Indian American man from Queens charged with hate crime for vandalizing Mahatma statue


A 27-year-old Indian American man was arrested and charged with a hate crime for allegedly vandalizing a statue of Indian freedom fighter and peace apostle Mahatma Gandhi outside a Hindu temple in South Richmond Hill, Queens, New York in August.

The Queens district attorney’s office on Monday announced that Sukhpal Singh was charged with criminal mischief as a hate crime for allegedly act in front of the Tulsi Mandir Temple on August 16.

According to local media reports last month, five suspects, including Singh, allegedly used a sledgehammer to break down the life-size Gandhi statue early morning on August 16. They allegedly spray-painted ‘kutta,’ the Hindi word for dog, on the shattered statue. They also allegedly painted ‘grandpi’ and ‘dog’ on the pathway outside the temple. The other four have not been apprehended.

In a statement on Monday, Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz said, “As alleged, 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 DA’s office said that Singh, a resident of Little Neck Road, provided one of the two getaway cars that was caught on surveillance footage. In the surveillance tape, the five men are seen striking the statue repeatedly with a sledgehammer, spray-painting it and running towards Liberty Avenue. Some of the accused men hopped into a black Toyota Camry and some jumped into a Mercedes Benz C-Class vehicle, the video shows.

The DA said investigators were able to pull the plate number of the Mercedes Benz from the video and learned it was registered to Singh, who was arraigned Sunday in Queens Criminal Court on one count of criminal mischief as a hate crime, another count of criminal mischief and one count of aggravated harassment.

He faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

In a statement issued on Monday, Assemblymember Jenifer Rajkumar — who represents the area and is the first Hindu-American elected official in New York State — said “hate and bias incidents against the local Hindu community are on the rise.” She said, “I do not call for harsh punishment against the perpetrator apprehended, for Gandhi himself believed that an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind… I call for all those involved in this act of hate to educate themselves about the mutual love and inclusivity taught by Gandhi and adopt the love in their hearts towards all… I invite the perpetrators to drop the sledgehammer and join with us in the cause of peace.”

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