Communal unrest in Leicester rings alarm bells
he city of Leicester has been in the spotlight recently over disorder following India-Pakistan cricket matches.
Located about 100 miles north of London, Leicester has a 562,000 population. Its residents - including Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians - have long lived peacefully. Leicester is famous for its cultural diversity and world-class universities. However, recent events in the city have raised fears of the entry of Hindutva ideology in the UK.
On September 17, a large number of young Hindu men marched through the streets of Leicester, chanting Jai Sri Ram, Vanday Matram and Jay Bharat Mata. Some of them attacked Muslims.
Earlier, in May, a Muslim teenager in Leicester was hospitalised after an unprovoked attack by a communal crowd. After India’s victory against Pakistan in a cricket match in August, a group walked through the streets chanting ‘Death to Pakistan’ before attacking a Sikh man. There were similar reports after a second cricket match between the two countries that India lost. In response, several groups of Muslim men held protest demonstrations.
“In the general election of 2019, allegedly, Hindu nationalist groups in the country were actively campaigning for Conservative candidates. Many of these groups have direct links to the BJP, and their actions represented attempts at influencing an overseas election. However, this is not just a UK problem. The scourge of Hindu nationalism has gone global,” a media report stated.
Religion-wise, currently Christianity dominates Leicester at 32.4 percent. The second most popular religion is Islam with 18.6 percent adherents. Hindus are a close third at 15.2 percent. The occurrence rates for standard crimes in the city are below the national average.
English is the most spoken language in Leicester; 72.47 percent can speak and understand the language. Gujarati is the second common language, with 11.54 percent. Other languages spoken in the city are Punjabi 2.4 percent, Polish 1.97 percent, Urdu 1.07 percent, Somali 1.06 percent, Arabic 0.8 percent and Bengali 0.57 percent.
Followers of various religions have practiced their beliefs freely in the past.
Residents of Leicester have described the cricket match as “a flashpoint.” How events unfolded during the unrest is unclear. There have been contradicting claims, counterclaims, social media speculation and deliberate misdirection. Some say the trouble started when a large group of Hindu men marched towards the mainly Muslim Green Lane Road area. Others say it was a peaceful demonstration and that a Muslim counter-demonstration led to the violence. Most people appear to believe that the truth is somewhere in the middle.
One theory suggests that new Hindu arrivals living in the predominantly Muslim Highfields have experienced frequent abuse, leading to broad antagonism. Another is that those same arrivals have brought with them the Hindu-nationalist politics of their Indian homeland.
Following the unrest, police have confirmed that 50 people were arrested and four charged with various crimes. A comprehensive independent investigation has also commenced.
After the unrest, police have confirmed that 50 people were arrested and four have been charged with various crimes. A comprehensive independent investigation has also commenced.
Following the recent events in Leicester, The News on Sunday (TNS) took a closer look and found that thousands of Indians have moved to the UK from Portugal after Brexit. These Indians, mostly 30-35 years of age, belong to the Indian region of Daman, Dadra, Nagar Haveli, and the Island of Diu, the Indian territories near Gujarat. All four areas were once Portuguese colonies. “Before Brexit, about 20,000 young people from these Indian regions migrated to the EU and the UK. Most of these migrants came to Leicester. The Indian migrants were familiar with Gujrati culture, language and way of living. These migrants were allegedly trained in India by the RSS,” media reported.
Leicester residents speaking to TNS on condition of anonymity said: “For the first time in the history, slogans like Jay Shri Ram, Jay Bharat Mata and Vanday Mataram were heard in the streets of the city.”
A local leader Maqsood Ahmed says the demonstrations should not be taken lightly. “This is an ongoing trauma.”
Ahmed fears that far-right and fanatical elements could penetrate the community. “Indian nationalists and social media operating from India are distorting the narrative and inciting people by airing fake news.”
He says most of the recent migrants seem to be Gujarati-trained and ignorant of the local culture and traditions. “During the recent rift, there were around 200,000 tweets from India under the hashtag ‘Hindus are under attack in the UK.’ 97 percent of the tweets were re-tweeted.”
Local community leaders said: “On the day of the funeral of the Queen, there were only a few police officers present with the Hindu procession. When the Muslim march started, there were 800 police officers leading the procession.”
The local authorities are vigilant as two Hindu festivals will be observed in October. Although stern measures have been taken to keep peace, some people are apprehensive. Sources say police and secret services have stepped up their operations in some other areas of the UK as well.
“Islamophobia now appears to be a matter of public and foreign policy for India. The Indian High Commission in the UK responded to Leicester’s events by referring only to the worries of the Hindu community there. This is a breach of diplomatic norms. Leicester should serve as a wake-up call,” a media commentator said.
The writer is a correspondent for Geo News, Daily Jang and The News in London