The Ultimate Gandhian Road Trip [Updated]

Gandhi Statue 3.jpgMaybe it’s because I live in L.A. and everyone here is working on the latest greatest movie/script/t.v. pilot but I have a great idea for a docu-travel-reality show.

Picture this: As South Asians have slowly immigrated over and made their mark on America, they have also brought along their iconographic image of Mahatma Gandhi. The bronzed image of a walking and robed Gandhi, stick in hand, has been popping up all across the U.S. recently with a statue in almost every major city. Each statue erected has a unique associated story, for the most part an active first generation Indian American community rallying for a statue in their adopted hometown.

1. Riverside, CA: I started thinking about this when I literally stumbled across a Gandhi statue in front of City Hall in downtown Riverside, CA. The statue is surrounded by quotes, and plaques with Desi names surrounding it. I learned later, the local Muslim community was in uproar about the statue getting put up. A compromise was eventually reach.

Among the concessions the city was willing to make were naming a street beside the local mosque after a Muslim leader, and considering a sister-city relationship with a Pakistani city. Currently, the city has a sister relationship with Hyderabad, India.[rediff]

2. San Francisco, CA: On the Embarcadero, the statue is located right behind the Ferry Building by the trash dumpsters.

The statue was given to the city in 1988 by the Gandhi Memorial International Foundation, “a controversial non-profit organization run by Yogesh K. Gandhi,” who Gandhi family members claim was a “scam artist” and the White House called “clearly disreputable” when he asked to visit. Then in the 1990′s Yogesh then was the subject of an investigation, and the US Dept of Justice charged him with tax evasion, mail and wire fraud and perjury. The Foundation continued for a few years but then ran into more legal troubles as they found out Yogesh still had his hands in things.[yelp]

3. NYC, NY: At the southwest corner of Union Square, the statue was added in 1986, to mark Union Square’s history of social activism.Gandhi Statue.jpg4. Atlanta, GA: A match of non-violent leaders, the statue is at the MLK Jr. Historical Site.

“A statue of Mahatma Gandhi was unveiled at the Martin Luther King Jr. Historical Site in Atlanta on January 24, 1998. This historical event, taking place in the course of the 50th anniversary of India’s independence, was made possible by sustained and concerted efforts made by the National Federation of Indian-American Associations (NFIA), along with the enthusiastic support of the National Park Service of the U.S. …The Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) donated the statue, which was sculpted by Mr. Ram Sutar of New Delhi.[indianembassy]

5. Skokie, IL: Once a Jewish community, the city is Abhi’s birthplace and home to a rich diversity of 80 languages spoken in the home. The 8-foot statue was dedicated on the 135th anniversary of his birth. [sepiamutiny]

6. Milwaukee, WI: On your way to Summerfest, you can now swing by the Milwaukee County Courthouse. The statue was placed in 2002, and is “…being donated by the Wisconsin Coalition of Asian Indian Organizations. The group is raising $50,000 to pay for and maintain the statue. County Board members recently accepted the donation of the statue… According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Asian Indian population in Milwaukee rose 49% over the last decade, to 2,313 from 1,551.”[rdn]

7. Houston, TX: In Hermann Park, the 6-foot statue was “…sculpted in India by renowned artist Ram Sutar, has been gifted to the citizens of greater Houston by the Indian government as a gesture of goodwill and friendship.”[sepiamutiny]

8. Washington D.C.: Located in Dupont Circle in front of the Indian Embassy, it took a Congressional authorization to establish this monument in 1997. Then President Clinton gave the dedication speech.

Gandhi Statue 4.jpg9. Cleveland, OH: The Indian Cultural Garden in Cleveland was unveiled in October 1, 2006 with an unveiling and dedication of the Mahatma Gandhi statue. Who was at the event? Special guest seen in the photo stream linked here was Dennis Kucinich and his much younger wife.

10. Liberty State Park, NJ: The local Federation for Indian Organizations has been campaigning to erect a statue in the park since 2008.

11. Raleigh, North Carolina.

12.High Point University, North Carolina.

