Leicester was praised as one of our most successful varied towns and a shining example of cosmopolitan Britain until a few weeks ago.
The 11th biggest city in England, where 70 languages are spoken and residents of all faiths—whether they are Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, or Christians—have coexisted happily as neighbours since the early 1960s, when immigration from Pakistan and India first began to soar.
However, horrific pictures of sectarian violence, masked hate mobs, and street brawls amongst furious young men in recent days have highlighted the long-simmering tensions between the city’s many ethnicities.
The disturbances, which just this past weekend resulted in the injuries of 25 police officers and the arrest of 47 persons, were ostensibly blamed on a cricket match between India and Pakistan.
A closer look reveals that Leicester is a tinderbox, with its clashing religious ideas, high unemployment, poor pay, and large families crammed into small Victorian terraced homes.
Furthermore, there are legitimate worries that the problems may spread to neighbouring cities.
In opposition to a scheduled lecture by a hardline lady connected to Hindu fanaticism in India, a 200-strong mob of Muslim men demonstrated outside a Birmingham temple only two nights ago.
Following the most recent fighting in Leicester, MailOnline sent correspondent Nick Fagge to the conflict-torn area:
Outside of his barbershop on Leicester’s Green Lane Road, Muhammad Sandhi declares, “Whatever this is about, it’s not about cricket.” “I am a Muslim who is Indian.”
Muhammad, 26, a native of Gujarat, India, arrived to the East Midlands 16 years ago and has lived there ever since. During that time, he has never experienced anything like the violence that has rocked his family in recent weeks.
We are free to practise our religions openly in Leicester, whether we are Muslims, Hindus, or Sikhs. But it should not be acceptable for us to force our beliefs down the throats of others. We ought to be able to coexist peacefully and with mutual respect.
“This is hurting the city of Leicester’s image, particularly in this neighbourhood.” Evening visits are no longer made here. The barbershop needs to shut early.
Mother-of-two Bansari Shukla claims that people who had peacefully lived in the ethnic melting pot for decades are suddenly on edge farther down Green Lane, where the aroma of spices wafts past the saree store and into the mechanic’s workshop.
The 40-year-old Bansari stated, “I don’t know what this is all about, but it’s quite disturbing.” “Even my kids are scared right now.” At school, they have friends from many ethnicities, including Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, English, and Poles.
Individuals like Bansari retreated inside their houses last weekend while groups of young Muslim and Hindu men fought in the east of the city. Police detained people for offences including making death threats, possessing a handgun, and affray.
The widespread unrest, which is mostly involving young males from Hindu and Muslim populations, is seen as a “country-based quarrel” after India’s victory over Pakistan in a cricket match for the Asia Cup on August 28 in Dubai.
After the game, huge groups of young men dressed in Indian flags started to celebrate on Leicester’s Melton Road. There is video that seems to show Indian fans screaming “Pakistan Murdabad,” which is a phrase from the time of the partition and means “death to Pakistan.”
That evening, there was widespread violence that included the attack of a medical professional and was reportedly sparked by false information on social media.
The animosity was increased over the course of the next several weeks by fabricated reports of mosque assaults, alleged kidnapping attempts of adolescent girls, and fabricated accounts of an attack on a Muslim man during a cricket match.
According to police, competing adolescent gangs from towns and cities including Birmingham and Luton converged on Leicester last weekend, some of them motivated by an internet campaign called “We’re going to land in Lesta [sic].” This, in turn, increased the violence.
Religious leaders have expressed concern that clashes like the one in Leicester might occur “all across the nation.”
Because of how severe the situation is, both India’s and Pakistan’s high commissions issued statements denouncing the violence against the Muslim and Hindu populations, respectively, and urging the UK government to take appropriate action.
A group of young Hindu males were seen on camera on Saturday walking past Green Lane Road, which is home to many Muslim-owned businesses. Some of them were seen on camera chanting “Jai Shri Ram,” which is Hindu nationalism in India’s version of the phrase “Victory to Lord Rama,” as a sign of their loyalty to their religion.
