We are scholars, teachers, and practitioners of nonviolence in the living tradition of Mohandas K. Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. Based in the U.S., India, South Africa and other nations, we are engaged participants of the Gandhi-King Global Network (GKGN) affiliated with the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University.
On January 26, 2021, the Republic Day of India, a bronze statue of Mohandas K. Gandhi that had been given to the City of Davis, California as a gift by the Government of India was attacked by unknown persons who sawed off the statue at the ankle and cut the head in half. We are deeply saddened by this attack. We condemn the desecration and decapitation of the Gandhi statue as an attack on the nonviolence principles Gandhi advocated and represented in his life’s work, and we hold dear.
The methods of nonviolent resistance that Gandhi practiced and embodied enabled the people of the Indian subcontinent to end 200 years of British colonialism. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. frequently proclaimed his conviction that Gandhi’s practice of nonviolent resistance revealed “the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for justice and human dignity.” Through boycotts, sit-ins, freedom rides, marches and demonstrations, “the most potent weapon” of Gandhian satyagraha (soul force, holding fast to truth) was employed by students, church congregants and citizen activists to end nearly a century of Jim Crow apartheid in the United States.
James Lawson, perhaps the most important nonviolence teacher of the Black Freedom Movement in the United States, studied Gandhian thought in India and applied the principles and methods he learned to the racist social reality in the American South. To Lawson,“[t]he discovery of what Mohandas K. Gandhi called the philosophy and politics of nonviolent direct action is akin in impact and meaning to that of Albert Einstein’s discovery of the theory of relativity.”
Gandhi’s participation in the anti-racist movements as a young lawyer in South Africa, and his leading role in liberation of people of all faiths in India, had a great impact on Nelson Mandela. Reflecting on Gandhi’s life and example, Mandela reflected:
“He is the archetypal anticolonial revolutionary. His strategy of noncooperation, his assertion that we can be dominated only if we cooperate with our dominators, and his nonviolent resistance inspired anticolonial and antiracist movements internationally in our century. Both Gandhi and I suffered colonial oppression, and both of us mobilized our respective peoples against governments that violated our freedoms. The Gandhian influence dominated freedom struggles on the African continent right up to the 1960s because of the power it generated and the unity it forged among the apparently powerless.”
We understand that Gandhi has always been a controversial figure, and he remains so in the 21st century. A flawed human being, person full of contradictions, Gandhi is beloved by millions, while he is criticized and perhaps despised by many others, and for a multitude of reasons. For example, many people have highlighted racist statements Gandhi made when he was a young lawyer and activist in South Africa. Indeed, Nelson Mandela was well aware of these racist statements. However, Mandela argued, “Gandhi must be forgiven those prejudices and judged in the context of the time and circumstances. We are looking here at the young Gandhi, still to become Mahatma, when he was without any human prejudice save that in favour of truth and justice.”
Anyone holding sincere concerns or disagreements regarding this preeminent icon of nonviolence has a right to voice their views, a right we strongly defend. But just as strongly we oppose any and all violent acts which perpetuate hatred, animosity and trauma.
The urgent need for nonviolent forms of speech and expression is highlighted by recent political violence that has exploded in the US, India and throughout the world.
We can never expect violent acts to lead to peaceful solutions. It is only through education, dialogue, and understanding that seek reconciliation that we can obtain a peaceful resolution of our differences and disputes. We invite those who hold concerns to join us in a peaceful discourse of our disagreements.
Cesar Chavez, iconic leader of the United Farm Workers, also regarded Gandhi as a great teacher, for whom he expressed a spiritual and political debt. Following the destruction of the Gandhi statue in Davis, his son Paul F. Chavez, President of the Cesar Chavez Foundation, spoke out to condemn the attack and learn from it to pursue a peaceful way of resolving our differences. “Let us reject this act of intolerance and vandalism,” Chavez said:
“If we have learned nothing from the tragic events of recent weeks it is that senseless acts of hatred and violence are never the answer, which Gandhi and my father affirmed through fasting and their lifetimes of struggle. The statue that was desecrated in Davis symbolizes the truth Gandhi expressed: “You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is like an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”
We support Chavez’s call to nonviolence and peaceful dialogue to heal our shared wounds and build the beloved community and symphony of brotherhood as Dr. King envisioned. In addition, in the spirit of Gandhian and Kingian nonviolence, we affirmatively reach out to all of those who have grievances related to Gandhi to meet with us in a peaceful dialogue based on mutual respect, honest expression and deep listening to expand our appreciation of underlying concerns and move toward greater understanding and reconciliation. Please connect with us via email to Dr. Clayborne Carson at firstname.lastname@example.org and cc: Alyssa Solomon at email@example.com.
- Dr. P. P Balan, Senior consultant, Ministry of Panchayati Raj, New Delhi.
- Dr. Paul Bueno de Mesquita, Center for Nonviolence & Peace Studies, The University of Rhode Island
- Dr. Clayborne Carson, Director, The King Research and Education Institute, Stanford University
- Atilla Dag, Co-founder and Director of Universal Rights Association (URA)
- Drew Dellinger, Scholar in Residence, Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University
- Rajmohan Gandhi, Research Professor, College of Education, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
- David D. Gengan, Chairperson: Pietermaritzburg Gandhi Memorial Committee
- Jonathan D. Greenberg, Director, The Institute for Nonviolence and Social Justice, University of San Francisco
- Rev. Dr. Robert M. Franklin, President Emeritus, Morehouse College
- Cheryl Jordan, Superintendent, Milpitas Unified School District
- Dr. Sudarshan Kapoor, Professor Emeritus CSU Fresno
- Dr. Doug McGetchin, Associate Professor, Florida Atlantic University
- Kit Miller, Director, MK Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, Rochester, NY
- Prof. Michael Nagler, President, Metta Center for Nonviolence
- Nonviolence International
- Honored Trustee Christopher T. Norwood, Milpitas Unified School District Board President
- Dr. Nyla Rosen, COO, Institute for Community Leadership
- Professor Margaret M. Russell, Associate Provost for Diversity & Inclusion, Santa Clara University
- Michael Smolens, CEO, Dotsub, New York
- Alyssa Solomon, Director, Gandhi-King Global Network
- Sriram Sonty MD FACS, Chairman Gandhi 150 US Commemorative Stamp Initiative
- Vivek Victor Swaroop, Founder, India International Institute Founding Member/Board of Trustees Mahatma Gandhi Square of Florida
- Peter C. Valdés, Project KING – Summa San
- Dr. Roy D. Wilson, Executive Director, Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center