March caused “a change of heart,” says student, as Gandhi bust at Central California university stirs dissent
Fresno, CA, Oct. 9, 2013 – October dawned to brewing controversy as California brims with protests against public celebration of Mohandas Gandhi. The latest is at Fresno State University (FSU) where an October 5 celebration planned in honor of the Indian politician’s 144 birthday was cancelled when students responded by organizing a “March for Truth on Gandhi.”
Nearly 25 people, mostly local students, gathered outside the giant Gandhi bust in Fresno State’s Peace Garden early Saturday morning. They were met by Dr. Sudarshan Kapoor, who asked students to leave. Responsible for installing the Gandhi bust in 1990, Kapoor also organized Saturday’s Gandhi celebration but said the event was cancelled last minute. Piles of abandoned tables and chairs suggested the truth of that information.
Students ignored Kapoor and continued to march, first circling the Peace Garden before moving to the more heavily trafficked entrance to Henry Madden Library. Demonstrators were diverse. Several South Asian communities were represented by Punjabis, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Dalits, who were joined by Caucasians and African-Americans. “We find a lot of unity and real peace in telling the truth instead of experimenting with it, as Gandhi boasted of doing,” said Pieter Singh, a demonstrator from Sacramento.
Simranjit Singh, co-director of Fresno’s Jakara Movement chapter and an FSU civil engineering student who helped coordinate the march, said: “Like most people, my perception of Gandhi was misinformed and extremely false. Now I’m aware of the alternative and factual history of the man, I want others to see Gandhi for the racist, sexist, and bigot he really was.” A repeat protestor, Jada Bernard, agreed, saying: “Why is Gandhi celebrated in a peace garden in America? What did his true efforts have to do with either peace or America?”
Video of Jada Bernard: “From King to Gandhi”
Demonstrators waved placards with shocking statements, such as “Gandhi Was a Child Molester,” “Gandhi Hated Blacks,” “Gandhi: Father of Apartheid,” “Gandhi to Hitler: ‘You Are Not a Monster,’” and “Gandhi: Creator of India’s Poor, Ambedkar: Father of India’s Poor.” Passing students soon began identifying with demonstrators, including a group of Nigerians and a Ukrainian man on a bicycle. One African-American student named Perry, said: “With the information that they provided me, basically I have had a change of mind and a change of heart about this man, and I want to incite others.”
Video testimony by Perry
One demonstrator, FSU pre-med major Puneet Singh, said: “The march was eye-opening and current, especially due to the various abuses committed against women and minorities in India. The untold story of Gandhi sheds light on how his facade promoted here in the west ‘white washes’ India to allow it to continue its persecution of women and minorities unchecked.”
The march lasted around two hours as demonstrators passed out flyers and engaged many passersby in lengthy conversations. Bhajan Singh, Director of Organization for Minorities of India, sat with Kapoor for a long, quiet conversation to discuss reasons for the march. Afterwards, Singh said:
“Because he was upset about the march, I asked Dr. Kapoor to help host a forum at Fresno State so scholars can discuss facts about Gandhi in a dignified and respectful manner. He declined by saying that would be spreading hatred. We love telling the truth about history and understand how that affects people alive today. Dr. Kapoor’s confusion of academic dialogue with spreading hatred is concerning considering his commitment to Gandhi despite his sexism, racism, and casteism.”
Flyers distributed by demonstrators listed the following six reasons to march for truth on Gandhi:
1. Gandhi is a disgrace to nonviolence and the memories of other peace garden personalities like Dr. King and Cesar Chavez because of his actions to promote racism, sexism, and casteism.
2. Gandhi’s sexual exploitation of his teenage grandnieces scars the treatment of Indian Women today through rape and abuse.
3. Gandhi tried bribing and threatened a Californian woman not to reveal his involvement in the murder of her husband.
4. Gandhi hated black Africans and worked to racially segregate them from the rest of society.
5. Gandhi participated in every major war of his lifetime and was rejected for a Nobel Peace Prize five times.
6. Gandhi preached the Hindu caste system’s “fundamental divisions of society.”
Protests demanding truth on Gandhi have been brewing in California for years. A demonstration occurred over a Gandhi statue in Cerrito, CA on September 14 and a statue in San Francisco has been the site of multiple demonstrations. In 2010, plans for a statue proposed for the grounds of the State Capitol in Sacramento were quickly derailed after opponents spoke with legislators. Statues in Ottawa, Flint, London, and Johannesburg are among many others which have faced opposition.