13. SOKA University, Mission Viejo, CA.

14. Cal State University, Fresno, CA.

15. Peace Abbey – Boston, MA.

16. International Peace Gardens. Salt Lake City, Utah.

17. Waikiki. Oahu, Hawaii.

18. UNF. Jacksonville, Florida.

19. Charlotte, North Carolina.

20. James Madison University, Virginia.

21. Lake Eola Park. Orlando, Florida.

  1. National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, TN.

  2. Mahatma Gandhi Community Center, Houston, TX.

  3. H. Lee Dennison Building, Hauppauge Hamlet, Islip, NY.

  4. Millsaps College, Jackson, MS.

26. Mahatma Gandhi Center, St. Louis, MO.

  1. The Life Experience School, Sherborn, MA.

  2. Honolulu Zoo, Honolulu, HI.

  3. Gandhi, King, Ikeda Peace Exhibit, Morehouse College, Atlanta, GA.

  4. City Park, Denver, CO.

I have counted fifteen — scratch that, THIRTY — statues scatter all across the U.S. and I am pretty sure there are plenty more that I have missed. I am fascinated by the communities that have raised the funds, the stories behind the sculptors, the photos of the inaugural events. For the most part, the statues have all been put up in the past fifteen years, a time where the first wave generation of immigrants have turned into elderly auntie and uncles that are of donor/giving back age, and this is how they chose to make their American mark. They chose to mark their American dream with a bronzed statue of Gandhi in their adopted hometown.

I find something poetic and bizarre about the whole thing. I don’t know much about Gandhi, but I do think the development of the iconography of Gandhi-the-person to Gandhi-the-bronzed-6-to-9-foot-statue somehow to me seems counter intuitive for what he believed in. This could also be because I was raised in a religion where idolatry was deeply discouraged, and the physical image of our prophet was never to be turned into an idol or icon, thus, not existing. Gandhi wasn’t a prophet, but he is revered. And here we are in 2009, with multiple Gandhis bronzed and larger than life. Maybe that’s why I find the propensity of these statues popping up in the U.S. right now as an identifying marker of hyphenated political collective identity for the South Asian American community so fascinating. It’s a part of our living history, undocumented and in the raw. Or freshly cast bronze.

What do you think, Mutiny/producers/investors? I’m sure there are other statues that you have probably heard about that I’ve likely missed (I’d appreciate links to them in the comments). It would be the ultimate road trip to hit up each of the cities the statues are in and converse with the community that initiated the effort. And I have the perfect South Asian American docu-travel-reality host for it.

This entry was posted in Art, History, Musings by Taz. Bookmark the permalink.

About Taz

Taz is an activist, organizer and writer based in California. She is the founder of South Asian American Voting Youth (SAAVY), curates MutinousMindState.tumblr.com and blogs at TazzyStar.blogspot.com. Follow her at twitter.com/tazzystar

126 thoughts on “The Ultimate Gandhian Road Trip [Updated]

  1. I was a bit worried that they would smash the Ganesha statue. . . . LOL, apparently, they could care less!

  2. “I was a bit worried that they would smash the Ganesha statue”

    yes, you have to be a indophile to not do that..!! if at all, it says a lot about your ignorance.

  3. A lot of untouchables loathe Gandhi too. They feel that he did nothing for them. Their hero is Dr Ambedkar.

    Re – Kabir’s comments, In UK Indians and Pakistanis do get on well on the whole, the biggest major riots involving Pakistanis were against the neo Nazis

    http://transcripts.cnn.com/2001/WORLD/europe/UK/07/09/riots.analysis/index.html

    and against blacks.

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/night-of-violence-in-birmingham-leaves-asians-fearing-for-their-lives-512271.html

    Re Kabir’s comments – As a Punjabi, I feel much more in common with Pakistani Punjabis than non-Punjabis. We eat the same food, same music, same everything, apart from religion.

  4. OK, I have a (well-educated) Turkish couple staying with me this weekend–I worked in a reference to the Khalifat movement and they were like–WTF–who would want that back again. They are totally in favor of banning women who wear the Hijab from attending universities–the woman in the couple said it was “not consistent with modern values.”

    They are probably the followers of Kemal Pasha who abolished the caliphate after deposing the King/Sultan in the 1920s and after defeating Greece. He was sick and tired of Arabs back stabbing the Turks in the first world war and abolished the caliphate for good. The western countries (I guess) got a win-win, they split the oil – rich Arabia into different sheikhdoms that they can manipulate and also got a pliant turkey ruled by a Europhile and got the Indian nationalists under Gandhi to look like fools. :-)

    I wonder the reaction of Gandhi and various islamists in India who were spearheading the “secular progressive” and “anti-imperialist” Khilafat movement in India on hearing this news of the abolition of Caliphate.

