There are tens of thousands if not millions of statues all over the world — of gods, goddesses, religious personalities, princes, scholars, scientists, politicians, and sometimes of sportsmen or even ordinary human beings. At times these personalities are standing with dignity or else sitting peacefully, blessing onlookers.
But at other times, as in the case of kings or warriors with swords or flags in one hand and the reins of the horse on which they are sitting in the other, they incite followers to battle. One finds sculptures of personalities such as Jeanne d’Arc, generals, military men, warriors and others whose activities comprise torture, destruction, imposition of fear, pain and misery upon poor helpless people who have done them no harm—like Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, Napoleon, Hannibal, Julius Cesar, and leaders from countless so-called empires–immortalized and worshipped in effigies in many parts of the world.
I am not mentioning statues of religious leaders — Jesus or Buddha or dozens of Indian gods and goddesses — Krishna, Ram, Hanuman, Shiva, Parvati, Durga, Guru Nanak, Lord Mahavir and others. Countless number of these already exists in churches, temples, gurdwaras and Pagodas etc and new ones are being built worldwide regularly. Recently I had the opportunity of seeing the beautiful Peace Pagoda in the north East Indian town Darjeeling that was built by Japanese aid. It has several statues of Lord Buddha blessing the onlookers from his new spiritual abode.
Although there are millions of large sized or mini statues in some museums, it is difficult to estimate which personality has the largest number of statues built to glorify them. Several statues of politicians such as de Gaulle or Churchill or many US Presidents or Nehru or Stalin or Lenin or Mao have been constructed but these are generally located in the country to which these outstanding men belong. There are statues of Spanish kings including Carlos I who was crowned King of Spain in 1516; the kingdom of Portugal started in 1139 and ended in 1932 with Manuel II who is remembered by a grand statue.
Similarly, one will find some statues of Shakespeare or Newton in England. But some personalities are glorified in several countries of the world — Queen Victoria or King George, Queen Elizabeth in countries — India, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and others from which the British flag never was pulled down. Statues of other personalities such as Lenin and Marx are also located in several countries, and Nelson Mandela is also remembered throughout the world.
Mahatma Gandhi is another giant icon whose statues or busts are found all over the world and new ones are being built in different places including those where he was ridiculed or persecuted. Obviously statue building is big business. Recently a tall statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was built in Gujarat and inaugurated by the Indian Prime Minister Modi in 2018; it is claimed that at 240 m in height, it is the tallest statue in the world.
Although statues are built out of respect and love, there are also a few instances of breaking down or committing other forms of sacrilege. Several were destroyed in Syria. One of the most reprehensible destruction was that of the Bamiyan statue of Buddha in Afghanistan that had been chiseled with great care and dedication in the nearby rock and destroyed by dynamite by the Taliban in 2001. Other statues have also been destroyed.
The Easter Sunday bombings of churches and some luxury hotels in Sri Lanka by IS (Islamic State) agents have claimed about 320 lives and many more injured. It is claimed that that these acts are in retaliation of the recent bombings of mosques in Christchurch in New Zealand.
Recently some statues of Mahatma Gandhi claiming that he was racist in his behaviour were pulled down in Ghana. A few others have also been destroyed or pulled down in Hyderabad and a few other places in India for his beliefs or actions.
Similarly, other monuments belonging to some illustrious people have been damaged or destroyed for political or ideological reasons. One wishes to know the factors behind such acts of sacrilege and vandalism. If there are problems or injustice or any other form of victimisation, it is better to talk about it and to protest against it as was done by Gandhi and other statesmen rather than committing acts of sacrilege against figures made of brick or stone.
Some of these symbolic figures can be a source of peace, harmony and brotherhood in our complex world. They need to be admired and protected, not destroyed or damaged.
Dr Ravi P Bhatia is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment, an educationist, Gandhian scholar and peace researcher. Retired professor, Delhi University.