- The Aug. 16 incident comes less than two weeks after the same statue was damaged on Aug. 3. This time the vandals also spray-painted the word “kutta” on the statue.
A statue of Mahatma Gandhi at a Hindu temple in Queens, New York, has been vandalized again. The latest incident occurred on Aug. 16, when culprits went after the statue in front of Tulsi Mandir in the South Richmond Hill neighborhood. The attack comes less than two weeks after the same Gandhi statue was damaged on Aug. 3.
Pandit Lakhram Maharaj, the founder of the Shri Tulsi Mandir, told American Kahani that on Aug. 16 early morning, around 1:15 a.m., six or more miscreants started to hit the statue with a sledgehammer. They began hitting at the foot of the statue, and as it fell, they began “banging” on it to “loosen it to pieces.” The statue was completely destroyed and was graffitied with obscene names. They also spray-painted the word “Kutta” on the statue and wrote, “Gandhi” and “Dog” on 111th Street. While the people who vandalized the Gandhi statue on Aug. 3 spoke Spanish, Pandit Maharaj said the culprits who attacked the second time were talking in Hindi.
News report, citing police, said that “the individuals then fled toward Liberty Avenue and entered two vehicles, a white Mercedes Benz, and a possibly dark-colored Toyota Camry with a possible taxi/livery sticker on the back passenger window.”
The Gandhi statue has been at the temple for the last six to seven years, Pandit Maharaj said. It was constructed because “Gandhi represents peace, love and non-violence,” he added. Every year, the temple and the community host a Gandhi Peace March, sometime between late October and early November. It starts on Liberty Avenue and ends at the temple, Pandit Maharaj said. He also noted that the devotees are scared and worried that “if someone can come and vandalize the statue outside the temple, what can happen next.” He said the police have increased their presence in the community to reassure the people “with all that’s going on in the world.” He described the neighborhood as being a mixed community with Guyanese, Trinidadians and Indians.
In a statement sent to American Kahani, New York State Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar said the NYPD is currently investigating both incidents as a possible hate crime. She is calling for the perpetrators to be “apprehended swiftly, charged, and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” the statement read. Rajkumar represents the 38th district, which include Queens neighborhoods of Glendale, Ozone Park, Richmond Hill, Ridgewood, and Woodhaven. She has spoken with government leaders across the country who are “committed to re-doubling our efforts to combat anti-Hindu hate,” she said. “We always knew that defeating hate would not be accomplished in one day, one week, or even one year,” she added “We are committed to this fight for the long term and will use the Hindu principles of ahimsa (non-violence) and satyagraha (soul force) that guided Gandhi himself and later the great American civil rights hero Martin Luther King, Jr.”
Earlier this month, Rajkumar organized a press conference after the first act of vandalization at the temple. She told the crowd at the time that “the desecration of Gandhi statues and anti-Hindu hate crimes will not be tolerated in Richmond Hill or anywhere in New York state,” according to a press release issued by her office. Suhag Shukla, executive director of the Hindu American Foundation, attended the press conference, as did Nikunj Trivedi, president of the Coalition of Hindus of North America. Others who spoke at the press conference include Pandit Lakhram Maharaj, founder and spiritual leader of Shri Tulsi Mandir, Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, N.Y. Senator Joseph Addabbo Jr., City Councilwoman Joann Ariola, Assemblyman David Weprin, and Queens Borough President Donovan Richards.
Following the destruction of the statue, the Cityline Ozone Park Civilian Patrol (COPCP) has increased its presence in the area at night, as reported by QNS. In a Twitter post, the COPCP said they were “deeply saddened” to learn about the vandalism that occurred at the mandir. “This is not the first time something like this has happened, and it must stop,” COPCP wrote. “We must work together to send a clear message that hate crimes towards any religion will not be tolerated.”