Sukhpal Singh, 27, was charged with criminal mischief as a hate crime for allegedly smashing the statue in front of the Tulsi Mandir Temple on Aug. 16, the Queens district attorney announced Monday.
Singh and four others — who have not yet been apprehended — allegedly took a sledgehammer to the life-size Gandhi statue and broke it to pieces in the early morning destruction.
The suspects reportedly spray-painted “kutta,” the Hindi word for dog on the shattered statue and graffitied the words “Grandpi” and “dog” on a road and pathway outside the 111th Street temple.
The pack of vandals destroyed the statue just two weeks after the effigy was toppled over in another act of vandalism — though it’s unclear if the cases are connected.
“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,” Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz said in a statement. “Hate and bias-motivated attacks have no place in our communities and my Office will hold such perpetrators accountable.”
Singh, of Little Neck Road, provided one of the getaway cars caught on surveillance footage, according to the Queens district attorney’s office.
The footage captured the five men toppling the statue, striking it repeatedly with the sledgehammer, spray-painting it and running towards Liberty Avenue. Some of the men hopped into a black Toyota Camry and some jumped into a Mercedes Benz C-Class vehicle, the video shows.
Investigators were able to pull the plate number of the Mercedes Benz from the video and learned it was registered to Singh, the Queens district attorney said.
Singh 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.
The act of vandalism shook the Hindu community in South Richmond Hill.
“To know that Gandhi represents peace and somebody would come and just target the statue and vandalize it, it’s very sad,” the temple’s founder, Pandit Maharaj, told the Queens Courier at the time of the incident.
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.
In July, Rutgers University released a report that found “evidence of a sharp rise and evolving patterns of hate speech directed toward the Hindu community across numerous social media platforms.”
In a statement Monday, Rajkumar thanked Katz and the NYPD for the arrest and called on the alleged vandals to educate themselves.
“Today, 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,” she said. “In keeping with that spirit, I call for all those involved in this act of hate to educate themselves about the mutual respect and inclusivity taught by Gandhi, and adopt love in their hearts towards all.”
She added that the Hindu community is “ready to embrace the suspects with open arms.”
“I invite the perpetrators to drop the sledgehammer and join us in the cause of peace,” Rajkumar said.