Prominent American politicians and Hindu community leaders came out on midday Tuesday in sweltering heat to express their outrage and condemnation of the vandalization and desecration of the Mahatma Gandhi statue that was in front of the Tulsi Mandir in Little Guyana, Richmond Hill. The statue has been there for several years. The mandir is patronized by Guyanese and Trinidadians.
Gandhi’s statue was destroyed last Thursday by three individuals that CCTV camera footage revealed were of Hispanic origin. The area where the mandir is located is largely occupied by Indo-Guyanese.
Tuesday’s rally in front of the mandir was organized by elected New York State Assemblywoman Jennifer Rajkumar. She is first Hindu American of New York to be elected in any legislative office. She represents the area where the mandir is located. She stated that she invited other politicians and community leaders and the media to condemn hate and discrimination. “We gather to condemn last week’s hate crime”. She said God takes many forms as is expressed in Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Sikhism, among others and as such “people should not attack but respect other person’s religious belief or faith”.
Jennifer noted that Gandhi stood for non-violence and social justice. “Love, peace, harmony, and tolerance constituted Gandhi’s dream. “All ethnic groups live together here”. She added: “Gandhi sacrificed material life for service and his actions motivated me to take up public service. His principles were rooted in Hinduism – non violence and soul force. He obtained India’s independence without shooting a bullet. Martin Luther King was influenced by Gandhi; Dr. King used Gandhian principles to fight American segregation”.
She continued: “The spate of hate attack against Hindu Americans is shocking. Hate crimes against Hindus have gone up by 125 percent. Hindus are easily targeted. It is unAmerican. Our country was founded by immigrants. Italians and Irish suffered similar attacks when they first came”.
The Assemblywoman said that it is unacceptable to engage in hate. “America is a land of endless possibility”, said Rajkumar noting that her parents came to the US with just $300 and a suitcase and they have become a success story.
“Everyone wants to be part of the American dream. I am an embodiment of that dream. I am the first south Asian to be elected from NYS”. Ms. Rajkumar is an ivy league trained lawyer at the near top of her class who was highly sought after by law firms and politicians for their offices.
Jennifer explained that she got a Bill passed in the NYS legislature against hate crime and which authorizes the setting up of a commission to investigate cases of hate.
She said she spoke with officers in charge of the 106 police precinct that is responsible for the location of the mandir to investigate the attack as a hate crime. She said the Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz is investigating the vandalism as a hate crime. She concluded with “God bless America”.
The follow up speakers continued the theme of Ms. Rajkumar in condemning hate crimes. Community leader and organizer Romeo Hitlall condemned the act. “I denounce hate crime. As Hindus, we live and embrace each other.”
The spiritual leader of Tulsi mandir, pandit Lakhram Maraj of Berbice explained what the CCTV showed. “Three Hispanic individuals slapped Gandhi statue, pushed it down. They also knocked down tulsi plants which embodies Goddess Lakshmi. Tulsi is sacred to Hindus.” Pandit Lakhram appealed to the public for unity. “Let us unite; united we stand”. He thanked Jennifer and Romeo for their support and cooperation and for taking up this issue”.
Pt. Maraj said that some six years ago, jhandi flags were set on fire. He said the police promised an investigation but there was no follow up action. He thanked the politicians and the gathering for their support.
Pandit Ram Hardowar, spiritual leader of Shri Surya Mandir (172nd St) and President of the United Federation of Mandirs, joined the chorus in condemning the attack on Gandhi’s statue. He recalled that the Gandhi Peace March last year culminated at Tulsi Mandir. He said that the attack on Gandhi’s statue “is an eye opening moment. We must recognize it as a serious crime. I urge that this attack be taken up at federal level as well. We are angry, disturbed, and taken aback by this attack”. He noted that Gandhi’s life and teachings were not confined just to India. His message and life’s teaching spread worldwide. “Nelson Mandela was inspired by Gandhi as was Dr ML King. We must educate the masses about what Gandhi symbolizes and hopefully this kind of attack will end. Gandhi stood for love and unity”.
Congressman Gregory Meeks told the gathering that he wished “we are here to celebrate what Gandhi stands for. I wish if I were here to talk about how wevare a better borough, city, state, country because of Gandhi and the celebration of his life. Instead, we are here to condemn a hateful act against a great man. Gandhi’s as well as Dr King and Nelson Mandela’s message was about love, not hate. We must stand in one voice against hate. We must let the haters know that we will not allow them or anyone to succeed in their acts of hate. This is a message for the vandals. Three people will not destroy unity. We must know the contribution of Gandhi. We must bring people together. We will demonstrate that Southeast Queens, Richmond Hill stands united against hate and prejudice. Hate will not be allowed to stand. We will change mindset of those who pursue hate. Hate can’t stop us. You will hear my voice speaking out against hate. We will work together to combat hate”.
Assemblyman David Weprin also condemned the violent act against Gandhi’s statue.
He said the diversity of our city and state recognize all religions and faiths. “We acknowledge, cherish, and celebrate our diversity. He said the NY delegation is working ihard for recognition of Diwali”. Weprin appealed, “we must look out for each other. Hate is an attack against all of us. We will do our best for people to worship freely. I denounce this hate attack”. He quoted from Gandhi. “Nothing enduring can be built from violence”.
State Senator Joseph Addabbo told the gathering that hate is unacceptable. “New Yorkers are about love and respect. Disrespect and hate crime must not be accepted.
We must do something to combat hate crimes. He said the legislature has stiffen penalties. We must love and respect others. Law enforcement must have a greater role against hate. Justice must be served in this attack on Gandhi’s statue”.
Nikunj Trivedi, President of Coalition of Hindus of North America (COHNA) expressed support to Tulsi mandir during this grievous period. “I commend Jennifer Rajkumar for this initiative in this sweltering heat to denounce Hinduphobia. There has been an increase in attacks on Hindus and Hinduphobia is rising especially in college campuses. We all must stand up against anti-Hindu and all hate crimes.
Aresh Sahani of Vishwa Hindu Parishad also denounced the anti-Hindu hate act. “There is violence against Hindus. We all must unite to counter the violence. This attack on Gandhi is an attack on peace and mutual respect. We must stand with the Hindu community”.
New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams was unable to attend but sent an assistant to deliver her message condemning the attack on Gandhi. “I denounce this heinous act of violence. I condemn all forms of bigotry. We must unite and combat this menace.”