Gandhi statue pro­posed for Zilker Park

Pro­po­nents say trib­ute to In­dian ac­tivist fit­ting as city’s di­ver­sity grows

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO & STATE - By Juan Castillo

When Ne­hal Sang­havi thinks of Austin, he sees a com­mu­nity that em­braces di­verse cul­tures and val­ues pro­gres­sive ideas and pub­lic ser­vice — a model place, he says, for a me­mo­rial hon­or­ing one of the world’s iconic fig­ures of peace, Mo­han­das Gandhi.

If Sang­havi and sup­port­ers re­al­ize their dream, the tran­quil, be­spec­ta­cled face of Gandhi will gaze upon the Zilker Park lawn, per­haps as soon as next year. Mem­bers of Austin’s rapidly grow­ing In­dian com­mu­nity are lead­ing the ef­fort and sub­mit­ted a pro­posal to the city’s Parks and Recre­ation Depart­ment board. Sang­havi said sup­port­ers have fi­nan­cial com­mit­ments from the com­mu­nity to cover the es­ti­mated $35,000 cost for a bronze statue. He said they pre­fer a Zilker Park lo­ca­tion but are open to sug­ges­tions from the city.

The cam­paign cor­re­sponds with sup­port­ers’ plans for an an­nual

day of ser­vice in Austin. This year’s event is set for Oct. 2, the birth­day of the late leader.

Be the Change Day will be pat­terned af­ter tra­di­tional ob­ser­vances in In­dia, where the date is a na­tional hol­i­day and a day of ser­vice, said So­nia Kotecha, pres­i­dent of the Net­work of In­dian Pro­fes­sion­als of Austin.

Sup­port­ers hope to un­veil the Austin me­mo­rial on Be the Change Day in 2011.

Known to his world­wide fol­low­ers as “Ma­hatma,” or “the Great Soul,” Gandhi gal­va­nized mil­lions in In­dia’s non­vi­o­lent strug­gle for free­dom from Bri­tish rule. With his phi­los­o­phy of civil dis­obe­di­ence, Gandhi in­flu­enced the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and South African leader Nel­son Man­dela, who used his prin­ci­ples to cul­ti­vate their own non­vi­o­lent strug­gles for equal­ity, Sang­havi said.

“A Gandhi me­mo­rial would just serve as a re­minder to the hu­man com­mu­nity of the hu­man­ity that he brought to us, es­pe­cially his prin­ci­ples of non­vi­o­lence,” said Sang­havi, 36, a lo­cal at­tor­ney and pres­i­dent of the In­dia Com­mu­nity Cen­ter of Austin.

He said he’s puz­zled why Austin doesn’t al­ready have a Gandhi me­mo­rial — by his count, at least 30 U.S. cities have one, and there are count­less oth­ers around the globe.

“It doesn’t mat­ter what re­li­gion, what gen­er­a­tion, na­tion­al­ity, race, you’re usu­ally go­ing to be for non­vi­o­lence, peace and pro­gres­sive change. Gandhi rep­re­sented all of those things,” he said.

A Gandhi me­mo­rial has the sup­port of Mayor Lee Leff­in­g­well, who said he first heard about it at a meet­ing with Asian Amer­i­can res­i­dents ear­lier this year.

“Gandhi is an in­ter­na­tional hero and did so much good in the world,” Leff­in­g­well said. A for­mer air­line pi­lot, Leff­in­g­well said he flew of­ten to In­dia and vis­ited the Gandhi me­mo­rial in New Delhi. He has a photo of him­self stand­ing be­side a stone marker at the en­trance to Gandhi’s home, he said.

A me­mo­rial on city park­land would re­quire ap­proval from the city Parks and Recre­ation Board and the City Coun­cil, a city spokes­woman said.

Sang­havi said sup­port­ers are col­lect­ing pro­pos­als from sculp­tors and hope to choose one by the end of sum­mer. The me­mo­rial will con­sist of a 2foot gran­ite pedestal base and a 7-foot cast bronze statue of Gandhi with his walk­ing stick in his 1930s protest march against the Bri­tish salt tax. It’s an eas­ily rec­og­nized im­age, de­picted in memo­ri­als in San Fran­cisco and else­where.

Kotecha, a com­mu­nity li­ai­son with the non­profit Court Ap­pointed Spe­cial Ad­vo­cates for Chil­dren, or CASA of Travis County, said Be the Change Day is an at­tempt to build on inaugural events last year that drew a few dozen peo­ple. “We started plan­ning a lit­tle late in the game,” she said.

This year, sup­port­ers, in­clud­ing the lo­cal net­work of In­dian pro­fes­sion­als, are plan­ning early and reach­ing out to other racial and eth­nic com­mu­ni­ties, in­clud­ing or­ga­niz­ers of Martin Luther King Jr. Day ac­tiv­i­ties.

Events are likely to in­clude ser­vice projects across the city, a lunchtime pic­nic with speak­ers and chil­dren’s per­for­mances, and pos­si­bly a chil­dren’s es­say con­test about Gandhi’s legacy.

“We re­ally want to in­spire peo­ple to learn more about the ways they can give back to the com­mu­nity on an on­go­ing ba­sis,” Kotecha said.

A self-de­scribed sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion South Asian Amer­i­can who moved to Austin with her fam­ily in the 1990s, the 34-yearold Kotecha said the lo­cal In­dian com­mu­nity “wants to feel like it’s a part of Austin.”

“Hav­ing a Gandhi statue just kind of sym­bol­izes what we’ve con­trib­uted in this coun­try as well,” she said.

The Austin metro area’s In­dian pop­u­la­tion is the fastest grow­ing seg­ment of the area’s Asian pop­u­la­tion, city de­mog­ra­pher Ryan Robin­son said.

Ac­cord­ing to Amer­i­can Com­mu­nity Sur­vey 2008 es­ti­mates from the Cen­sus Bureau, In­di­ans made up 20,685, or about 28 per­cent, of the 73,375 to­tal Asian pop­u­la­tion. Asian res­i­dents com­prise the fastest-grow­ing eth­nic com­mu­nity in Austin by per­cent­age, Robin­son said. They rep­re­sent about 6 per­cent of the city pop­u­la­tion.

Ne­hal Sang­havi says fund­ing al­ready set.

So­nia Kotecha is pro­mot­ing day of ser­vice in Oc­to­ber.

Max Desfor

Mo­han­das Gandhi, right, talks with In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Jawa­har­lal Nehru in 946. Gandhi, who died in 948, led non­vi­o­lent protests to push for In­dia’s free­dom from Bri­tish rule. Lo­cal In­dian or­ga­ni­za­tions are plan­ning events for Oct. 2, Gandhi’s birth­day.

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