Gandhi Statue in Davis Ignites Controversy

DAVIS -- The Davis City Council's decision not to review an earlier decision to place a 6-foot-4-inch statue of iconic civil rights leader Mahatma Gandhi in Central Park has not silenced critics in the East Indian community.

The statue was donated by an Indian Government Cultural group and proponents say it's a perfect representation of the city as a city devoted to non-violence.

"He's the one who steadfastly stood that all societal conflicts can be solved peacefully," said Sham Goyal, a retired UC Davis professor who has lived in Davis for 47 years.

Although the project was approved months ago, critics of the father of modern India converged on a city council meeting asking that the statue not be put up.

Amar Shergill, and attorney and community activist from Elk Grove said he grew up worshiping Gandhi but could not ignore what he called the work of modern scholars who examined Gandhi's own writings. He says they showed he slept with young girls including his own niece and fostered dubious policies.

"Modern scholars agree that during his time in South Africa he helped institutionalize the system that later became known as apartheid and upon his return to India he institutionalized the caste system that even today results in the murder, rape and brutalization of minorities," said Shergill.

But supporters say examining Gandhi's flaws is proper, but besmirching his character based on sketchy scholarship is not.

"He inspired millions around the world, he lit up a fire for freedom in so many remote places," said statue committee member Medhavi Sunder and law professor at King Hall law school at UC Davis.

She said a majority of people around the world have a positive view of Gandhi who proponents say inspired the likes of Nelson Mandella, Martin Luther King and Albert Einstein.

They also say many other cities have erected statues in his honor.

"All these people are not idiots, they are honoring Gandhi because there is a big reason for it,"  Goyal said.

Shergill says Gandhi did some good things for civil rights and non-violent protest, but he said there is a global campaign by right leaning Hindu groups to sanitize Gandhi's image and is funding the placement of statutes.

For now the plan is for the statue to be placed on October 2, Gandhi's birthday which has been declared the International Day of Peace by the United Nations.