By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly
France gave the Statue of Liberty as a symbol of friendship to the United States.The statue has stood in New York state as a national symbol of freedom and democracy since its dedication in 1886.
Six tall trees at Bellevue Public Library’s south lawn now surround India’s gift. Their leaves are orange and green — the same colors found on India’s national flag.
The government of India gave a life-size statue of its most famous political and spiritual leader, Mahatma Gandhi, to the people of Washington state. On Oct. 17, hundreds of people attended the unveiling of the statue and dedication of the Gandhi Memorial in Bellevue.
The 1,000-pound bronze sculpture — by Indian artist Anil R. Sutar — depicts Gandhi holding a staff in his right hand.
Carol Mitchell, director of the Port of Tacoma, served as the event’s mistress of ceremonies.
Sushmita Thomas, consul general of the Consulate of India in San Francisco, introduced Ambassador Meera Shankar, who delivered a dedication speech. Shankar is the Ambassador of India to the United States.
Inside a large tent constructed to protect event-goers from an expected rainfall, Shankar said, “It’s a great pleasure for me to be here today, which is Diwali Day, the Festival of Lights in India.”
“I am very pleased that we have been able to give the statue to the City of Bellevue and to the King County … Library. This is very fitting because for Gandhi, all this, I think, learning, education, and words were extremely important in his whole effort to mobilize people,” she added.
Shankar says Gandhi is “relevant” for several reasons. His development of the concept of non-violent resistance is one example. She said, “The search for a more durable means to seek change is one of the legacies of Gandhi which continues to resonate and be relevant throughout the world today.”
She also mentioned the means for seeking change “are as important as the ends.” Violence, she noted, “based on hatred would destroy the pursuit of the goals, themselves.”
The third reason, she cited, is “his emphasis on tolerance and openness. What he taught us was that the whole world is a family and that we must approach all religions, all differences with respect, openness, and sensitivity.”
Those in attendance clapped when she said, “I think this attitude of tolerance, of openness, and of mutual respect is absolutely imperative to build a world of peace and friendship that we all desire.”
“For all these reasons,” Shankar concluded, “I still feel that his message continues to resonate within India, continues to resonate in countries across the world, and continues to provide a voice to the voiceless, a comfort to those in need, and ideas for those who want to change.”
Bill Ptacek, director of the King County Library System, and C.K. Patel, president of the National Federation of Indian American Associations (NFIA), delivered speeches accepting the statue.
Mitchell then introduced Bellevue Mayor Grant Degginger, U.S. Representative Jim McDermott (D-Washington), and U.S. Representative Jay Inslee (D-Washington).
“This is a very special day in the history of the City of Bellevue,” Degginger said as he thanked Shankar.
He then explained why Bellevue has developed a close relationship with India. “We share not only big economic interests and cultural similarities, but we share a lot of values … peace, freedom, democracy, justice. These are the things that bring us together,” he said. “I think that having this statue here … will be a source of inspiration because it will demonstrate in a beautiful way how one person can change the world, and that is very special for us.”
McDermott said, “I think it’s a special day because I can’t think of a better home for a statue of Gandhi than in the library of the Martin Luther King County Library. The reason that the relationship between India and the United States developed very quickly is because there are very strong, deep ties.”
“Someone asked Mahatma Gandhi, ‘What do you think of Western civilization?’ He said, ‘I think it would be a good idea,’” said Inslee.
After his brief speech, he walked everyone outside of the tent and over to the statue. Shankar then slowly pulled a long white rope to remove the white covering off of Sutar’s creation.
The statue was made possible by cooperation between the Government of India, the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, the Consulate General of India in San Francisco, the King County Library System, the National Federation of Indian American Associations, the City of Bellevue, and the Trade Alliance of Greater Seattle. ♦
James Tabafunda can be reached at email@example.com.