Hindu community leaders and elected officials gathered at the Shri Tulsi Mandir in South Richmond Hill and unveiled a new statue of Mahatma Gandhi, replacing one destroyed by vandals two years earlier.
The destruction of a statue honoring the Indian independence leader and apostle of nonviolence in August 2022 was caught on camera and resulted in a 27-year-old Queens man being arrested and subsequently charged with criminal mischief as a hate crime. Attendees at the new statue’s unveiling on Sunday included Mayor Eric Adams, Queens Assemblymembers Jenifer Rajkumar and David Weprin, and Councilmember Lynn Schulman.
One attendee, Romeo Hitlall, president of the United American Hindu Leadership Council, said the act of destruction “was very disturbing,” and prompted a fundraising campaign within the Hindu community that generated close to $20,000 for a new statue.
He described it as “bigger, better [and] nicer.” The previous statue, he said, was concrete, while the new one is a “full-color statue” that was made in Jaipur, India, and shipped to New York.
“The community knows what happened,” said Hitlall, “and now they’re driving by and they can see this beautiful, 8-foot statue standing in front of the temple.”
At the unveiling, Rajkumar said that “vandals may have destroyed the first statue, but nothing can destroy our belief in the Gandhian principles of love, unity, nonviolence and peace.”
On X, the mayor wrote that “hate has no place in our city. We embody the values of justice for which Gandhi gave his life.”
The criminal case did not proceed to trial, but how it was resolved was not immediately clear. The Queens district attorney’s office said in an email that “there is no public record of this case,” which can follow when charges in a case are dismissed and the matter is sealed.
Queens’ vandalism incident was part of a string of attacks and even decapitations of Gandhi monuments in recent years, including episodes that took place in Manhattan’s Union Square as well as in California, Washington and just outside Toronto.
South Asian community leaders said motives behind the violence are hard to discern, but the acts are often tied to political grievances, rather than religious or ethnic bias.
Under New York’s hate crime law, as with most state and federal hate crime statutes, a criminal act tied to a perception or belief regarding race, color, national origin or religion can result in enhanced penalties adding years to a defendant’s sentence.