New Delhi: Lawmakers from Queens, New York joined community leaders outside a local Hindu temple recently to denounce the vandalisation of a Mahatma Gandhi statue which they suspect to be a hate crime.
On 3 August, unidentified individuals allegedly knocked over the statue – outside the Shri Tulsi Mandir in Richmond Hill — leaving it face down on the ground with the hand in pieces and an arm cracked.
This follows a previous incident of vandalism in New York in February, when an 8-foot bronze statue of Gandhi in Union Square was defaced.
Jenifer Rajkumar, a New York state assemblywoman and the first South Asian woman to be elected to the New York state office, has demanded the incident be probed as a hate crime against Hindus, and the perpetrators thoroughly punished.
In a statement posted on her official twitter handle, she said, “Hindus believe not just intolerance, but in one step more than tolerance — actively loving and respecting people of different backgrounds and faiths. This was Mahatma Gandhi’s dream – a peaceful, loving world… The desecration of Gandhi statues and anti-Hindu hate crimes will not be tolerated in Richmond Hill or anywhere in New York State.”
Rajkumar is responsible for setting up the first ever Asian American and Pacific Islander Commission in New York State, to address the problem of rising hate crime against the Asian community. She has also protested crimes against Sikhs, women and Muslims in the area.
Founder and spiritual leader of Shri Tulsi Mandir, Pandit Lakhram Maharaj, said the statue of Gandhi represented Hindu values of love, respect, and peace. He wished not for “revenge against the perpetrators, but mutual understanding; not punishment, but healing”.
According to the Goathamist, the NYPD said that an investigation was ongoing and its Hate Crimes Task Force had been notified. But they have not been able to confirm a motive yet.
Two national Hindu groups, the Hindu American Foundation and the Coalition of Hindus of North America, were also present at the gathering, and expressed their support for the Hindu community and called for law enforcement to investigate the crime.
Speaker of New York City Adrienne Adams released a statement condemning the crime, saying, “Hate has no place in our community, Queens, or New York City.”
Meanwhile, Jagpreet Singh, political director at ‘Desis Rising Up and Moving’, a local group representing low-wage South Asian and Indo-Caribbean New Yorkers, was wary of unequivocally declaring the act a hate crime. He pondered on the complexity of Gandhi’s significance to different communities in the area, where some subsections such as Dalits and Sikhs don’t necessarily see him as a revered figure.
Since early April this year, there have been at least four violent attacks against Sikh men in the South Richmond Hill area. The alleged increase in hate crime has also led to the release of a study by Rutgers University, highlighting the increase in ‘Hinduphobia’ on social media.