    Anyhow, Congress got control of history writing after Independence so that “secular progressives” in India now can call Khilafat movement as an “anti-imperialist” movement that was for Hindu Muslim unity. -)

  5. This is what I keep saying that “Indian” and “Pakistani” are socially constructed identities.
    There’s no organic or essential “Indianness” or “Pakistaniness.
    I firmly believe identies such as “Indian” and “Pakistani” are socially constructed. 60 years ago there was no such thing as “Pakistani” and we were all Indian.

    Maybe you find the terminology of Akhand Bharat off-putting, because of it’s Sanskrit origins and it’s Hindutva association. Hindutva itself has been painted as a cult of trishul waving fascist maniacs, when it is actually a philosophy of integral humanism. It’s essence is the cultural unity and civilisational commonality of the diverse faiths of the Indian sub continent. The roots of this misunderstanding are deep, and owe much to the (false) understanding of Hinduism as an exclusivist religion. I am not going to debate Hindutva any further, since this is a thread on Gandhiji, but it would be helpful to read the 1995 verdict on Hindutva by a Supreme court of India bench headed by Justice Verma to understand what I am saying.

    As of now, no sane Indian will desire a reunion with Pakistan and Bangladesh. We are fencing and patrolling the borders. But sometime in the distant future, I see the units merging together as a civilisational whole. Call it Akhand Bharat, call it Greater India, or South Asian union- it is a matter of nomenclature.

  6. @ Lupus,

    “Call it Akhand Bharat, call it Greater India, or South Asian union- it is a matter of nomenclature”.

    What you choose to call something is not simply nomenclature though. Names have political meaning, as we’ve seen with “Azad Kashmir”, “POK” or “Pakistan-Administered Kashmir” (one is clearly more neutral than the other two). In my opinion, calling something “Greater India” or “Akhand Bharat” gives India too much weight and makes it sound like India wants to swallow up its neighbors which are independent countries. In contrast, in an EU type situation, no one gets the feeling that France wants to swallow up Germany or vice versa. They’re independent countries, but then they are also part of something larger than themselves, the EU: that’s a model I can see South Asia following, nothing else.

  7. i’m not trying to change the topic or be troublesome,

    Thank you for being civil and measured albeit off-topic in your comment. We always appreciate niceness. Look, you’ve been here long enough to know, for a fact, that your comment would not have just been troublesome, it would’ve threadjacked the entire conversation, even if you didn’t intend that. This is not a blog that serves a “journalistic function”. There are better places for that. Expecting us to be reporters is entitled and misguided.

    Further off-topic comments will be deleted, though perhaps not immediately, so it would behoove all of you to not respond to them, lest your response be deleted as well, later today. I’m off to spend some time outside, as far as this ankle bracelet will allow me to go. Sigh.

  8. Hindutva itself has been painted as a cult of trishul waving fascist maniacs, when it is actually a philosophy of integral humanism.

    Very interesting spin you got there. Please explain how casteism, communalism and untouchability are shining examples of hindutva “humanism” :-)

  9. the modern Turks are well-known for their Europhilia–I guess it extends to Indophilia!

    Here we go again. I believe there are medical terms for these mental cases.

  10. The downtown core features bronzed statues of many revered locals (including hockey player Gordie Howe and politician Ray Hnatyshyn) but the most distinct statue of all features a man seemingly distant from prairie fame – a two-times-life-size bust of Mahatma Gandhi. It was erected in 2000 at the request of the area’s Indian community to promote the peaceful spirit that Gandhi represented.

    Saskatoon’s famous Gandhi statue, with the Hotel Bessborough in the background.

  11. Very interesting spin you got there. Please explain how casteism, communalism and untouchability are shining examples of hindutva “humanism” :-)

    Not interested, Halagu. Please do your own background reading. Your question itself is indicative of either deep ignorance or profound prejudice or both.

