NEW YORK: Strongly condemning the vandalisation of a statue of Mahatma Gandhi outside a Hindu temple here, the Consulate General of India in New York on Friday took up the matter with the United States authorities to ensure those responsible for the “despicable action” are held accountable.
In a possible hate crime, unidentified people destroyed a handcrafted statue of Gandhi with a sledgehammer at Tulsi Mandir situated in South Richmond Hill in Queens for the second time in a month, media reports said on Friday.
Surveillance video shows a person thrashing a statue of Gandhi with a sledgehammer on Tuesday, before smashing the head off and toppling it over, according to cbsnews.com.
Minutes later, a group of six stomp on it and take turns hammering the statue before taking off, the report said.
The consulate said in a statement that it “strongly condemns the vandalisation of the Mahatma Gandhi statue outside a temple in Queens, New York”. “We have taken up the matter with US authorities seeking thorough investigation so that those responsible for such despicable action are held accountable.”
The word “dog” was spray painted both in front of the temple and down the block.
The New York Police Department is investigating both the incidents as possible hate crimes, media reports said.
According to the police, the suspects fled from the scene in two cars, a white Mercedes Benz and a darker car, possibly a Toyota Camry that is possibly used as a livery cab.
“We are deeply saddened to learn of the vandalism at the Tulsi Mandir last night. This is not the first time something like this has happened, and it must stop. We must work together to send a clear message that hate crimes towards any religion will not be tolerated,” Cityline Ozone Park Civilian Patrol (COPCP) tweeted on Wednesday.
We are deeply saddened to learn of the vandalism at the Tulsi Mandir last night. This is not the first time somethi… https://t.co/8rretCSOz0
— Cityline Ozone Park Civilian Patrol (@COPCP2020) 1660684555000
It added COPCP increased its presence at Tulsi Mandir.
Lakhram Maharaj, the founder of Shri Tulsi Mandir, was quoted as saying in the report that it is very painful “to see them coming after us like this”. Maharaj, who discovered the Gandhi statue reduced to rubble on Wednesday morning, said many in the community are now afraid to go to the temple.
“I cannot show the congregation that I am worried because if I do so, how will they remain strong,” the report quoted him as saying. The temple authorities cannot afford to replace the Gandhi statue, because it was handcrafted and cost about USD 4,000, the report said.
“I want to know why they did it,” Maharaj said.
Assembly member Jenifer Rajkumar was also quoted in the report saying when the Gandhi statue was vandalised, that really flew in the face of “all of our beliefs and it’s very disturbing for the community”.
“Hindu hate is on the rise,” the Rajkumar said, adding that donors have offered to pay for a replacement. “It’s outrageous. Gandhi is a symbol of peace all around the world.”
In a statement, the Assembly member– the first Hindu-American elected official in New York State — called for the perpetrators to be “apprehended swiftly, charged and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law”.
“We always knew that defeating hate would not be accomplished in one day, one week, or even one year. We are committed to this fight for the long term, and will use the Hindu principles of ahimsa (non-violence) and satyagraha (truth) that guided Gandhi himself and later the great American civil rights hero Martin Luther King, Jr.”
This is not the first time that a statue of Gandhi was vandalised in the US.
The same Gandhi statue was vandalised two weeks ago, investigating officers said.
In February this year, an eight-foot-high Gandhi statue, located in Manhattan’s Union Square, was defaced by unknown persons.
In December 2020, Khalistani-supporters had damaged a Gandhi statue in Washington, DC in front of the Indian Embassy.
The then White House Press Secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, had termed the incident as “terrible”.
(with agency inputs)