The destruction of a bronze statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Davis, California on the night of India’s 72nd Republic Day has appalled the Indian-American community and the Indian government alike.
The 6-foot-tall, 294-kg bronze statue of Mahatma Gandhi, given by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, was installed at the Central Park in Davis in October 2016. Last Wednesday morning, it was found sawed off from the ankle and face, lying on the ground.
“It’s not nature’s act, it is an act of vandalism,” Dr TV Nagendra Prasad, India’s consul general in San Francisco, told indica News.
The Indian embassy in Washington, DC has taken up the matter with the Department of State for a thorough investigation into the incident and appropriate action against those responsible.
The city police learned about the incident on January 27. Davis city officials in a statement said they condemned the vandalism and sympathize with those who are grieving the destruction.
“It’s a really deplorable act, whoever has done it,” Consul General Prasad told indica News, wondering who would bear such malice against Mahatma Gandhi, the global icon of peace and non-violence.
Consul General Prasad, whose phone has been ringing off the hook since the incident, said the vandalism “has been strongly condemned… People are really perturbed. People want to reinstall Gandhi’s statue and we want to see what is the outcome of this investigation and how early they will give us some leads as to who has done this.”
Asked if it was a hate crime, Consul General Prasad said that he cannot confirm that, but the detectives are investigating. He said the mayor had assured that the culprits would be brought to justice as soon as possible.
The park has no camera and it was a stormy night. Due to the severe weather condition, the power lines in that area were shut down.
Local Indian-American community organizations have decided to host a peaceful vigil on Mahatma Gandhi’s death anniversary on January 31 in the city of Davis to condemn the vandalism.
“It’s an act of violence and Gandhiji is known for peace and non-violence,” Bhaskar Vempati, president of the Indian Association of Sacramento, told indica News. “There are some anti-social elements who want to break the harmony in the community, they have done it. They want to create a sense of fear in the community,” Vempati said.
“It’s an act of hate and we have seen people protesting [before] and there was an effort to take the statue down.”
The City of Davis, mayor, police chief and councilmembers issued a statement condemning the vandalism.
“We do not support any actions that include the destruction of property,” the statement said. “We understand that our community reflects a diversity of views and values, but we expect that everyone will extend respect to each other and to shared spaces. We are committed to creating a City that is inclusive and lives up to our principles. We work diligently to ensure the physical and psychological safety of every resident. Acts of destruction are violent and shatter this safety.”
It added: “We sympathize with those who are grieving the destruction of the statue and promise a thorough investigation and full accountability for those who committed this crime. We 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. It is our sincere desire that our community move forward with peaceful and positive discourse and reconciliation.”
Asked about opposition to the statue, Consul General Prasad agreed that there are people who are not in favor of the statue, but emphasized that no one knows or can confirm who vandalized it.
Easan Katir, California advocacy director for the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) and a former member of the Davis Business and Finance Commission, called upon the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI to investigate “this hate crime, as it was likely done with the intention of intimidating the Indian-American community.”
Sanjeev Joshipura, executive director of Indiaspora, urged the “City of Davis to immediately commence a thorough process to bring the perpetrators of this act to justice, and reinstall a statue that pays homage to this apostle of peace.”