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Antwerp has new Gandhi statue

Several Indians of Gujarati origin braved freezing weather to unveil a statue of Gandhi.

india Updated: Feb 01, 2006 16:03 IST

Several Indians of Gujarati origin in Belgium, engaged mainly in the diamond trade, braved freezing temperatures to participate in the unveiling of a statute of Mahatma Gandhi here.

The bust was unveiled at a poignant function at the King Albert Park here Jan 30, Gandhi's death anniversary. This Belgian port city - also known as the world's rough diamond capital - is home to nearly 500 families of Gujarati origin.

The event, organised by the Indian embassy in Brussels, Antwerp local authorities and the Antwerp Indian Association, commenced with a reception in Antwerp Governor Camille Paulus' main headquarters, the Province House.

Dipak Chatterjee, India's ambassador to Belgium, lauded the local authorities for their decision to honour Gandhi and their participation in the ceremony. The event is seen as a milestone in Indo-Belgian relations.

"This is a great occasions for Indians in Antwerp. Most of them come from Gandhiji's home state, Gujarat. We are privileged to have this ceremony here today and are thankful to the governor, the mayor and the city council who have been very helpful", he told INEP agency.

He added: "In a world which is full of strife everyone must remember Mahatma Gandhi."

Ashok Sajjanhar, deputy chief of the Indian mission in Brussels, said: "The commemoration of the bust is timely and befitting in view of the strong abiding relations between Belgium and India."

Nearly 75 percent of the bilateral trade between the two countries is conducted through Antwerp's diamond sector.

Addressing the gathering, Kaushik Mehta, chairman of the Antwerp Indian Association and managing director of the International diamond company Euro Star, said: "Belgium has been a home far away from home for Indians. It is a moment of pride to have a statue of Mahatma Gandhi in our own city."

In a tribute to Antwerp's 500 Indian families, Paulus said: "This ceremony illustrates how close the relationship is between India and Antwerp. The Indian community does not only deserve respect for contributing to our welfare; It is extremely important that they are comfortable here and feel that this is their second home and not just a place for business.

"Their presence is much appreciated in our society. Through the statue of Gandhi they will allow us to share their culture and their legacy," he added.

Antwerp Mayor Patrick Janssens said: "This (event) symbolises the importance of the Indian community in the diamond industry and goes beyond just economic relations. Gandhi's message is important since we are an international city with different religions and communities."

The event concluded with the singing of "Vaishnav jana to", Gandhi's favourite hymn, after which the entire Indian community joined in singing another Indian hymn proceeding to the site where the bust was unveiled.

Gandhiji's statue was unveiled to the inspiring symphonies of the Indian and Belgian national anthems by Paulus, Chatterjee, Janssens and other officials.

Indian diamond merchants mainly hailing from the small Gujarati town of Palanpur, arrived in Antwerp in the 1970s and globalised the diamond business. Today they control more than 60 percent of Antwerp's rough and polished diamond trade which posted a collective turnover of $36 billion last year.

Referring to the central location of the bust, Bharat Shah of the Indo-Belgian Diamantaire Association (IBDA) said: "Everyone who comes to Antwerp passes by here and they will all be able to see Gandhiji."

First Published: Feb 01, 2006 12:54 IST