by Amar Shergill
In response to David Greenwald’s opinion piece published on October 4, 2016 entitled “Free Speech Lost Out on Sunday”, I provide context to appropriately account for the events of the day.
Before I address the protest and Mr. Greenwald’s thoughtful remarks, I must correct his misinformed statement in the comment section that ‘both sides are liberals’. In fact, the protestors included participants of all stripes, including conservatives, liberals, Republicans, Democrats, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and Hindus, as, I believe, did the pro-statue contingent. This is an important distinction because those that protest on social justice issues cannot be conveniently boxed in as liberals. Nor should those that are silent on human rights matters be labeled conservatives.
Turning to the crux of Mr. Greenwald’s opinion piece, it was suggested that it would have been more effective if the protestors had remained silent during the unveiling ceremony and speeches. This statement neglects to acknowledge the persistent and respectful effort over many months by our coalition to oppose the statue and to attempt to avoid the acrimony that was evident on Sunday. The protest did not generate spontaneously nor without a track record of engagement that predated the unveiling of the statue. Perhaps Mr. Greenwald is unaware that we reached out to then-Mayor Wolk immediately after he posted on Facebook that Davis city council had voted as a consent item to accept a statue paid for by the Indian government, but the Mayor declined our quiet request to reverse course. We met with every council member, provided informational materials and engaged in constructive dialogue but they ultimately voted against reconsideration. We sat down with the statue proponents and explained in detail the community conflict that would follow if the statue was erected but, again, such quiet conversations did not prove fruitful. At the reconsideration hearing itself, we stood in line and used our precious minutes to put forward our case but our entreaties were in vain. We exhausted every option to engage with those responsible for the statue decision, maintaining a collaborative and courteous approach throughout.
For many months, we did our part engaging in civil discourse, education and advocacy on this issue. The unveiling ceremony was the appropriate time to engage in our constitutional right to (1) bring public attention to the implications of this statue, and (2) oppose the efforts of a foreign government to enlist the City of Davis in a propaganda campaign that obscures the ongoing brutalization of minorities in India and supports the false myth created around a bigoted pedophile. We cannot and should not be silent while elected officials and community leaders turn a blind-eye to oppression so that they can bask in the contrived legacy of a man that exhibited a life-long commitment to institutional bigotry. I do regret that children were present to observe the ceremony and protest, as I do not believe they were served well by being witness to either the statue unveiling or the protest.
In his opinion piece, Mr. Greenwald uses the term ‘sexual indiscretions’ when referring to Gandhi’s repugnant behavior of sleeping naked with young girls, including family members. We no longer describe the actions of Bill Cosby as anything but rape; we no longer call the sexual assault of a husband against his wife as anything but rape; we must now be similarly clear regarding Gandhi; he was a pedophile.
Finally, I note that it has often been mentioned that many of the protestors were not residents of Davis. However, this ignores the influence of the city, particularly given its unique character and status as home to a world renowned university. Although such geographic details are irrelevant in social justice causes, it may be helpful for your readers to know who these protestors were. They were the same people that appeared in Yolo County Court on behalf of Mikey Partida, a Davis hate crime victim from the LGBTQ community; the same people that stood at the Capitol after hate speech against the Jewish community; and the same people that came before the Sacramento City Council to support eradication of long forgotten laws enabling the crimes of Japanese internment. Later this month, these same people will attend a community meeting regarding the recent Sacramento deaths of African Americans at the hands of law enforcement. This is a community that understands that there is a time for respectful advocacy and to hear the thoughts of others. Sunday was not that time; it was not the time for silence.
Mr. Greenwald objects to the nature of the protest in isolation of the history of our advocacy, but what he has not done is address the reason for the protest. Davis residents should educate themselves regarding the complete documented history of the man their elected officials have chosen to honor. With just a little research, they will find that the gift sent by the Indian government is anything but. Please see the links below for more information:
- Opinion piece in a respected Indian newspaper by a Harvard scholar regarding Gandhi statues.
- US Government report on India’s brutalization of its minority communities.
- Petition against Gandhi statue in Ghana, with Gandhi’s racist quotes.
- BBC article regarding local opposition to Gandhi statue in Ghana
- Includes Gandhi’s own statements describing his sexual abuse of young girls.
- Heralded South Asian writer revealing Gandhi as a sexual predator.
- South African professor regarding the unambiguous bigotry and racism displayed by Gandhi during his time opposing equality for Africans.
- South Asian intellectual and author investigating Gandhi’s lifelong commitment to the caste practices which deny equality to the majority of men and women in India.
- Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi. His quotes used in other publications are found here.
- Collection of Gandhi’s own racists statements.
Amar Shergill is a trial attorney with the Shergill Law Firm and a Sikh community activist.