A group of Indian Americans holding a somber vigil to condemn the destruction of a statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Davis, California were stunned to see a group of raucous counter-protesters yelling insults against the global apostle of peace and nonviolence.
The 6-foot tall, 294-kg bronze statue was found sawed off from the ankle and face, lying on the ground on January 27 at the Central Park in Davis in an act of vandalism that saddened everyone from the average Indian in California to the Indian embassy in Washington, DC.
To condemn the vandalism, local Indian-American community organizations hosted a peaceful vigil to register their anguish at the senseless act of malice against the globally revered Mahatma.
However, the vigil was met with brute yelling by a large group.
“They arrived around 10:30am. Big crowd, over a hundred people, and started playing bhangra music,” Venkat Nagam of the Indian Association of Sacramento told indica News.
“Using handheld mics and loudspeakers, they interrupted the people those were there peacefully protesting the destruction of the statue.”
“I never saw such a thing…. No respect at all,” Nagam added.
Davis deputy police chief Paul Doroshov told indica News that he was present at the park at that moment. “The counter protesters were yelling, a lot of yelling, while there was a peaceful vigil on in the park,” Doroshov said.
Asked if any arrests were made, the deputy police chief said: “No one engaged in any kind of violence, so they [police officers] did not get involved.”
Asked about progress in the police probe into the statue vandalism, Doroshov said: “We have detectives assigned to this. We are asking to inform if anyone knew anything.”
Asked what kind of case has been registered, he said: “Right now it is classified as vandalism but that could change depending on what facts we discover.”
Asked if it was a hate crime, the officer said: “To determine that we need an idea who may have done this and find out the reason why.”
He pointed out that the night of January 26 was a stormy one and the culprit seemed to have chosen that night because there was anyway a lot of noise from the howling wind.
The deputy police chief said the cops took the incident “very seriously right away.”
“For most of the vandalism, we don’t assign a detective and we don’t go out and see a bunch of evidence. We know the significance [of the destruction of the statue] and it’s a very serious matter to us, “ Deputy Doroshov told indica News.
“Without disclosing a lot and detail of actual evidence of the crime, I can tell you — and I have personally looked at it and we are pretty confident that is done by a human being and it wasn’t the storm,” he said.
“We urged anybody with information about that — may hear rumors on social media — they are encouraged to call us,” he said.
Easan Katir, advocacy director in Calcifornia for the Hindu American Foundation, California told indica News that he was part of the peace vigil to express sadness at the destruction of the Gandhi memorial in Central Park in the city of Davis and urge the city council to restore the statue as soon as possible.
“Gandhi is a worldwide symbol of violence. We were sad that there was a beautiful statue and that was destroyed,” said Easan.
Asked if he had any idea who the counter-protesters were, Easan said they gave an interview to kcra.com.
Nanak Bhatti of an outfit called the Organization of Minorities in India, in an interview to kcra.com, said that they were angry that the statue has been desecrated but they were against the statue per se.
“Why did they put it over here? Does the city of Davis deserve this statue? No,” Bhatti was quoted as saying.
Congressman Ro Khanna (Democrat, California), the Democratic vice chair of the India Caucus, condemned the vandalization of the Gandhi statue.
“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. This was a shameful act,” Khanna said in a statement.
“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.”