In protest against the vandalism of a Mahatma Gandhi statue in California’s Davis, Indian Americans on Sunday, Jan. 31, 2021, held a vigil and demanded re-installation of the statue.
Earlier this week, a statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Central Park of California’s Davis city was vandalized and desecrated by unknown miscreants.
The car rally and peace vigil was organized by Gandhi Statue for Peace Committee Davis, India Association of Davis (IAD), Indian Association of Sacramento (IAS), and other supporters, a press release from IAS said. Several Indian-American leaders expressed outrage and sadness during the rally, and called for perpetrators to be tracked and punished.
In a statement by Deputy Chief Paul Doroshov of the Davis Police Department, the statue, broken off at the ankles and the top half of its head broken off, was found by a park worker around 9 am (local time) on Wednesday Jan. 27.
Stepping up in support of the Indian community at the vigil was the Mayor of Davis Gloria Partida who said she deeply regretted the incident.
The mayor informed those at the vigil that an investigation had been launched.
“Vandalism will never be condoned. Gandhi is our inspiration and we will not allow this. Not on our watch,” the mayor added.
On Sunday afternoon, the vigil was also met with protests and outrage from some, who accused Gandhi of genocide, racism, and molestation.
“Pro-Khalistan radical groups from neighboring towns outside of Davis tried to intimidate the attendees in an attempt to stop the event and tried to assault a lady speaker at the event,” Bhaskar Vempati, president of the Indian Association of Sacramento, one of the cohosts of the event told ANI.
“Police had to be called in to control the aggressive protestors. A police report has been filed on the incident of assault on the lady speaker,” Vempati further added.
The Consulate General of India in San Francisco has separately taken up the matter with the City of Davis and local law enforcement authorities.
Speaking to ANI, Consul General of India, San Francisco T.V. Nagendra Prasad, said, “The City Council has condemned the incident and issued a statement. I did take it up separately and the city council and police authorities assured me to bring the culprits to justice. They also allowed and provided security to the vigil by the community today.”
Investigators are still unsure of when exactly the statue was torn down or what the motive may have been. “Seeing as it’s a cultural icon to a portion of the people in Davis, we are taking it very seriously,” Doroshov said.
“If anybody from the public has any information as to who did this and why, we’d really like to hear from them,” he added.
The 6-foot-3, 650-pound bronze Gandhi Statue of Peace has stood in the park since 2016.
It was a gift from the Government of India. Five years ago, the installation was met with protests and outrage from some residents and activists.
MEA said that India strongly condemns the malicious and despicable act against a universally respected icon of peace and justice, adding that its embassy in Washington DC has taken up the matter with the US Dept of State for a thorough investigation and appropriate action.
Congressman Ro Khanna, D-California, issued a statement condemning the vandalism. Khanna is the Democratic Vice Chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian-Americans.
“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,” Khanna said.
“This was a shameful act. 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,” Khanna added.
Statements from other Indian-American lawmakers, Rep. Amit Bera, D-California, and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Illinois, also condemned the vandalism and called for investigations.
In a White House press briefing, spokesperson Jan Psaki, said ,”We would certainly have concerns about the desecration of monuments of Gandhi. We would condemn the desecration and watch it closely.”
(Updated with pics Feb. 4, 2021)