Disagreement over Gandhi

A Facebook group of almost 150 members is showing opposition to a statue of Indian icon Mohandas Gandhi that is set to be installed at Carleton Oct. 2.

Arvin Valmuci, a full-time activist based in New York, started the Facebook group “Stop the Carleton University Gandhi Statue” Aug. 3, and it gained 148 fans by Aug. 21.

Valmuci also operates the website stopgandhistatue.com.

Valmuci and others oppose the statue based on claims that Gandhi left behind a legacy of prejudice against minorities and had his two grandnieces sleep naked in his bed with him in order to test his vow of celibacy.

“I’m really kind of shocked that the university would even consider installing a statue of someone who . . . supported segregation in South Africa before apartheid [and] worked to create a Hindu India, not a secular country,” said Valmuci, who works for the Organization for Minorities of India.

The statue was offered by the High Commission of India as a gift to Carleton from the government of India, according to a statement by Carleton media relations coordinator Christopher Cline.

It’s supposed to be installed outside of the new Canada-India Centre of Excellence.

Carleton human rights professor Rebecca Schein said in an email that although she is unaware of the origins of the Gandhi statue project, she sees the controversy as an accompaniment to “hero-worship.”

“Individual people become symbols for much bigger social movements, historical eras, new ideas, etc., which were necessarily collective, not individual, in nature,” Schein said.

“Hero-worship collapses important historical changes or ideas into questions about the character of an individual (and individual lives are almost always complex and contradictory).”

Cline’s statement defended the statue on grounds that “the sculpture is both a work of art and a depiction of a world figure known for his commitment to non-violence and peace.”

Valmuci said his Facebook group is informal, and there’s no protest being planned.

He said their overall aim is to stop the statue completely, but at the very least they would like to see Carleton allow open discussion on the matter, and invite Dr. G.B. Singh, a leading critical Gandhi scholar, for a lecture.

Valmuci said the Organization for Minorities of India sent out letters to every member of Carleton’s Board of Governors upon hearing about the statue, but received no response.

He said that they planned to send another letter but are awaiting more signatories.