020, there were two separate attacks in Washington, DC, on the statue at Gandhi Memorial Plaza. It was first vandalized on June 4, 2020, and later defaced on December 12, 2020.
While the Indian American community is in shock and dismay, the attacks have also drawn sharp reactions from African American Hindu leaders who have long been inspired by the values and teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. Expressing his sorrow, Balabhadra Bhattacarya Dāsa (Benny Tillman), President of the Vedic Friends Association recalled how, some years ago he had the fortune of attending the annual Gandhi/King celebration in Atlanta, when Coretta Scott King, the wife of the civil rights icon, was the keynote speaker. According to Dāsa, at the event, Mrs. King clearly stated that “my husband MLK, was a disciple of Gandhi.” He added that “as an African American practitioner of the Hindu Dharma, I am deeply offended that anyone would disrespect Mahatma Gandhi, who inspired MLK to take up the mission of non-violence, which inspired major changes in our society that are still positively impacting our lives today.”
Martin Luther King Jr. drew primary inspiration from the Gandhian principle of nonviolence in his own civil rights activism. Many have reminded us of Dr. King’s writings, where he stated, “While the Montgomery boycott was going on, India’s Gandhi was the guiding light of our technique of nonviolent social change.” Today, the largest number of Gandhi statues outside India are to be found in the United States.
Reacting to the news, the Consulate General of India, San Francisco said, “We condemn in strongest terms the attempts to deface the statue of Mahatma Gandhi at The Embarcadero, San Francisco. We thank San Francisco Police Department for acting swiftly to prevent further damage to the statue. The matter has been further taken up with the local authorities as well as the U.S. State Department, for strict action against the miscreants responsible for the despicable act.”
The U.S. State Department has also expressed concerns over the attacks and is asking law enforcement to investigate the incidents, according to a spokesperson.
This series of hateful acts have created fear and drawn condemnation from a number of organizations. Dr. Sudarshan Kapoor, emeritus professor at Fresno State and a peace activist said, “recent acts of desecration and vandalism are not random acts of violence, these are planned by well-known separatist fringe groups and their followers using different names. These groups may have issues with the Government of India. As they are not able to settle such issues, they have made Gandhi, particularly his statues, an easy target of provocation. They fail to understand that such acts of violence create more animosity and anger within the Indian community and the community at large.”
Ajay Shah, President of the World Hindu Council of America (VHPA) and Convenor of American Hindus Against Defamation (AHAD) said, “Mahatma Gandhi and the freedom movement he spearheaded served as the inspiration for Dr. Martin Luther King and the American Civil Rights movement. The MLK Memorial in Atlanta, Georgia has an area dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi. It is no coincidence that Mahatma Gandhi’s statue was desecrated during Black History Month. The perpetrators of this act and their sponsors are sending the message that they have not accepted peace, human rights, freedom, and equality of all human beings.”
The topic is one that requires a renewed focus and action. In the case of Davis, it was heartening to see the City’s plans to replace the broken statue with a new one. It is to be hoped that such attacks will draw attention to the hate directed at indigenous minorities in all walks of their life that frequently goes unnoticed. The statues of Gandhi are a symbol of equality. Those who attempted to desecrate his image are indicating their aversion to seeing a society where equality reigns supreme among all people.
Pushpita Prasad is a Contributing Editor at India Currents, with a background in media, technology, and history.