The saffron flag atop a Hindu temple was vandalised, Muslim men gathered in response, and footage of the groups smashing bottles at one another was posted online.
45 people have been detained by police who are looking into recent incidents in the eastern part of the city for offences include making death threats, having a handgun, and fighting.
With 14 different religions represented, Leicester had previously been regarded as the UK’s model of diversity. What caused the turmoil, and might it occur elsewhere?
Although many people in the city are multiethnic and integrated, there are other regions of Leicester where they are mostly not, which might be an issue.
In these places, where everyone has a common ancestry and some don’t speak English, residents live in close-knit communities in the same postcodes. Few people outside of their own ethnic and religious background are encountered by hundreds.
As a result, animosity between people of Hindu and Muslim, Indian and Pakistani descent, has grown.
Additionally, recent events have heightened these already present tensions thanks to fabricated and exaggerated social media messages.
It is impossible to deny the role played by extreme organisations on both sides and the fallout from India’s 200 million Muslims being more marginalised by its Hindu supremacist Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
An region that formerly seemed to reflect the two groups, those of Muslim and Hindu origin, living in close proximity in relative tranquilly, has become the frontline for recent conflicts.
Green Lane Road is less glitzy than the more well-known “Golden Mile,” since it is surrounded by modest, sweatshop-run textile companies and light engineering enterprises.
It’s a commercial district. The Grand Union Canal’s Leicester Line runs near by. Above is a brick chimney made for industry.
However, it was formerly thought of as a place where people of many religious backgrounds might coexist peacefully.
The Sikh Gurdwara temple sits across the street from a home with Hindu iconography and a Koranic prayer on its front door.
Soand Singh, a 40-year-old Sikh butcher, told MailOnline: “People from Pakistan and India have coexisted peacefully in Leicester for a very long time.” We are Sikhs, and we get along with everyone. But this is frightful. Additionally, it hurts business.
This is unrelated to cricket, you say.
The “Hindutva” or ultra-nationalist Hindu organisations on the one hand, and the radical Islamists of groups like Hizb-Tahrir on the other, advocate the beliefs that have underpinned this formerly cold conflict.
Each essentially seeks to create a state based on religious principles, in which adherents of other faiths would be treated as second-class citizens.
With a 6.8% unemployment rate in 2021 compared to a national average of 4.1%, Leicester has established itself as a haven for people looking to promote divisive and hateful views.
And there are still a lot of issues in the city that are hidden from view, like the abhorrent sweatshops that were used in the apparel industry for years but weren’t revealed until a newspaper exposé in 2020.
According to some accounts, labour exploitation persisted in numerous workplaces, with employees receiving earnings below the minimum wage too afraid to speak out and authorities turning a blind eye out of concern for the possibility of being charged with racism.
According to a recent investigation by the Leicester Garment and Textile Workers Trust, the sweatshops are still in operation two years later, with workers still being subjected to physical abuse, refused maternity leave, and paid only £3 per hour. More than half of the employees surveyed admitted to being paid less than the minimum wage.
During the pandemic, Leicester also acquired the unpleasant distinction of being the first “shut down” city in Britain. Sky-high COVID-19 rates were attributed to chronic overcrowding in the Victorian terraced homes where the majority of the Asian population resides.
Some observers have noted that while people of many ethnic groups may reside in the same postcode, “integration” is something of a façade and that genuine interactions between them may be uncommon, particularly if they do not speak the same language.
Of course, since Islam was introduced to the region in the 7th and 8th centuries, there have been conflicts between Muslims and Hindus in the Indian subcontinent.
With the partition of India and the establishment of Pakistan in 1947, horrifying violence erupted most dramatically, with some estimates placing the death toll as high as two million.
Because of disputed territorial claims in Kashmir, India and Pakistan fought three wars against each other in 1947, 1965, and 1971. As a result, relations between the two adversaries have been marked by distrust and hostility.
Therefore, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that periodically, such strife might spread to UK cities where Muslims and Hindus have coexisted – relatively – happily for decades.
