A life-sized bronze statue of Mahatma Gandhi, gifted by the Indian government, has been vandalised here in an act Prime Minister Scott Morrison strongly condemned as "disgraceful", triggering shock and disappointment among the Indian-Australian community.
The incident happened hours after Prime Minister Morrison unveiled the statue at the Australian Indian Community Centre in Rowville on Friday alongwith the Consul General of India Raj Kumar and other Australian leaders as part of a celebration of 75 years of India's Independence, The Age newspaper reported.
It is disgraceful and extremely disappointing to see this level of disrespect, Morrison was quoted as saying in the report on Sunday.
He said that attacks on cultural monuments would not be tolerated in a country which is the most successful multicultural and immigration nation in the world.
Whoever is responsible for this has shown great disrespect to the Australian Indian community and should be ashamed, he said.
The statue was gifted by the Indian government.
Victoria police said an unknown number of offenders used a power tool to decapitate the statue sometime between 5.30pm on Friday and 5.30pm on Saturday, according to ABC News.
The police said that the Knox Crime Investigation Unit detectives were investigating the matter and are appealing for witnesses to come forward with information.
The Indian community in the city expressed their shock over the incident, terming it as a "low act."
"The community is very shocked and sad. I don't (understand) why anyone would do such a low act of vandalism," Surya Prakash Soni, president of the Federation of Indian Associations of Victoria, was quoted as saying in the ABC report.
He said the Rowville centre was the first Indian community centre in the State of Victoria and had been established after 30 years of effort.
Australia India Community Charitable Trust chair Vasan Srinivasan said that it saddens him that someone tried to vandalise the statue within 24 hours of its unveiling.
"They were trying to cut the head off by grinding around it," he was quoted as saying by SBS News.
He said that there are almost 300,000 Indians living in the state of Victoria and "I never expected this thing could happen in Victoria.
Srinivasan said that police could not get any fingerprints because it was raining heavily throughout the day.