Gandhi statue without glasses 18 years after theft
One morning in December, 1999, a gardener managing the lawns of Mother Teresa Crescent noticed that Gandhi’s determined face leading the Dandi March in the famous sculpture looked different. He then realised that the spectacles were missing.
The round spectacles, one of the most iconic symbols associated with Mahatma Gandhi, have been missing from his statue at ‘Gyarah Murti’ in Chanakyapuri for over 18 years now. On his 149th birth anniversary on Tuesday, the father of the nation will spend another year with his missing eyewear and as just a diary noting in the Delhi police files.
One morning in December, 1999, a gardener managing the lawns of Mother Teresa Crescent noticed that Gandhi’s determined face leading the Dandi March in the famous sculpture looked different. He then realised that the spectacles were missing. The matter was reported to the Chanakyapuri police station by the maintenance agency of the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC), but the police did not convert its diary entry into a first information report (FIR).
Eighteen years later, the police station has long forgotten the complaint.
“The spectacles were carved in stone and were attached to the statue. They had been broken from the sides. I don’t remember more details, it’s been a long time,” said Manohar Lal Gossain, a 56-year-old NDMC gardener who spotted the theft.
Retired Delhi police inspector Srikanth Yadav, who was stationed at the Chanakyapuri police station at the time, said the crime could not be solved at the time.
“Attempts were made to catch the people, but we could not trace anybody. However, a permanent police picket was set up at the junction near the Gyarah Murti to stop such incidents from happening in the future,” he said.
NDMC officials, however, said four attempts were made to replace the original glasses, but every time the makeshift metal spectacles were stolen again.
“When the original glasses got stolen, we had filed a police complaint. The glasses were replaced with a metal frame, which also went missing in just two-three days. We have replaced them at least three-four times,” a senior NDMC official said on the condition of anonymity.
The claims of the subsequent thefts could not be verified as no police complaint was filed.
Gossain explained that, till 2010, visitors were allowed to right go up to the statue. The place would often have professional photographers getting people to climb the sculpture, making it easier for the statue to be damaged, he said. “There was less security and it was easier to get away with such a theft.”
Created by renowned sculptor Deviprasad Roychowdhury, ‘Gyarah Murti’ at the T-junction of Sardar Patel Marg with Mother Teresa Crescent, displays the historic salt satyagrah to Dandi. Apart from Gandhi, it features 10 people from different castes, religions and backgrounds to showcase India’s diversity.
Experts said that this theft is not an isolated incident. In fact, several cases of spectacle thefts from Gandhi statues have been reported across the country. For example, the Gandhi statue in Lucknow University’s Tagore Library stood without its spectacles for around 36 years before they were replaced in 2016.
Shiv Kumar Tripathy, a Delhi-based art collector, said that Gandhi’s spectacles were his identity and parts of such iconic images fetch high value in the art market. “It is not easy to replace such artwork. This would need the guidance of an artist so that it does not end up looking like patchwork,” Tripathy said.