Why are Gandhi statues attacked and desecrated in Champaran?

Gandhi remains as a uniting force that constantly influenced the psyche of Indian people.

Siby K. Joseph

Recently Gandhi statues were attacked and desecrated in Champaran , Bihar. A noted Gandhian Scholar Dr Siby K Joseph tries to find out why ?

On February 14, 2022, the life-size statue of Mahatma Gandhi, which was installed in Charkha Park, East Champaran was found damaged and dumped on the ground. It was near the spot from where Gandhi had launched the first Satyagraha struggle in 1917. The Charkha Park was constructed in front of the historic Gandhi Memorial, Motihari, and the former Union Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh had unveiled the statue of Mahatma Gandhi in the Park as part of the Champaran Satyagraha Centenary Celebrations.

Gandhi Statue broken in two parts
Gandhi statue in Charkha Park was broken into two parts

Social media was abuzz with reports alleging that religious slogans were heard in the area on Sunday night, which suggested the involvement of fringe right-wing groups. District Magistrate of East Champaran  Shirshat Kapil Ashok, kept mum on the involvement of any such group. He said, “I take this opportunity to remind that entire great people to live on in the form of the ideals they espoused. Bapu, who stood for non-violence and truth, cannot be undermined by such acts.”

He also said that the Power Grid Corporation of India Limited was carrying out maintenance work of the park as part of its corporate social responsibility. “We will advise them to put in place adequate security arrangements. Installation of CCTV cameras will also be ensured. Re-installation of the statue will be done by the district administration,” he added.  This act of vandalism triggered outrage, and on the 15 of February, Lok Samiti, Sarvodaya Mandal and Gandhian  Study Circle of East Champaran observed silent dharna to protest against this act. The satyagrahis informed that they will be meeting the DM with a set of demands including the reinstallation, protection, and maintenance of the statue.

Tushar Gandhi’s Anguish

Tushar Gandhi, Grandson of Mahatma Gandhi wrote on social media “Bapu’s statue in Motihari, Champaran was attacked and shattered. I was there when it was inaugurated as a part of the Centenary celebrations of the Champaran Satyagraha. I have requested the honourable Chief Minister of Bihar to replace Bapu’s statue with one of Nathuram Godse. It will not be vandalised.” 

In 2016, in the wake of the Ghana Gandhi Statue issue I was instrumental in bringing into the limelight the truth about the demand for removal of Gandhi Statue in Ghana University and finally resulted in the publication viz. Gandhi in South Africa: A Racist or A Liberator? to remove the misconceptions on the issue.  Therefore, I thought it would be befitting to look into the issue and understand the ground reality in Champaran.

Deliberate and Preplanned Act

 The site in which the incident took place is hardly 200 meters from the police station. In other words, the incident took place under the nose of the police. The police version that the vandals are believed to be drug addicts and broke the statute under the influence of intoxicants appears to be unrealistic. The activists who visited the site reported that the statue was made either of plaster of Paris or white cement and an iron rod protruded out of one of the severed ankles that were still attached to the pedestal. It can be done only by those who are armed with a heavy and sharp fine instrument.  They are also asking the question of why the people under intoxication are only attacking the Gandhi Statute and leaving aside everything else.  It is a clear case of a deliberate and preplanned act intended to demean the Mahatma.

Not an Isolated Incident

 It is to be noted that this is not an isolated incident that took place in Champaran. Gandhi’s statue was again insulted for the second time within a span of just two days.  On the 16 February anti-social elements wore a garland made of alcohol wrappers to the statue located at Gandhighat in Turkaulia. When the video of garlanding went viral on social media, someone removed the garland from the statue.  It is pertinent to note that the wine wrapper garlanding took place in a State in which prohibition is in force .

Further, it was learned that the destruction of Gandhi Statues is an ongoing process in Champaran and the administration is not taking adequate steps to arrest these acts. In 2017, busts of Gandhi and Kasturba were installed in Bhelwa Kothi of Ghorasahan block of East Champaran district, under the aegis of Gandhi Gram Seva Samity.  It was on the grounds of Gandhi High School of Bhelwa Circle. After its installation, it was damaged by anti-social elements and it was repaired through the efforts of the Samity.

 But it was again destroyed last month and no effort has been made on the part of the administration to restore it so far. A member of Samity shared the photograph of the site in which only the bust of Kasturba Gandhi is seen.

Champaran the land of Satyagrah

Champaran is a historic place of national importance in which Gandhi used the matchless weapon of Satyagraha for the first time on the Indian soil and started constructive programmes including in the field of education. British planters severely exploited the farmers of Champaran by forcing them to cultivate Indigo. The Satyagraha in Champaran was aimed at saving the poor farmers.

The recent farmers’ agitation in the national capital was a reminder of the Champaran Satyagraha which literally proved the efficacy of nonviolence in recent times. The organized forces behind the demolition of the Gandhi statue in Champaran are not only the forces who want to divide the country on the basis of religion,caste,linguistic lines but also the agents of the oppressors who support the ruling elite.

The very name of Gandhi is a stumbling block for those who continuously suppress and oppress the socially and economically disadvantaged people who are engaged in the constant struggle for justice for their very survival. This is a veiled attack on the liberation and emancipation of those people for whom Mahatma fought, including farmers, workers, and small producers. 

Gandhi’s name has been constantly insulted in various ways including the recent release of the documentary film “Why I killed Gandhi” on the occasion  of January 30 when India is celebrating 75 anniversary of India’s independence. The deliberate omission of Gandhi’s name even on the occasion of remembrance of his martyrdom by the governments and educational institutions are not innocent acts.

Desecration of Gandhi statues and portraits was earlier limited to his birthday and day martyrdom. Now it can happen at any time. That is the message we are getting from Champaran.

Despite these insults, Gandhi remains as a uniting force that constantly influenced the psyche of Indian people. Gandhi is remerging in the form of the peasant struggle, in the struggle against lopsided development, in the form of land struggles, in the form of anti-corporate movements to check the forces of crony capitalism. Those who are fearful of these developments are trying to distort the Gandhian heritage sites and sites of freedom struggle and make them anti-Gandhi and  trying to remove the message of nonviolence and supreme sacrifices the freedom fighters of this country made.

These forces will go on destroying the Gandhi statues and those symbols and icons of Gandhi and freedom struggle. It is time for farmers and ordinary people to come forward to defend themselves and save our country from these forces.

Dr. Siby K. Joseph is a noted Gandhian Scholar and   Director of Sri Jamnalal Bajaj Memorial Library Research Centre, Sevagram Ashram Pratishthan, Sevagram Wardha-442102 (Maharashtra)  


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