Statue Vandalism: What Does It Mean?

Ambedkar statue vandalaised

The saffron forces find their foothold in North-eastern states in recent elections to Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya. This new found sense of power pushes them towards acts of vandalism of statues. It starts with Lenin in Tripura. This is later followed by Periyar Rama Swamy in Tamilnadu and Ambedkar in Uttar Pradesh.

There can be no doubt that ideological differences of Hindu rightwing exist with each of the historical figures who were vandalised. But it goes much beyond. It represents an ideological intolerance towards historical figures that do not align with the ideological thinking of the saffron forces. Lenin led a socialist revolution in Russia which aimed at establishing a society based on equality with workers control over means of production. Periyar Ramaswamy laid the foundational principles of rationalism and social equality. He was involved with self-respect movement which aimed towards establishing social and gender equality by eradicating the societal structure that placed one class or caste above another. Ambedkar stood for annihilation of caste through eradicating caste based inequalities in Indian society. Both of them were contributors towards building a modern and secular India.

One of the rationales provided for vandalism of Lenin’s statue by rightwing is that he is not Indian and does not represent Indian ethos. This logic does not stand to reason. Political ideologies or values do not have a nation of its own. Socialist idea still continues to influence large numbers across the world irrespective of any Nationalistic boundaries. It is also true of historical figures born in India. Gandhi continues to influence people across the world for his unique experiments with non-violent forms of resistance. Similarly, the values represented by Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King continue to have a sway over people irrespective of Nationality. The contribution of historical figures needs to be seen beyond their nationalist boundaries and a laxman rekha around the same cannot be drawn.

If Indian origin is the criteria for vandalisation, how does one justify attacks on statues of Periyar Ramaswamy and Ambedkar. Taking the argument forward, does it mean that they too do not represent Indian ethos despite being born in India. Does it mean that their struggles for eradicating caste based inequalities, building
rationalist ideas, social reformation efforts through overthrowing decadent social structures, fighting marginalisation of Dravidian people goes against the ‘Indian’ ethos as understood by the vandalisers.

Does Indian ethos to the Vandalisers mean going back to the decadent old social structures, where outdated religious and caste structures have a sway, human beings are positioned in society more by the social hierarchy based on caste, race, religion and gender and modern political values have no say. Does the act of vandalising statue of Ambedkar a key contributor to Indian constitution mean that they do not stand by an ‘India’ as defined by the Indian constitution?

It is a well known fact, while on the one hand statues of such important historical figures are vandalised, on the other hand statues and temples of killers such as Godse are built. Each year on the day of assassination of Gandhi, many of the Hindu rightwing groups celebrate the event.

If one needs to go by the point, that people of foreign origin should not have a place in India, how does one go by RSS admiration for Mussolini and Hitler? Savarkar in 1938 while supporting anti-jewish legislation justified jews being driven out of the country because they were minorities in the country. A similar action was recommended for Muslims in India. The current RSS hatred for Muslims is similar to Nazi hatred for Jews. In 1940, Savarkar further expressed that Nazis were the saviours of Germans. Does it mean that borrowing divisive ideologies such as Nazism and Fascism despite being foreign can still be ‘Indian’ based on similarity of minority hatred?

While ideological differences exist, there needs to be a space for debates around various ideological viewpoints. The acts of vandalisation only aim at ending these spaces and placing one extremist right wing ideology over all others.

T Navin works with an NGO as a Researcher.


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