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QUEENS, New York — One of four suspects believed to have vandalized a statue of Mahatma Gandhi which stood in front of a Hindu temple here, has been arrested after a month-long investigation.

On Sept. 17, police nabbed Sukhpal Singh, 27, of Little Neck Road, Queens. Singh was arrested on 19 Pitt Street, in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and charged with one count of felony criminal mischief in the second degree as a hate crime, felony criminal mischief in the second degree, and aggravated harassment in the first degree.

Singh is due back in court on Oct. 17. If convicted on all charges, he faces up to 15 years in prison.

District Attorney’s Statement

Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz said in a press statement: “The defendant, along with several unapprehended others, committed a disgraceful act of violence against a Mahatma Gandhi statue that has become a universal symbol of peace, unity and inclusivity.”

“Hate and bias-motivated attacks have no place in our communities and my office will hold such perpetrators accountable. The defendant has been apprehended and is charged appropriately.”

Kutta Dog

On the morning of Aug. 16, the day after India celebrated 75 years of independence from colonial rule, devotees arrived at the Tulsi Mandir to pray on their way to work, as a matter of routine. That’s when they found the statue of Mahatma Gandhi — the architect of India’s freedom movement — which stood at the temple’s door, smashed to pieces. The words “Kutta Dog” were spray-painted on the shards of the broken statue.

Vanfdals also attacked the statue Aug. 3, chipping off Mahatma Gandhi’s nose. (photo courtesy of the Queens Hindu temple)

Video surveillance footage showed that during the wee hours of the night, around 1:30 a.m., a group of five men arrived at the compound. One carried a sledgehammer. He began to pound away at the concrete sculpture until it toppled. The others milled about swearing out aloud as the attacker continued to smite it.

Pattern Of Attacks

This was the second attack at this place of worship.  

A video captured vandals demolishing a statue of Mahatma Gandhi, which stood in front of a Hindu temple in Queens, New York. (video courtesy of the Queens Hindu temple)

A little over 10 days earlier, on Aug. 3, three individuals had knocked down the same statue. That time, they hadn’t demolished it, though. The priest, Lakhram Maharaj, told India Currents that a car had dropped off three men around 2:00 a.m. As they approached the temple, they covered their faces with their T-shirts. “They were speaking in Spanish, but they’re not Spanish,” he said.

Suspects Spoke Hindi

Speaking of the later episode, he added that the vandals were heard in the recording to be speaking in Hindi.

The N.Y.P.D.’s Hate Crimes Task Force has been investigating both these incidents as a “pattern,” the law enforcement agency stated in an e-mail in response to a query by this publication.

When officers combed through video surveillance footage from Aug. 16, they found the interlopers entering two cars, some into a Mercedes-Benz and some into a Toyota Camry. The former was traced to Singh.   

Dangerous New Trend In Anti-Hindu Bias

His four co-conspirators have not yet been apprehended.

The statute had been created by a sculptor based in Guyana and had cost the congregation $3,000 to transport it to New York.

In response to a query by India Currents about the fact that the perpetrator is a person of Indian origin, Samir Kalra, Managing Director for Policy at the Hindu American Foundation said, “On the one hand, this represents a new dangerous trend in anti-Hindu hate by other Indians in the U.S. Historically, in the U.S., most of the anti-Hindu and anti-Indian hate violence and attacks on temples have been committed by individuals of non-Indian origin. So this is certainly a new worrying development.”

‘Khalistanis Against Hindus?’

Recently, in Fremont, California, another person of Indian origin was caught spewing venom on an Indian man at a Taco Bell.

“On the other hand, given that both incidents were committed by Khalistani supporters or sympathizers, it’s not surprising. Pro-Khalistan propaganda has always been virulently anti-Hindu in nature and has perpetuated stereotypes about Hindus. For example, one of the slurs in the Taco Bell incident—“cow piss drinker”—is frequently [hurled] by Khalistanis against Hindus.”

Kalra added: “Local, state and federal law enforcement need to take notice of this trend and take hate crimes and hate incidents against Hindus by Khalistan supporters and sympathizers seriously and address them accordingly.”

India Currents’ Stop The Hate campaign is made possible with funding from the California State Library (CSL) in partnership with the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs (CAPIAA). The views expressed on this website and other materials produced by India Currents do not necessarily reflect the official policies of the CSL, CAPIAA or the California government.

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Alakananda Mookerjee

Alakananda Mookerjee lives in Brooklyn, and is a Francophile.