September 17, 2013 | By Sikh Siyasat Bureau
Cerritos, CA (September 17, 2013): Controversy swirled in Cerritos over the weekend as opinions clashed about a Gandhi statue installed by the city last year.
On Saturday (September 14), dozens rallied for over two hours at Cerritos City Hall to demand removal of the statue, while on Thursday, local business owners and human rights groups raised a ruckus at Cerritos City Council’s weekly meeting.
“If a person of that character was in the U.S, and he did the things that he did, he would be in prison… I don’t think a statue of Gandhi sends a good message about unity for our city,” said BJ Singh, owner of a Cerritos engineering firm in public remarks to the City Council. He joined over 50 others from South Asian, African, and Caucasian communities at Saturday’s demonstration.
Demonstrators displayed banners reading “Gandhi: A Child Molester” and “Gandhi: Friends With Hitler,” and held signs with slogans like “Gandhi: Father of Apartheid,” “Gandhi Was a Sex Offender,” and “Ambedkar: Hero of India’s Minorities.”
Jada Bernard, an African-American liberty activist from Sacramento, CA, said: “We are not here because we hate Gandhi. We are here because we love the truth.” In a speech to the crowd, Mr. Bernard said: “He hated blacks, and fathered the multi-tiered Apartheid system in South Africa. He brought the caste system that brings so much injustice to the Indian people today.”
Dr. Muni, a Las Vegas-based neurophysiologist, also spoke, saying, “What has Gandhi got to do with America? Did you know Gandhi was not a peace-lover but a warmonger between people and countries?” Nearly 75 demonstrated on Saturday from 11am to 1:30pm. Saturday’s five speakers were Jada Bernard, Bhajan Singh, M. R. Paul, Dr. Muni Subramani, and Pieter Singh. Things wrapped up at 2 as 30 demonstrators briefly moved to the nearby Gandhi statue on Carmenita Rd and Alondra Blvd.
Greg Berg, the city’s Community and Safety Services Director, told organizers of the demonstration, “I learned a lot.” He suggested the mayor should sit down with both groups to mediate agreement.
Two sheriff’s deputies assigned to watch the demonstration were friendly and said, “Good luck,” while about 5 statue supporters appeared to hang in the background and watch.
The statue was installed in 2012 as part of the city’s Art in Public Places Program. It is located on private property, but bears a plaque identifying it with the “public places” program. The program compels private property-owners wanting to develop over a certain price range to give a statue or money to the program. The piece selected must then be approved by the city council.
Four people spoke against the statue during public remarks at Thursday’s City Council meeting. Bhajan Singh of Manteca, CA told the Council: “It’s not art. It’s a religious icon. It’s a Hindu deity. It has temples all over the world…. You promoted a piece of racial hatred. You are promoting sexual exploitation. You are promoting a friend of Hitler…. This does not fit. Not only in Cerritos — it doesn’t fit anywhere.”
Waving an 18-page report presented to the council by OFMI, Mr. Singh also said: “I’m going to leave you with the sworn statement of a Southern Californian hero, Annette Doherty. She went to India in 1921 to retrieve her husband’s body…. Her husband was set up by Gandhi followers. His eyes were gouged out. He was hacked to death…. Gandhi threatened her. He offered her bribes to shut her mouth because he didn’t want Americans to find out his true face.” He pledged: “Doherty’s history is going to be in every cerritos residence.”
Several people turned out to the city council meeting to support the statue. Most identified themselves as affiliates of Chugh Law Firm, the business where the statue is located. Hemant Patel of Corona, CA rebuked Mr. Singh for his independent research, saying: “Mr. Singh from OFMI is just reading something that he understands by himself.” Brenda Gandhi, an employee at Chugh Firm, remarked: “Gandhiji attempted his best to practice nonviolence.”
Gandhi statues installed around the world have sparked concern over the past decade. Statues at San Francisco’s Embarcadero, Michigan’s UM-Flint, Ottawa’s Carleton University have faced protest from South Asian communities. News reports indicate proposed statues in Sacramento, Austin, Dallas, and Reno were prevented by such actions.
Opponents typically mention that Gandhi slept naked, nightly, with his 18-year-old grandniece Manu and 17-year-old grandniece Abha, wrote supplicating letters to Hitler flattering him as “my friend,” increased segregation levels at a Durban, South Africa post office, preached the “fundamental divisions” of the Hindu caste system, and so on.
Another personality who spoke both Thursday and Saturday was M. R. Paul, from northern California, who said, “Gandhi was not representative of 85% of people of India. The system he created was one of inequality, infraternity, inliberty, and injustice.” He warned about ongoing caste oppression in modern India.
On Saturday, Pieter Singh of Sacramento, CA linked ethnic cleansing in India in 2008, 2002, and 1984 to Gandhi’s promotion of racial segregation in South Africa, saying: “Gandhi fathered Apartheid in South Africa, he is considered the father of India, and he is the father of genocide in India today.”
In remarks to City Council on Thursday, Pieter Singh mentioned Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar and Kartar Singh Sarabha, leaders in India’s independence struggle who studied at Columbia University and U. C. Berkeley, saying: “These are people who are actually connected to America…. who never campaigned for racial segregation, praised Hitler, or sexually abused their female relatives. A little discernment may have been helpful in considering which South Asian to honor with a statue.”
Organization for Minorities of India was founded in 2006 to advance individual liberties of Christians, Buddhists, Dalits, Muslims, Sikhs, and other minorities of South Asian origin, particularly those marginalized by the Hindu caste system. OFMI encourages secularism, progressive human rights, liberation of oppressed peoples, and universal human dignity.
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