Leicester Clash: Can the Indian Diaspora in UK Toss Communal Politics Aside?
Religious and national conflicts in the Indian subcontinent reaching UK's doorsteps threaten community cohesion.
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It has come as a shock to find a socially cohesive and peaceful city like Leicester in the throes of Hindu-Muslim clashes. Leicester, a city with a sizeable Muslim and Hindu population have largely lived harmoniously alongside each other even during times of India-Pakistan tensions.
It all changed on 28 August, the day of the Pakistan vs India cricket match. After the match, groups of Indians were seen walking through a suburb of Leicester shouting “Pakistan Murdabad”. Reportedly, some men proceeded to attack a man who they assumed to be Pakistani, and in that violence, a police officer was assaulted.
Cricket Frenzy Turns Into Communal Bigotry
For a moment, that incident could be seen as highly charged cricket fans, behaving like football hooligans and causing unrest. But what has followed since, is there for all to see as it has now gone viral on social media, whether the chants of “Jai Shri Ram” or unacceptable comments from the other side on Indian Prime Minister Mr Modi.
Two wrongs never make a right. It led to the arrest of 27 people by Leicester police who also held an emergency meeting with the Hindu and Muslim community leaders to call for calm.
Is Multiculturalism at Stake in UK?
In the past, there were clashes between Sikh and Muslim youth in Slough and the Midlands in the late 1990s. However, further in the late 2000s, the Labour government had then funded a project on ‘cohesive communities’ to address ‘the growing gulf between Sikhs and Muslims in certain localised areas of England’. There have also been some clashes between the Palestinians and the Jews.
But what is happening now is deeply concerning and could pose a serious challenge to community cohesion. It seems that religious and national conflicts in the Indian subcontinent are now reaching the doorsteps of UK’s cities.
Have decades of effort put into multicultural policies failed? Have they encouraged ethnic minorities to see themselves as different and sometimes opposed to other groups in British society?
Hindutva Agenda Finds Resonance in Indian Diaspora
In the ongoing case of Leicester, it is a stark warning that the tensions and wars outside UK should not find an easy place here. But Dr Mukulika Banerjee, Associate Professor of Social Anthropology at the London School Of Economics (LSE) told me, “The events in Leicester were neither isolated or spontaneous nor clashes between ‘local’ communities. These were a planned assault on Muslims in Leicester by groups of Hindu men who came to the city for that purpose. Their marching through streets with flags and sticks is straight out of the Hindutva playbook, imported from India and its Hindu chauvinist government. Their agenda has nothing to do with Leicester where communities have lived in a neighbouring fashion. The massive bot factories nevertheless continue to feed the Hindu diaspora with lies and fake news.”
In fact, the Mayor of Leicester Peter Soulsby also pointed out to the mayhem being created on social media. “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. There’s no obvious local cause for this at all,” Soulsby said, pointing to a distortion of facts on social media and a concerted effort to bring people from as far away as Birmingham to raise tensions in “an otherwise very peaceful city”.
Gurharpal Singh, an emeritus professor of Sikh and Punjab studies at SOAS University of London and visiting fellow at the University of Leicester, said Leicester was a model of multiculturalism but there was an underlying divide.
He has been quoted saying, “These tensions which have risen are now, I think, part of broader social change which is occurring within the city,” but added, “Also, one perhaps should not rule out the increasing influence of homeland politics, you know, the mobilisation of the diaspora by the BJP.”
Not surprisingly, like many other observers, Singh said Indian media outlets had reported in Leicester in highly communal terms, constructing events such as communal riots in India.
Sectarianism: A Threat to Socio-Political Fabric
“The underlying social-economic tensions are there, and they then get exacerbated by fringe groups that use communal discourse,” he said. The mainly successful, rich, flourishing section of society are Gujarati-origin. Pakistani-origin people are mostly cab drivers with their children not getting into education. So the class divide is growing.
The Indian diaspora has, through years of hard work and education earned respect and a standing in this country’s social and political fabric which a handful of mindless people could now endanger. A friend Meena Verma, wife of a senior surgeon from Leicester, sounded worried.
She said, “I have never seen something like this in 35 years of living here. We are worried going shopping in the famous Golden Mile, Belgravia for Navratri and Diwali.” She added the change has happened over the past few years, a thought reflected in certain media articles. She explained, “There has been an inflow of people from Daman and Diu in the past few years and they are quite anti-Muslim.” It was something new I learnt.
Is politics in India playing a part in it? Or is British politics to be blamed too? Dr Banerjee said, “Many of us have been anticipating such moves for some years now. Individual Tory MPs have explicitly endorsed the nonsensical and groundless idea of Hinduphobia for their own purposes.Given the large South Asian population in this country, this is clearly fanning the flames and playing with fire.”
It reminds me of the times when the then foreign Secretary Labour’s Robin Cook promoted the principle of pro-plebiscite on the Kashmir issue. As part of a White Paper we presented to the then Prime Minister Tony Blair, the party line changed.
It is time for the Indian subcontinent diaspora to rise above narrow dividing lines of hatred. To the Indian diaspora in this country and elsewhere there is a famous line for you: Dekho o diwano tum ye kaam na karo, Ram ka naam badnaam na karo.
Live and let live. Take your regional politics out of the global space. Do not start the fire which will burn us all. Do not sully another nation with your narrow thoughts!
(Nabanita Sircar is a senior journalist based in London. She tweets at @sircarnabanita. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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