Nearly six months after a life-sized Mahatma Gandhi statue was vandalized in New York City’s Union Square, another in South Richmond Hill suffered a similar fate last week, according to reports.
The incident occurred on Aug. 3 and involved the Gandhi statue outside the Shri Tulsi Mandir, a Hindu temple located at 103-24 111th St. Photos released by Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar — the first Hindu American elected for office in New York state — show the statue toppled over, its arm cracked and hand broken into pieces.
Rajkumar, who led a press conference on Tuesday, described the vandalism as a hate crime against the Hindu community. In an earlier statement, she highlighted the importance of tolerance based on Hindu and Gandhi’s teachings.
“Hindus believe not just in tolerance, but in one step more than tolerance — actively loving and respecting people of different backgrounds and faiths,” Rajkumar said. “This was Mahatma Gandhi’s dream – a peaceful, loving world.”
The assemblywoman stressed that the desecration of Gandhi statues and other “anti-Hindu hate crimes” will not be tolerated in Richmond Hill and the rest of New York state. She called for the latest vandalism to be investigated as a hate crime and for the perpetrators to be punished to the fullest extent of the law.
However, Jagpreet Singh, political director at Desis Rising Up and Moving, a local group focused on low-wage South Asians, cautioned against calling the incident a hate crime.
“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, according to Gothamist. “I think the framing around it being a hate crime is maybe a little bit too premature.”
Singh said there are also subsections of the Indian community that do not revere Gandhi, such as the Dalits and the Sikhs. “That’s why I’m not really trying to jump to conclusions here as to what exactly happened here,” he added.
Pandit Lakhram Maharaj, founder and spiritual leader of the Shri Tulsi Mandir, said they seek healing for the perpetrators of the latest incident rather than punishment.
“The statue may be gone, but the values it embodied will endure forever, and they must guide us as we respond to this incident,” Maharaj said, according to QNS. “What we want is not revenge against the perpetrators, but mutual understanding; not punishment, but healing. We are grateful to have Assemblywoman Rajkumar on our side as we embark on this healing process.”
Featured Image via Office of Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar