The city of Leicester in the United Kingdom became a boiling pot of communal tensions after Hindus and Muslims clashed due to a spate of violence that is said to have begun after the India versus Pakistan cricket match that was held on 28 August in Dubai, as a part of the 2022 Asia Cup tournament.
Dozens were arrested with visuals on social media showing people raising slogans against Pakistan, along with pro-Hindutva and pro-Islam slogans in separate incidents.
Leicester, which has the most numbers of Indians (around 30 per cent) in the United Kingdom, is the first British city with a non-white majority population, and is known for its multiculturalism. The violence that recently occured, therefore, is unfathomable to most residents of the city.
The Quint spoke to four community leaders, two Hindu activists and two Muslim activists, to understand more about the harmonious co-existence of the city that recently hit the headlines for the wrong reasons.
'At Diwali, We All Celebrate', Says Hindu Community Leader
"Leicester is known as such a diverse city. We've got people from all areas of the world, all religions of the world, and we have, up until very recently, been living very peacefully," Dharmesh Lakhani, a community leader who works with Hindu temples, said while speaking to The Quint.
He goes on to say that the violence that the city witnessed has been "blown out of proportion" and is not representative of a Hindu-Muslim problem.
"In Leicester, we all live together, work together, eat together, play together. We work on our Leicester ideology of peace."
Diwali in Leicester is a big deal, adds Lakhani. "It is the biggest outside of India. At Diwali, we all celebrate. These festivals are for everybody, whether Diwali, Christmas, Eid, they are for everybody."
'Never Ever Had Issues in the Last Fifty Years', Says Muslim Activist
"We've always lived in harmony with our brothers and sisters of the Hindu faith," says Owais, a representative of an organisation called MEND (Muslim Engagement and Development).
'We've never ever had issues in the last fifty years. It's been a wonderful relationship of brotherhood and sisterhood. Ever since the change in the narrative in India, since the rise of nationalism in India, there have been rumblings within the community."
The nationalism narrative has become mainstream in the Hindu community, he says with some concern.
Community Leaders Appeal for Peace
On 20 September, leaders of Hindu and Muslim communities jointly appealed for harmony in the wake of the violent clashes. The president of the city's ISKCON Temple, Pradyumna Das, accompanied by Muslim leaders, read out a joint statement outside a mosque in the city.
"Our message to anyone that sows disharmony between us is clear: we will not let you succeed. We ask all to respect the sanctity of religious places, both mosques and mandirs alike, whether provocation with loud music, flag bearing, derogatory chants, or physical attacks against the fabric of worship," the statement said.
"We are one family," it added.
'Even When Gujarat Massacre, Babri Masjid Happened ...'
Majid Freeman, a Muslim activist based in Leicester, tells The Quint that people are supposed to be protecting all places of worship, whether it's the gurudwara, the temple, or the church.
"Whatever place of worship it is, we're meant to be protecting them, let alone actually harming them."
He goes on to say that people all of faiths have been living peacefully in Leicester. "We've never ever really had any problem, even when the Gujarat massacre happened, even when Babri Masjid happened, it never spilled over into Leicester. If something had to happen, it would have happened then."
'We Will Continue to Live in Harmony', Says Representative of Hindu Council UK
"We've never had the kind of tensions that we saw that weekend," says Kirit Mistry of the Hindu Council UK.
Mistry blames misinformation on social media as one of the key causes of the problem. He does not buy the story that the India-Pakistan match was the reason behind the shocking violence.
"As people keep saying, the India-Pakistan cricket game was the initial fuel but I don't believe in that, because we've had, for years, cricket going on in this country and abroad. When India wins, Indian people come out, and when the Pakistani team wins, the Pakistanis come out. It's just a way for people to show their passion."
He calls the violent incidents in Leicester a minority of a minority. "So we can't let the minority bring distruption to our city. We will, as brothers and sisters from different faiths, continue to be living in harmony."
(P P Jaseem is a freelance journalist in the UK covering law, human rights, and Indian minorities.)