What is behind the religious violence in the Midlands?

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What is behind the religious violence in the Midlands?


Over the course of the past few weeks, tensions between Muslim and Hindu communities in Leicester have boiled over into acts of violence. Videos of the groups clashing have gained traction on social media, while local MP Claudia Webbe has warned that the violence could spread to other areas if not tackled appropriately.

Here, we break down how the disorder started and why it’s happening now.

Violence first broke out on August 28, following the Asia Cup T20 cricket match between India and Pakistan.

To celebrate India’s win, hundreds flocked to the area of Belgrave in Leicester while chanting racist, anti-Pakistan slogans, such as “Pakistan murdabad” – which means “death to Pakistan”.

The ensuing violence was exacerbated by religious divisions (for context: the main religion in India is Hinduism, while the main religion in Pakistan is Islam). A 28-year-old man was subsequently arrested on suspicion of assaulting an emergency worker.

In the days that followed, tensions continued to mount. One man was hospitalised after being assaulted near Bridge Road in Spinney Hills on September 5. Three further people were injured in Spinney Hills, while one was stabbed in the hand.

Police were then granted extra powers – to stop and search without reasonable grounds and to return anyone under 16 to their home – between the night of September 6 and the morning of September 7. A total of 131 people were stopped and searched, police confirmed, while 18 were dispersed.

This isn’t all just because of a cricket match. Locals have claimed that tensions have been simmering for months, and there have been multiple attacks on Muslims in Leicester this year by Hindu nationalist (Hindutva) gangs. Many local Hindus are being spurred on by the inflammatory rhetoric of Narendra Modi, the leader of India’s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Modi is a believer in Hindu nationalism, a political ideology which promotes the belief that Indian national identity and culture are inseparable from the Hindu religion. Hindutva ideology has been associated with right-wing extremism, largely due to the purist racial elements of the movement. It is also extremely intolerant of minorities – Muslims in particular (India is 80 per cent Hindu and 14 per cent Muslim).

Many Hindus in Leicester, however, claim that the trouble has been caused by Muslims who have travelled to Leicester from other cities – including Bradford and Birmingham – to incite violence.

Gurharpal Singh, an emeritus professor of Sikh and Punjab studies at SOAS University of London, told the Guardian that there has always been an underlying divide in the city of Leicester. “These tensions which have risen are now I think part of broader social change which is occurring within the city,” Singh said, highlighting changes in the city’s minority ethnic demographics, increased deprivation triggered by COVID-19, and the “mobilisation of the diaspora by the BJP”, as factors which have exacerbated this friction between the two groups.

Leicester’s mayor, Peter Soulsby, has also suggested that social media disinformation and a distortion of facts have added fuel to the fire. “I’ve seen quite a selection of the social media stuff which is very, very, very distorting now and some of it just completely lying about what had been happening between different communities,” he told BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme.

On Saturday (September 17), the situation escalated, leaving at least 16 police officers and a police dog injured and resulting in “proactive patrols” in east Leicester. 47 people were arrested in total across the weekend.

Nearly 200 Hindu nationalists marched through Green Lane Road in Leicester, wearing masks and balaclavas and chanting jai shri Ram – Hail Lord Ram – a religious chant that has become a clarion call for Hindutva mobs and perpetrators of anti-Muslim violence in India.

Videos of a Hindu flag being torn down from outside a temple and another being burned have also circulated on social media – although the veracity of the latter video has not been confirmed.

Police said “proactive patrols” continued in east Leicester overnight between Monday and Tuesday, and no new incidents had been reported, but the crisis is far from over.

Local MP Claudia Webbe warned that the violence could spread to other areas if not tackled appropriately, and now unrest has begun in Birmingham: videos on social media show a group of around 200 Muslims crowding around the Durga Bhawan Hindu Centre in Smethwick, Birmingham, with witnesses claiming bottles and firecrackers were thrown.

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