Reports of unrest between Hindu and Muslim comm-unities emerged after the Asia Cup cricket match between India and Pakistan on 28th August. Post the match, there were clashes in the Belgrave area of Leicester, which resulted in eight people being arrested. Further violence was reported on 5th September and a total of 27 people were detained for questioning as part of a major police operation to tackle the trouble.
So far 15 people were arrested on Sunday night after rival gangs, many wearing masks, gathered in the east of the city where temples were allegedly vandalised. A video circulated on social media that saw men pulling down a flag outside a religious building at Melton Road and ripping it apart. That led to the mass mobilisation of youths, attacking each other.
A press release from India House said, “We strongly condemn the violence perpetrated against the Indian Community in Leicester and vandalization of premises and symbols of Hindu religion. We have strongly taken up this matter with the UK authorities and have sought immediate action against those involved in these attacks. We call on the authorities to provide protection to the affected people.”
Sir Peter Soulsby, the Mayor of Leicester acknowledged that social media were “distorting now and some of it just completely lying about what had been happening between different communities.” Leicestershire Police condemned the violence and called for dialogue between representatives from both communities.
Asian Voice reached out to over 40 residents of Leicester to understand the situation better. But most of them refrained from coming out with their names or identities amid fear of backlash. The community has collectively called for peace and tolerance amid the unrest and many residents believe that nothing can deter the cultural diversity and unity in Leicester. Many residents have affirmed that Leicester is not divided by its different faiths and hope to see unity in the city. Some members believe that community leaders from all faiths and communities need to speak out and guide their members. Another resident told the newsweekly that she feels the ‘news is not correct, and some news is unnecessarily escalated’. Community organisations have released a joint statement appealing to the masses to stop any kind of violence immediately and report to the police if needed. Meanwhile, the residents also hope that the perpetrators will be dealt with firmly and appropriate punishment will be given as a deterrent for any further disturbance. The community also fears for its safety ahead of the festival of Navratri/Durga Puja, followed by Dussehra and Diwali next month.
Dr Kartik Kavi was born in Leicester and grew up amidst diverse faiths and cultures. Speaking to Asian Voice, Kavi said, “I have seen first-hand Leicester’s diverse community work together to create a multicultural bastion. It was therefore extremely shocking and saddening to see while working as a junior doctor in the city’s hospital, one of my patients being assaulted because of their religion. Faith has previously never been a cause for unrest in modern, inclusive Leicester. As the riots continue, I fear for the safety of my family and friends, especially those living in the affected areas. However, at this moment, when fear and anger are elevated, I propose Leicester is not divided by its different faiths but divided by the majority who seek peace and the small minority who pursue violence. And when the riots end and they will end, we must ensure those who sought to terrorise our streets and drive a wedge across this harmonious city are brought to justice.”
Nirmala Bhojani, a journalist and community activist told us, “Having lived in Leicester for 34 years, we have always felt that there was a great community spirit as people of all faith lived in harmony. Police reports say 47 people were arrested, including some from Birmingham. This means outsiders are involved in creating chaos here. It's really sad to see the unrest, caused by some divisive groups and we as Hindus have to be vigilant that this does not incite further fear or divide the peaceful communities in our city, which has been a perfect example of multicultural harmony for so long. Let's unite together to bring back peace in Leicester.”
Dipti Mistry has been living in Leicester since 1989 and has been working with community organisations and religious places. Speaking to the newsweekly she said, “It has been a shocking experience as something like this has never happened before. Leicester is known for its multicultural values and people from all faiths and communities live and work closely having good family-like relations with neighbours and colleagues. To my personal understanding, community leaders from all faiths and communities need to speak out and guide their members towards peace and harmony with each other.”
“I hope that decades of peaceful co-existence of Leicester's diverse communities do not turn into a fearful living. I pray that everything will be done by the powers that be and by local communities & leaders of faith to preserve the fearless freedom of our city and its citizens. It is not just about cricket match results or Hindu - Muslim issues but a multitude of factors that will need to be honestly explored and addressed. I think that there will be Goodwill to restore Leicester's image & hallmark of a successful diversity city,” resident Smitaben Shah said.
