New York City Mayor Eric Adams, state Assemblymember Jenifer Rajkumar, and other local officials gathered Wednesday at a Hindu temple in Queens to condemn the second attack this month on a statue of Mahatma Gandhi just outside its front doors.
About 1:30 a.m. on August 16th – hours after Indian Independence Day and the temple’s 18th anniversary celebration – a group of six men took a sledgehammer to the statue in front of Shri Tulsi Mandir, a temple in South Richmond Hill, destroying it, according to the NYPD and temple leaders. The police department’s Hate Crimes Task Force is investigating the attack and a similar incident on August 3rd, where three people toppled the statue, as part of a “pattern” of attacks, authorities said.
Who destroyed the statue and why remained unclear.
Some local elected officials pointed to a surge in reported anti-Asian hate crimes in the city and across the country. Others condemned religious hatred in general. Rajkumar, the first Hindu member of the Assembly, and other leaders of Hindu organizations specifically decried animosity toward Hindus.
But other local advocates said the motivation could also be political: the views of Gandhi, the anti-colonial nationalist leader who was assassinated in 1948, have come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, including his attitudes on race and gender, and his defense of the Indian caste system.
The destruction of the statue follows the defacement of Gandhi statues across the country, including in Union Square earlier this year.
Adams said he wouldn’t tolerate hate aimed at religious establishments, or hurting people based on their “way of life,” highlighting hatred aimed at the Asian American and Pacific Islander and Jewish communities. The mayor urged the city to embrace Gandhi’s beliefs.
“The bullet that took his life – it is continuing the emotional path of attempting to rip apart our communities,” Adams said. “Today, we stand together as Jews, Christians, members of Sikh communities, and all the other communities that are a part of us to say that bullet is not going to continue to rip us apart.”
Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz said her office would hold people accountable when they criminally hurt others because of their national origin or religion. Rajkumar thanked Adams and NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell for “investigating these recent anti-Hindu hate crimes as hate crimes.”
New York state law defines a hate crime as specific criminal offense committed against a person because of their real or perceived race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, gender identity or expression, religion or religious practice, age, disability or sexual orientation. Perpetrators can face enhanced punishment.
Lakhram Maharaj, the head priest and founder of Shri Tulsi Mandir, said the 106th Precinct has ramped up security following the attack, comforting regular temple goers afraid to return to worship.
Maharaj added that as he performs prayers, he can peek out the side window of the temple and see officers on the sidewalk.
The temple is fundraising to replace the seven-foot statue with a new one that will stand 12- to 15-feet high, according to Maharaj. He said the taller replacement is “to show whoever hates us, whatever they’re doing, is not going to stop us from practicing our beliefs.”