From Ghana to California, protesters plan Oct. 2 demonstrations against the Indian icon
DAVIS, California, USA—Communities in California and Ghana are organizing demonstrations against statues of Indian political icon Mohandas Gandhi which they perceive as inappropriate idolizations of a figure they allege was a racist and a sexual predator.
Although the Indian government routinely pays to erect statues of Gandhi around the globe, a group of African academics at Ghana University hope to topple one installed on their campus in June; meanwhile, Indian-Americans rallied in Davis, CA in August to protest the city government’s approval of a statue scheduled for installation next week, on October 2, which is Gandhi’s birthday.
Groups in both locations plan to publicly demonstrate against the statues.
“He was a bigot,” declared local attorney Amar Shergill in public remarks made last month at a Davis City Council meeting. “He also was a predator on members of his own family — young women. He also institutionalized caste. He helped to create an institutionalized apartheid in South Africa.”
Ghanaians echo Shergill’s concerns, especially about Gandhi’s views on race. “There is a problem with the statue in the sense that Gandhi has a racist past,” explained Ghana University Prof. Kwadwo Appiagyei-Atua as he stood next to the statue in an interview with Joy News filmed earlier this month. “In an environment where we champion the cause of racial equality, I don’t think this statue has a place here.”
In cooperation with several other faculty members, he founded a Change.org petition calling for removal of the statue. Describing Gandhi as “uncharitable in his attitude towards the Black race,” the petition concludes he “is known for his role in the establishment of the infamous caste-like apartheid system.” Over 1,500 people, many listing academic credentials, have signed since early September.
“We stand with our brothers and sisters in Ghana to make sure we don’t get victimized twice — first by Gandhi, second by his propaganda,” says Bhajan Singh. As the founding director of Organization for Minorities of India (OFMI), Bhajan has spent several years opposing similar statues all over the world. “Why is a foreign government paying to install statues of a foreign politician on American soil? Because we’re disturbed by India’s propaganda campaign to promote a sanitized version of Gandhi, especially when the country’s human rights record is so atrocious, we’ve been working since 2010 to expose the real Gandhi.” He says OFMI has campaigned for removal of his statues in San Francisco, Fresno, Cerritos, and Honolulu, and opposed installation of statues in Sacramento, Flint, Austin, Dallas, Houston, Charlotte, Harrisonburg, Reno, Las Vegas, Ottawa, Winnipeg, London, and Strasbourg.
Singh was one of dozens who attended an Aug. 30 Davis City Council meeting to speak against the statue. Proposed in February by local professor Sham Goyal and paid for by the Indian government’s Council on Cultural Relations, which has funded many other Gandhi statues across the world, the project was initially approved by the city council without ceremony — not even a press release announced it, notes Singh. When they got wind of it, however, OFMI successfully petitioned the city to reconsider the proposal and solicit public input.
Introducing himself at the meeting as “a born Dalit,” Benjamin Kaila explained: “Dalit is an Untouchable caste in India who are 350 million people who are suffering still a very inhuman life there.” He said books by Dalit civil rights leader Dr. B. R. Ambedkar caused him to realize that Gandhi “robbed the political rights of Dalits — ex-Untouchables — like me.” Acknowledging the “real life” Gandhi is different from his popularly accepted image, Kaila said, “His other face is not known outside India. He was a protected figurehead both in India and in the West. Therefore you don’t know.”
As speaker after speaker at the meeting built a case against Gandhi, two themes emerged in their objections — that Gandhi was a racist and that he was a sexual predator. Gandhi was “only crooked,” said Bhajan. “So much so he was crooked that, during the day, he used his nieces as crutches to walk his frail body, but at night he slept naked with them, he raped them — that is the international headlines of every major newspaper you can Google.” Dr. Amrik Singh of Sacramento State University concurred, adding the Nobel Peace Prize Committee released documents detailing Gandhi’s racism as a primary reason for denying him a Nobel on five separate occasions. Dr. Singh concluded: “His statue in the public square would be a direct contradiction of American values.”
Despite the objections, the Davis City Council voted 3-2 to continue with plans for installation of the statue on Oct. 2.
The recently installed Ghana statue was placed with even less consultation of the local population. Spontaneously erected in June after Indian president Pranab Mukherjee presented it to Ghana University as a gift during an official state visit, its placement prompted almost immediate outcry. Furious faculty, students, and activists took to social media to demand its removal with hashtags like #GandhiMustFall and #GandhiForComeDown and commenters on Ghanaian media sites suggesting vigilante action to pull it down.
Speaking to the BBC, Prof. Obadele Kambon said, “We would like to be part of the global movement towards self-respect.” After linking opposition to the Gandhi statue with the Black Lives Matter movement, he declared: “At the end of the day, we need images of ourselves for our own psychosocial well-being and not images of those who called us savages…. May Gandhi fall that Africa may rise!”
Protests against statues on both continents are scheduled for the 2nd, according to OFMI advisor Pieter Friedrich, who adds: “These propagandhi statues are PR pieces paid for by the Indian State to mask the ugly reality of its ongoing and habitual sponsorship of pogroms, genocides, and oppression, so next week, Ghanaians and Californians will stand together in solidarity against colonialism and supremacism.”