Incident followed vandalism of Gandhi statue as city officials decide whether to re-erect after investigation
On Jan. 31, an event was held in Davis’ Central Park to support the park’s Mohandas K. Gandhi statue after its recent vandalism. The statue has been controversial since its installation in 2016, when some community members expressed discomfort with Gandhi’s personal history, including his racist remarks and his sleeping naked beside female relatives.
City of Davis Councilmember Dan Carson explained that the current status of the investigation regarding the vandalism is ongoing.
“At our City Council meeting [on Feb. 2nd], our police chief indicated that the investigation is continuing,” Carson said. “He made it very clear that we’re not investigating any particular ethnic group of people or anything like that. That’s not something that we do.”
Easan Katir, the California advocacy director of the Hindu American Foundation attended the event and explained that a car rally was arranged, in which about fifty cars drove down B Street and ended at Central Park. Various leaders from the Indian community and Katir himself were set to speak at the event.
Carson further explained the City of Davis Mayor Gloria Partida, Vice Mayor Lucas Frerichs and the City Council were invited to speak at the event to reinforce that they don’t endorse the vandalism.
“We condemn the vandalism that destroyed the statue,” Carson said. “We don’t support actions that preclude the destruction of property.”
Katir said that protestors of the statue stood next to the stage and chanted with bullhorns while the speakers were still presenting.
“It was actually very chilling and intimidating,” Katir said. “I don’t think it was quite right to go on, but that’s what happened.”
Katir noted his personal sadness at seeing the statue vandalized and potentially destroyed.
“Gandhi is accepted and world-renowned as the symbol of the peaceful, nonviolent resolution to problems and with that simple principle, he freed nations,” Katir said. “[My friends and I] were very sad to see it destroyed.”
Sacramento community organizer, resident and third-year student at UC San Diego Harkomal Nijjer had an opposing viewpoint regarding the statue. She noted that protests against the Gandhi statue have been ongoing.
“There has been a lot of community work for the Mahatma Gandhi statue to be removed before,” Nijjer said. “I’m relieved that my community and all the communities surrounding Davis don’t have to see him glorified into a hero.”
Nijjer further commented on the issue.
“I think people are rightfully angry that the city is choosing to instead listen to [political action committees] that are demanding for that statue to be reinstated,” Nijjer said. “[The community] has been telling them for years that they don’t want that statue there anymore because it does not represent peace.”
Katir said that he considers the statue of Gandhi as a representation of peaceful resolutions to problems.
“That’s why we want Gandhi there,” Katir said. “It’s because he stands for nonviolent resolutions to problems, which I think is a very important thing in the world.”
Nijjer noted the importance of listening to members of the community from where a controversial figure is coming from.
“I think it’s important when we’re regarding figures of different societies that we understand the context and perspective of people from that community that that figure is from,” Nijjer said. “It’s not fair to take this figure and put him on a pedestal.”
Carson noted that the state of the statue is still unknown, so it won’t return to Central Park in the near future, regardless of what is decided.
“No one has assessed the condition of the statue to know whether it’s repairable or not, and right now it’s a piece of evidence in a crime investigation,” Carson said. “It’s going to take some time for that investigation to occur.”
Carson further noted that the City of Davis plans to discuss the topic with the community before reaching a final decision.
“We’ll be having discussions with folks in the community one-on-one and in other ways to understand what the people would want to happen,” Carson said. “At this point, those conversations need to occur.”
Carson emphasized the importance of understanding differences of opinion on controversial topics.
“We understand that we’ve got a community with a range of views and values, but our expectation is that everyone will be respected in person and in shared spaces like a community park,” Carson said. “We want Davis to be a place where everyone feels safe, and the violence that occurred with the destruction of the statue we believe shatters this sense of safety.”
Written By: Jelena Lapuz — firstname.lastname@example.org