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Monday, October 18, 2021

Gandhi statue ignites controversy in Downtown Davis

AMAR SHERGILL / COURTESY
AMAR SHERGILL / COURTESY

Protests erupt at statue unveiling on International Day of Non-Violence

During a weekly excursion into downtown — whether for the farmer’s market or to get some much-needed shopping — passersby might notice a notable new addition to Central Park: a bronze statue of Mahatma Gandhi.

The statue, which showcases Gandhi mid-step and covered with a shawl, has garnered significant controversy both before and after the completion of its construction. Proponents of the new addition to Downtown Davis, including Madhavi Sunder, senior associate dean of UC Davis Law School and president of the Davis School Board, commend it as a physical representation of harmony.

“Gandhi is the international symbol for peace and nonviolence,” Sunder said. “The United Nations even decreed Gandhi’s birthday, [October 2], as The International Day of Non-Violence. His face is synonymous with the peace symbol.”

As for its Davis location, Sunder connects Gandhi to Davis’ history as a nonviolent city committed to maintaining a safe and peaceful space for residents.

“In fact, members of the Gandhi Statue for Peace Committee from the Davis community have lived here for decades and were even among the protesters during the Vietnam War stopping trains here in Davis,” Sunder said.

However, leading up to and at the unveiling ceremony of the statue, members of the public spoke out against the installation, citing Gandhi’s past as a reason to keep him from encroaching on the present Davis landscape.

“At a time when scholars in California, at Harvard, in Europe, Africa and India are publishing articles regarding the government of India’s propaganda campaign, which uplifts the bigotry, racism and pedophilia of Gandhi, in order to obscure their own ongoing brutalization of minorities in India, it is very curious that the city of Davis, and in particular, scholars and professors from UC Davis, would chose to ignore the repugnant history of Gandhi and to erect this statue instead,” said Amar Shergill, Sacramento attorney and opponent of the Gandhi statue.

There are some who believe this controversy is largely unwarranted. Sham Goyal, a UC Davis professor who proposed the installation of the statue to the City of Davis, believes that a statue of Gandhi in a college town will help inspire future generations, and hopes that the protests will be put to rest.

“Gandhi died 68 years ago and none of this controversy ever existed while he was alive, or even after many decades after his death,” Goyal said via e-mail.

Davis isn’t the only city facing backlash over the installation of a Gandhi statue. Academics and students at the University of Ghana are calling for the removal of a Gandhi statue that was placed on campus.

An online petition, which began circulating online as early as September, is seeking signatures to remove the statue from campus grounds. The petition cites Gandhi’s allegedly racist remarks — his letters written during his time in South Africa as suggestive of his racism — as reasoning to remove the statue. The petition has received 1,765 signatures to date.

“I think that a better option would have been to put a statue or some other piece of art in the Davis Art Center, where you can have a more complex discussion of the positive aspects of Gandhi, and also his repugnant history,” Shergill said.

Those in favor are prepared to stand by the statue of Gandhi and his message of peace, despite the negative outcry.

“Davis has always been a peace-loving town,” Goyal said via e-mail. “[…] We are a nuke-free zone. By having a Gandhi statue here, it’s making a very loud and bold statement that this city is committed to peaceful and nonviolent ways of life.”
Written By: Samantha Solomon – city@theaggie.org

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