Community leaders and local politicians in the British city of Leicester have called for an immediate end to “provocation and violence” after weeks of unrest that was triggered following a cricket match between India and Pakistan late last month.
Leaders of Hindu and Muslim communities gathered on Tuesday morning on the steps of a mosque.
Pradip Gajjar, the president of the city’s Iskcon Leicester Hindu temple, read out a joint statement saying they were “saddened and heartbroken to see the eruption of tension and violence”.
“Physical attacks on innocent individuals and unwarranted damage to property are not part of a decent society and indeed not part of our faiths,” he added, according to a video posted by the local Leicester Mercury newspaper.
Jonathan Ashworth, an opposition Labour MP in Leicester, condemned “shocking scenes of unacceptable incidents of violence”, in an interview with Times Radio.
The politician tweeted on Monday that all in the city “are united in calling for calm, peace and harmony”.
Dozens of people have been arrested in the wake of the violence in the most multicultural English city that has made headlines in India, Pakistan and the United Kingdom.
What caused the outbreak of violence?
So what caused the outbreak of unprecedented violence in Leicester, where Hindus and Muslims have lived peacefully for decades?
Violent street clashes between some members of the Hindu and Muslim communities broke out after India beat archrival Pakistan in an Asia Cup match in Dubai on August 28.
After the match, a large crowd went out on Melton Road in Leicester, some of them waving Indian flags, to celebrate India’s win over its arch foe Pakistan. Some in the crowd appeared to chant “Pakistan Murdabad” (death to Pakistan), according to videos shared on social media.
Police in Leicester reported a “series of incidents” in different parts of the city over the following week.
On Saturday night, a crowd of about 200 Hindu men marched in the city, with some shouting – “Jai Shri Ram” (Hail Lord Ram) – a war cry for far-right Hindus in India. Soon Muslims came out on the streets leading to scuffles.
The disturbances continued into Sunday with videos posted on local media showing large groups of youths wearing masks and balaclavas fighting in the streets.
A Hindu temple was vandalised on the weekend as a group of Muslim men protested in response to Saturday’s unplanned march during which Muslim residents and shop owners were intimidated.
Some members of the Asian community in the UK say the unrest could be linked to the rise in Hindu nationalism in India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), under which minorities, particularly Muslims, have faced increasing attacks since 2014, has been actively working among the diaspora Hindu community.
‘We will not tolerate violence’
Police in Leicester said at least 47 people had been arrested. “The impact this disorder is having on our local communities is not acceptable,” Leicestershire police said on Monday.
“We will not tolerate violence, disorder or intimidation in Leicester and we continue to call for calm and dialogue. Our police operations and investigations continue with rigour and at scale.”
Police said those arrested were men, mostly in their teens and 20s, and faced charges such as possession of offensive weapons or firearms, violent disorder and making threats to kill.
Police have obtained extra powers to stop and search anyone in certain areas and take minors back to their homes. They have urged against “circulating speculation on social media”.
The city’s mayor has blamed social media disinformation for the escalation of the violence.
Community leaders are in shock at the violence in a city known for its communal amity. Hindus and Muslims form a sizable section of the city’s population.
“What we have seen on the streets is very alarming,” Suleman Nagdi of the Federation of Muslim Organisations was quoted as saying by the BBC.
Sanjiv Patel from the Hindu community also expressed shock.
“We have lived in harmony in the city for many decades but over the past few weeks it is clear there are things that need to be discussed around the table to get out what people are unhappy about,” Patel, who represents Hindu and Jain temples in Leicester, was quoted as saying by the BBC.
‘A balanced view’
Dharmesh Lakhani, another Hindu community leader, said the desecration of the temple was “unacceptable”.
“I’m really proud to say on that day, when the flag was removed, there was an imam outside. He said I’m standing outside the mandir [temple], making sure nothing happens,” Lakhani was quoted as saying by the Guardian.
The India High Commission issued a statement on Monday condemning the “vandalisation 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.”
But the Muslim Council of Britain, the UK’s largest umbrella body for Muslim-led organisations, criticised the Indian High Commission for its selective condemnation.
“Whilst it is right that we condemn the desecration of Hindu symbols, you must represent all Indians and also condemn the deliberate targeting, intimidation and instances of assault of Muslims and Sikhs,” Zara Mohammed, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, wrote in a letter to the Indian High Commission.
“There is a clear hesitancy to call out these groups who have instigated this thuggery and their political ideology; which they seem to be attempting to import from India.
“British Indian communities expect a balanced view from the Indian High Commission, which represents all of the diaspora, which can help heal divisions locally.”