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From Gandhi, Churchill to Columbus: Why Black Lives Matter activists are angry with statues

The Black Lives Matter movement has expanded in its reach and manifestation. The anger in the United States over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25 has spilled over into an anti-racism protest movement that’s garnered support from across the world.

At many places, the movement has been dominated by vandalism. Now, statues of historical figures have become specific targets of the protestors. It began perhaps with the defacement of a statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Washington, DC across the road from the Indian embassy on the intervening night of June 2-3.

The Indian embassy lodged a police complaint against unidentified persons. US President Donald Trump called the incident a “disgrace”. The statue was vandalized with graffiti and spray painting.

With the protests taking on a global scale, a campaign is gaining momentum in the United Kingdom for the removal of another Mahatma Gandhi statute installed at Leicester.

The online petition received thousands of signatures before veteran British Indian parliamentarian Keith Vaz came out against the campaign. The petition alleges Mahatma Gandhi was a “fascist, racist and sexual predator”.

This is not the first campaign against a Mahatma Gandhi statue in the UK or elsewhere in the world. Neither is Mahatma Gandhi the solitary target of protesters who have come out on the streets in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd in the custody of American police.

According to a report in The Sun, the Black Lives Matter protesters in the UK alone have a list of 78 historical figures whom they have declared as racist and want removed.

Statue of Edword Colston being retrieved from harbour in Bristol. The Black Lives Matter protesters had pulled it down and rolled into the harbour earlier. (Photo: AFP)

These statues include those of Christopher Columbus – credited with the discovery of the New World, Captain Cook – famous for discovering Australia and New Zealand, and King James II.

The protesters have until now beheaded a statue of Columbus in Boston, and torn down that of Jefferson Davis – the president of the Confederate States of America that waged civil war with the rest of USA.

In Belgium, the statue of King Leopold II was brought down in capital Antwerp. Leopold II committed excesses during colonial rule over African country Congo. He is now accused of racism.

In Britain’s Bristol city, a statue of 17th century parliamentarian and merchant who traded in slaves, Edward Colston, was pulled down and rolled into harbour.

Winston Churchill, the famous British prime minister, too faced the wrath of the protesters, who sprayed his statue with words, “He was a racist” in London and also in Toronto, Canada.

Churchill was also targeted in Czech Republic. There his statue at the Winston Churchill Square in capital Prague has been defaced with the words, “Byl rasista” meaning “He was a racist”.

This is surprising because Churchill is a widely respected in Czech Republic for opposing Adolf Hitler and the Munich Agreement of 1939 that paved way for the German invasion of erstwhile Czechoslovakia.

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