American Statue of Gandhi, Who Fought Racial Discrimination, Vandalised in Protests About Racism

Social Commentary

American Statue of Gandhi, Who Fought Racial Discrimination, Vandalised in Protests About Racism

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

The protests in the USA over the latest instance of police brutality, the killing of African American man George Floyd, have fully captured the attention of social media over the last few days. Images and videos of police clashing with protesters across the country have stirred even Bollywood celebrities into solidarity.

But on Wednesday, the protestors seemed to have made a few enemies back home, after reports suggested that the statue of Mahatma Gandhi outside the Indian embassy in Washington DC was targeted by vandals, who covered it in profanities.

The US Ambassador to India offered his “sincerest apologies” for the incident on Twitter, and announced that the United States park police would investigate further.

Whether the vandals who spray painted profanities on the now-covered-up statue were associated with the #BlackLivesMatter movement is also under investigation.

The incident took place a couple of days ago, and has led to a typical social media debate back home. A few pointed out the sad irony that the Mahatma’s statue was attacked, even though he fought all his life for nonviolent protests and civil disobedience.

A minister in Bihar, agreed with this view, tweeting that Gandhi had “actively fought racial discrimination” in South Africa, and that his own experiences with racial discrimination had helped “shape the Satyagraha movement”.

But for others, the incident was another opportunity to revive the age-old claims — that Mahatma Gandhi was racist in his younger days. A few took to Twitter to label the father of the nation, who is credited with securing India’s independence, “a British stooge”.

Two years ago, another statue of Mahatma Gandhi had made headlines after it was removed from a University in Ghana. A petition, started by professors at the university had also alleged that he was racist, and argued that an African hero should be put first.

The statue that was defaced in Washington DC was gifted to United States president Bill Clinton by former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the year 2000. It was sculpted by Indian artist Gautam Paul.

Protests, meanwhile, continue to rage in America’s capital, even as the statue is now cleaned and restored by authorities. Back home, the debate it’s sparked off isn’t likely to die down soon either.