  12. As Londoners, we all walk; to the tube station, to the shops and back, to the burger stand as we stumble home after work drinks gone awry. But how many of us use walking as a form of spiritual enlightenment, or non-violent protest? We’d wager not many, aside from Mahatma Gandhi. And so it is that at long last a guided walk of London has been created in homage to one of India’s greatest historical figures. The tour focuses on the places where Gandhi once studied as a barrister, lived, ate (vegetarian restaurants, mainly) and where, undoubtedly, the seeds of his life’s journey were sowed.

    Walking With Gandhi

  13. The sad truth is that while Gandhi is an icon for enlightened americans (a very small minority) such as Martin Luther King Jr, for the great majority of americans he is nothing but an object of ridicule and contempt. An indian american who is called gandhi in america can be pretty sure that he is being racially insulted.

  14. This could also be because I was raised in a religion where idolatry was deeply discouraged, and the physical image of our prophet was never to be turned into an idol or icon, thus, not existing

    .

    More than the South Asian Islam, maybe your time in Saudi Arabia could explain your views against statuary. Anita Ahmed at UT Austin seems OK with it.

    Anita Ahmed, a member of the Gandhi Statue Initiative, said it is too early to determine whether the administration will approve plans for construction. The student group does not yet have a timeline for pushing through its initiative. The idea of erecting a statue to represent the Asian-American community has existed for years within the Asian Pacific American Coalition, Ahmed said. Each year, the graduating members hand down the newest and most relevant information regarding the statue’s creation to successive members.
  15. The sad truth is that while Gandhi is an icon for enlightened americans (a very small minority) such as Martin Luther King Jr, for the great majority of americans he is nothing but an object of ridicule and contempt. An indian american who is called gandhi in america can be pretty sure that he is being racially insulted.

    Dude, I’ve spoken to some pretty racist, fire-and-brimstone, Southern Baptist evangelicals in my day and even some of them have expressed admiration for Gandhi. I don’t see where you’re getting this.

    I think we’re all acquainted with the terms people use when they’re trying to insult us so I won’t bother repeating them.

    More than the South Asian Islam, maybe your time in Saudi Arabia could explain your views against statuary. Anita Ahmed at UT Austin seems OK with it.

    It is kind of sad that the Arab lens (and the most hardcore right-wing Arab lens at that) is so often considered to be the “standard,” “default,” or “proper” interpretation of Koran. Frankly I think South and Southeast Asian Muslims have a lot more to teach their buddies across the sea about building a harmonious and just society than the opposite, but sadly oil money talks and freedom of conscience walks with a pronounced limp.

  16. That’s awesome – I had no idea about the Lake Eola Park statue and that’s where I grew up! I will definitely visit next time I’m home! What an interesting idea for a post!

  17. Now, it must be time for Counting Down the number, the effort to put up a Statue in Sacramento has been stalled and almost canceled by the strong Ambedkarite and minority groups opposing the racist statue. In Dallas and Texas, two such statue installation has been stalled, the mayors of the city are running away from hindus to save their names and seat in the city Mayor’s office.

    Just this Oct 2 there were successful Protest One at the University of Michigan-Flint, during the installation of gandhi statue here and the second Protest at the San Francisco bay area to remove the already installed statue, protested by Ambedkarites/Buddhists and minorities of India.

    Check for more detailed information on Upliftthem Blog under gandhi- the racist not a saint.

    Now, the reason I post is to let you all gandhi folks be aware that the movement started long before Dr.Ambedkar’s death is fruition now, even India’s Sikhs are up against gandhi’s pathological life and racist practices. The hindus are not going to change their mind set but for those who really would like to understand and have a true perception of who and what gandhi means, you must read more about gandhi by his own writings and speeches, he was venomous about blacks, he was a racist. But, for Ambedkarites/Buddhists, he was the worst casteist and racist one would ever see in this world. All he did in the name of working for poor, he manipulated the system, people and the nation for his mahatma status, and the Truth is coming out now after 50 to 60 years of freedom and DrAmbedkar’s death, his work,writing and humanitarian work is helping people to understand better.

    On top of which, the recent books like gandhi under cross examination and gandhi- the mask behind divinity are also shedding great lights about the pathology of gandhi.

    Right now, you must get ready to count the statues going down one by one in numbers………………………………….when we reach out to remove all the statue, will connect then again.

    so long friends!.. Keep up with the growing knowledge and truth it will set you free, but for gandhi, truth is going to nail him down as the number one racist in the world!