Stating that facts have been twisted, Alpa Suchak said, “In my personal opinion, all the news is not correct, and some news is unnecessarily escalated without knowing the facts. Because of this, the false news is affecting innocent people, specifically the elderly and kids. I feel so sorry for the local residents who are suffering. Local authorities are doing their best duties to deal with it.”
Businessman Nagarjun felt that in the end, both communities won’t get any benefits if they carry this on. “I can see that there are many young people taking part in this, but they should not be encouraged to join in. Both communities must settle down and have a respectful manner toward each other because they are both big contributors to the UK economy, and a thank you to the Leicestershire Police for doing a fantastic job,” he said.
Vinod Kotecha, Ex-chief executive officer of the confederation of Indian organisations (UK) said, “Leicester is truly a multicultural city and people of different faith & race have been living very peacefully for decades. Recent unrest is very alarming and should be resolved very soon. A game of cricket between two rivals India and Pakistan should not be a cause of conflict. In the T20 game, there will be only one winner and fans of both teams should accept defeat or victory gracefully.”
In an official statement, the Federation of Muslim Organisation said, “It is long overdue and time for all communities and statutory bodies to match this commitment to stand against the hate that is hurting the city we love. Leicester is a proud city renowned for its diversity and harmony of which the Muslim and Hindu communities have always worked peacefully for over 50 years, yet we have to accept that recent spates of violence are linked to some newly arrived groups with racist ideologies.”
Hindu temple and community centre leaders from Jain Centre, Shree Sanatan Mandir, Shree Ram Mandir, Shreejidham Haveli, Hindu Mandir, Geeta Bhavan Mandir, BAPS Swaminarayan Temple, Vrajdham Haveli, The Swaminarayan Mandir, Jalarama Prarthana Mandir, Shakti Mandir, Radha Krishna Mandir, Brahma Kumari, Gujarat Hindu Association ISKCON Leicester, Brahma Samaj Leicester released a joint statement on the issue. “Leaders of the Hindu community are not going to tolerate such acts of aggression that undermine the relationships and unity within this city of Leicester. “If anyone was involved or knows of others who have been caught up in this, PLEASE STOP, and immediately report it to the police. If anyone needs support or would like to discuss any concerns in a safe and confidential manner, please call the police on 101 or 999. We must unite in peace and call out those from within the community, who are acting to disturb the peace and harmony. Dialogue, discussion and sitting side by side is what is required at the appropriate time.” The group reiterated that this was the time to be in prayer and respect for the Queen, the Royal family and the country.
In a letter to the Temporary Chief Constable Leicestershire Police, Sital Singh Gill, General Secretary, Indian Workers Association (GB) Leicestershire said, “Indian Workers Association (GB) always welcome sporting events and promote healthy living. However, we strongly oppose communal base sports celebrations which conclude in religious disharmony and community division. We stand together with the police to take serious action against those who are responsible for this attempt to divide and disrupt communities in Leicester that have always lived together in harmony.”
Pravin Amin, President, the National Association of Patidar Samaj told us, “The volatile situation amongst communal and religious groups in Leicester needs to be calmed down. Liaison amongst community leaders, the police and local government officers must play their part urgently to bring peace. The perpetrators must be dealt with firmly and appropriate punishment given as a deterrent for any further disturbance.”
“The Hindu community has been a target of organised violence in Leicester over the past 20 days. It is obvious from the video footage that this attack was carefully planned to terrorise the Hindu community. Included within the attacks are the Diu-Daman Hindus, a small and marginalised group who are based in the Belgrave and Latimer areas and face various socioeconomic challenges.
“Numerous fabricated and distorted videos that falsely accuse Hindus of creating this situation have been shared online and are still available. We support the police’s calls to end misinformation and urge them to continue to take action against this to prevent further incitement by extreme elements.
