Local elected officials and community leaders came together on Tuesday when they condemned the vandalization of a Mahatma Gandhi statue outside of a Hindu temple in Queens.
An unidentified individual knocked over the statue outside of the Shri Tulsi Mandir temple on 111th Street in South Richmond Hill last Wednesday, according to the NYPD. Photos provided by state Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar, who represents the community, showed the statue face down on the ground with its hand in pieces and arm cracked.
The act of vandalism comes after another Gandhi statue was defaced in Union Square earlier this year, along with several other similar incidents around the world.
Rajkumar staged a press conference with state Assemblyman David Weprin and other community leaders on Tuesday to condemn the vandalization. She referred to the damage as a “shocking” hate crime against the Hindu community, and it should be investigated as such.
“Hinduism is not just about tolerance, Hinduism is about a step more than tolerance. It is about actively loving people from different backgrounds,” Rajkumar said. “This was Gandhi's dream, and we have realized Gandhi's dream here in Richmond Hill, where people who are Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Sikh all live together harmoniously, often on the same block.”
The NYPD said an investigation was ongoing and its Hate Crimes Task Force had been notified. A motive has not yet been determined, officials said.
New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, who also represents the Queens community, decried the incident as one borne out of hate.
“Hate has no place in our community, Queens, or New York City,” Adams said. “As a city, we must root out hate with love and acceptance. The Council will continue to invest in preventing hate crimes and supporting the communities, like mine, that too often experience it. We will continue working together in unity for the safer communities we all want.”
Jagpreet Singh, a political director at Desis Rising Up and Moving, a local group that represents low-wage South Asian and Indo-Caribbean New Yorkers, cautioned against jumping to declare the act a hate crime given the complex context surrounding Gandhi’s significance to different communities present in the area. He suggested there could be other motives aside from hate against any particular group.
“There have been, within the past couple of years, other vandalization of Gandhi statues. And if just looking into those, you can see that there, a lot of them have been politically motivated rather than motivated against a certain religion or ethnic group,” Singh said. “I think the framing around it being a hate crime is maybe a little bit too premature.”
There are subsections of Indian communities, such as the Dalit and the Sikh communities, Singh said, that don’t see Gandhi as a revered figure.
“That might be one of the indicators, or might be one of the reasons this had occurred,” Singh said. “That's why I'm not really trying to jump to conclusions here as to what exactly happened here.”