However, other observers believed that external factors also had a significant influence in the Leicester case.
Dharmesh Lakhani, a resident of the city for more than 50 years who works with neighbourhood mosques, attributed the escalation of the crisis to external factors.
Now, in my opinion, things would have settled down if it had been been Leicester residents. I believe there are unwelcome extraneous forces present. We could resolve this immediately if we just had the residents of Leicester, the Hindu and Muslim organisations, our government, the police, and our local council.
Sunny Hindal, a former writer for the Hindustan Times, concurs. This is another another instance of how increasing Hindu nationalism in India, which has often been aimed at religious minorities like Muslims, Christians, and Sikhs, is exporting tensions overseas, he argues in this week’s New Statesman.
“India’s governing party, the BJP, has exploited religion to target minorities and opponents and is dedicated to the notion of building a country for “Hindus first,” a vision promoted by its founding fathers.
“Given that Hindu nationalism is on the rise in India and has effects in Western nations as well, this menace cannot be disregarded overseas.” I said in 2019 that British BJP workers were inciting hate against Muslims and pressuring British Hindus to support the Conservative Party. It wasn’t just one side of the story in Leicester. Hindu holy icons were desecrated by Muslims, and some of them made bigoted comments on social media. This is more of a tale of how social media and false information can swiftly turn political competition into ecumenical strife.
The majority of those groups of males reportedly roving Leicester came from outside the city and were out for trouble and attention. Hindu and Muslim organisations have both tried to use these tensions as a recruiting tool.
He added: “Police forces also need to have better plans of action to understand and defuse such tensions, which is why local community participation vitally essential.” He also accused Leicestershire Police of being “flat-footed” and ignoring the warning signals. The Queen’s funeral, I believe, played a role in the Leicester police’s surprise.
The police, for their turn, accused agitators from both sides of travelling outside the city to carry out acts of violence. They may have had in mind 6ft 7in British-Egyptian YouTuber “Mohamed Hijab,” who to his 700,000 subscribers identifies himself as a “author and professor.”
He tells a roaring mob of Muslim men in his most recent incendiary video from Leicester: “If they [Hindus] believe in reincarnation, what a shame for them to be reborn into some stupid, weak, timid individuals like them.” Bruv, I’d rather to reincarnate as a grasshopper. On the basis of what happened on Tuesday in Birmingham, which is just 38 miles away, the worries that Hindu-Muslim violence will spread elsewhere seem to be valid.
Hardline The planned Tuesday appearance of Hindu nationalist Sadhvi Ritambhara at a Hindu temple in Birmingham prompted a disturbance by 200 young Muslim males.
Despite her opponents’ claims that her British Hindu hosts had withdrawn the invites, Ms. Ritambhara’s plans for a five-venue tour of the UK, including in Nottingham, Coventry, and Ilford, east London, were abandoned. The cancellation was allegedly caused by “poor health.”
Sam Tarry, the Labour MP for Ilford South, was made aware of her visit and contacted the Home Office to request that her tour be halted.
‘As you will know, Sadhvi Rithambara is a very controversial character, renowned for her xenophobic remarks and language, in particular towards the Muslim minority in India,’ he said in a letter to Home Secretary Suella Braverman.
‘She was previously detained on suspicion of instigating intergroup conflict when the Babri Masjid was destroyed, which resulted in the deaths of nearly 2000 people.
“I am genuinely concerned about the potential fueling of communal tensions, should her visit be permitted to advance,” the representative for my constituency said. “It is my constituents’ and my conviction that her Islamophobic speech has no place within our cosmopolitan and varied town of Ilford.”
The nonprofit organisation Hindus for Human Rights had earlier this month protested against her trip and organised a campaign against her speaking tour of America.
Police will undoubtedly be monitoring social media for any indications of impending unrest, but they could also be keeping an eye on the calendar.
On October 23, the day before the Hindu holiday of Diwali, India and Pakistan will play another cricket match, this one in the T20 World Cup in Melbourne.