“Every citizen in the UK has the right to protest peacefully, just as the role of the police is to maintain peace and prevent harm. We call on the police to ensure that Hindus receive the due protection they deserve,” a spokesperson from Insight UK told the newsweekly.
A statement by the Co-Chairs and Moderators of the Faith Communities Forum of the Inter Faith Network for the UK read: “We affirm the vital efforts of all those working in Leicester and other areas of the UK to tackle tensions where these arise and to develop greater understanding and stronger interfaith and inter-community relations and we call for the necessary resources to be made available to support this work.”
While Twitter was abuzz with tweets from women and men worrying about their safety to travel within Leicester, an anonymous source told the newsweekly, “On Saturday, I witnessed a group of men smashing up car windows two streets away from where I live. I would say there were hundreds of them. They were shouting religious chants. I felt extremely scared for my safety, but I don't blame the police. They are trying their best but are outnumbered. I am worried about my car being smashed and I know people in the area especially the elderly who are scared to even leave their house.”
Prof Manoj Ladwa Chairman & CEO India Inc. tagged PM Liz Truss and posted a tweet, “Woke up to yet more disturbing news from Leicester where the Hindu community is under siege. Let's not brush this off as some sporadic, minor law & order incident. This is a symptom of what's been brewing in our inner cities for years. #StampOutTerror and it's causes @trussliz.”
Sanjay Jagatia believes that this situation needs to be brought under control. He pointed out that in one week we are entering the largest Hindu festival (Navratri) where many hundreds of thousands of Hindus will be congregating daily for 9 days and nights across the country, which will be closely followed by 5 days of Diwali celebrations - where major cities and towns like Leicester, Wembley, Harrow, Birmingham etc, will be immersed by over hundreds of thousands of people celebrating on the streets, roads and temples, community centres. Sanjay said, “The Hindu community will be in fear (especially the elderly and very young) to come out for these celebrations. Discussions with the Police Commissioners, Mayors, Ministers, MPs etc have to take place - “involving young people” from both communities. The Secretary of State for Levelling up and Communities/and or Minster of Faith has also been encouraged to make a visit to Leicester to ask for calm. If this situation is not curtailed now it will flow into other cities and towns very quickly as we have already seen in Birmingham and other places. Temple/Mosque Leaders, together with so-called National Umbrella Faith Organisations have very little influence over the youths of both Communities. It needs younger members to be empowered to make a stance - a correct stance and be role models for calm and community cohesion.”
Dilip Patel of Hindu Sahitya said, “Any disorder that might occur will pose even greater problems to the Hindu community in two weeks when tens of thousands of Hindus will come together in public and in community centres across the city to celebrate the ancient festival of Navratri. We demand that the Hindu community is given the protection it deserves in due course in the practice of its traditions. We are conducting pujas for peace in our mandirs and urge all sides to come to a peaceful resolution.”
Shantubhai Pinsad said, “Winning and losing is a part of any sport. We must learn to digest the result- whether winning or losing. Excitement should remain only in sports. People must enlighten themselves that it’s only a game. Don’t take it so seriously.”
Fake kidnapping allegation
In a statement to the press, Vinod Popat, Chair BHV said, “The British Hindu Voice very strongly condemns the actions of those who, through social media, made fake allegations that 3 Indian boys tried to kidnap their 15-year-old daughter. The police have investigated this allegation and have found it to be untrue. This kidnapping allegation was followed by further social media postings of a car and a photo of a man who the ‘author’ claimed was involved in the kidnapping action. Later, it was found that this man was abroad when the alleged incident of kidnapping took place.
“This incident brings into question the motivation of those who made such serious fake allegations against Indian boys at a time when communal tolerance is at its lowest. It seems a narrative is being created through the use of social media that a particular community is to be blamed for raising the tensions and the unrest.
“Words like Muslim areas and Hindu areas are being used in social media. There are no such areas. All areas in Leicester are Leicester areas and there is a presence of all the faith communities everywhere in Leicester. This division of Leicester by those who want to create communal disharmony is not acceptable.
“This must stop,” he said as he urged the Leicester City Council must take a lead on this and show leadership.