The story so far: The The Indian High Commission in London has strongly condemned the violence against the Indian community in United Kingdom’s Leicester, amid reports of “large-scale unrest” and “serious disorder” in the city following communal clashes over the weekend, leading to 47 arrests so far.
In a statement on Twitter on Monday, the Indian High Commission said, “We strongly condemn the violence perpetrated against the Indian community in Leicester and 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.” India also urged the UK to protect those affected.
What happened in Leicester?
Disturbances in the city of Leicester first began last month after an India and Pakistan cricket match, as per the police. On August 28, fans from Hindu and Muslim communities reportedly clashed after India secured a win against Pakistan in the Asia Cup T20 tournament in Dubai. Eight people were arrested on “suspicion of assault and violent disorder”, as per English media. Several similar incidents of disturbance were reported in the coming days, which led to more arrests.
What led to fresh violence?
Trouble flared up after an “unplanned protest” was taken out in Leicester on Saturday, September 17. According to a report in The Guardian, a group of Hindu men were filmed marching through the city’s Green Lane Road, which has many Muslim-owned businesses and a Hindu temple. One of the Muslim community leaders told The Guardian that loud chants of “Jai Shri Ram” could be heard from streets away. A woman told the BBC that there were people wearing balaclavas or masks over their faces and with hoods pulled up. “They were just everywhere, it was like crowds walking away from a football match,” she was quoted as saying.
Another person, described as community activist Majid Freeman by The Guardian, reportedly filmed disturbances on the city’s Belgrave Road. He posted a video online in which the smashing of glass bottles could be heard. “They were coming past our mosques, taunting the community and physically beating people up randomly,” he said. “That’s when the Muslim community came out and said: ‘We can’t trust the police, we’re going to defend our community ourselves,'” Freeman said.
The Hindu community in the UK, meanwhile, remains on edge. A former head of a Hindu organization in the UK, Drishti Mae, alleged that Hindu families were being harassed by some Muslims in the city. “They feel threatened, and attacked,” she alleged, saying the police were failing to protect property, people and places of worship. “We do have a right to protect ourselves,” she said.
Several videos circulating online show a man pulling down a flag outside a building, while a flag is being burned in another, which prompted the Indian High Commission to release a statement. A man who identified himself as a representative of Hindu temples in the city “confirmed” to The Guardian that the flag outside a temple on Belgrave Road was removed, while another was burned.
The police action that followed
The Leicestershire Police has been constantly calling for calm over the past few weeks and dispelling rumors in frequent tweets since unrest first broke out in the East area of Leicester last month.
Following “serious disorder on Saturday when a large crowd formed after groups of young men began an unplanned protest”, the Leicestershire Police posted a video message by temporary chief constable Rob Nixon. In the clip, the officer confirmed that there had been numerous reports of an “outbreak of disorder” in East Leicester. “We are taking control of the situation. The dispersal and stop and search powers have been authorized. Please don’t get involved. We are calling for calm,” he said.
The dispersal power of the police allows officers to direct a person who has committed, or is likely to commit, anti-social behavior to leave a specified area and not return for up to 48 hours, they ca stop and search to “allay or confirm” their suspicions without making an arrest.
Leicester East MP Claudia Webbe issued an appeal for calm on Twitter as she called for “cool heads”. “…I am concerned by ongoing reports of ‘hate-filled clashes’, including those which emerged today in Leicester. It is vital that we work together to share the message of tolerance so that we can bring our communities together,” she wrote.
Leicester’s Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby also told the BBC that he was “baffled” by the events in the city. On reports of men coming in from other cities of the UK to stoke disorder in Leicester, he said, “It’s mostly young men in their late teens and early 20s and I have heard suggestions people have come in (to the city) from outside looking for an opportunity to have a set to. It’s very worrying for people in the areas where this has happened.” He said he and community leaders are “confident Leicester is resilient enough to be able to return to normal relations very soon”.
What have the police said about temple vandalism?
In an update on Saturday’s unrest, the police said several incidents of violence and damage had been reported. The statement said the police were aware of a video circulating showing a man pulling down a flag outside a religious building on Melton Road. “This appears to have taken place while officers were dealing with nearby public disorder in the area. We do not tolerate violence or disorder. The incident will be investigated,” it said. Fifteen people were arrested on Saturday.
On September 19, groups of men again gathered in the North Evington area. However, police said the situation was brought under control with a temporary police cordon. “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 rigor and at scale,” the statement said.
As per the latest update by the Leicestershire Police, posted on Twitter at 8.09 am (IST), there have been no reports of disorder, while “proactive police patrols as part of ongoing operation continue.”
What has been the response of the two communities?
Leaders from both the Hindu and Muslim communities have made appeals for peace and calm while calling for engagement.
Describing the events as “alarming”, Suleman Nagdi of the Leicester-based Federation of Muslim Organisations, told the BBC that there have been problems between the two communities since the cricket match, but things took a turn for the worst. “There are some very dissatisfied young men who have been causing havoc. We need to get the message out that this must end…” he was quoted as saying.
In a statement, the Muslim Council of Britain called for “action against far-right Hindutva extremism” in Leicester. “These provocations have targeted Muslims, Sikhs and other minorities and as a result, instigated hostilities between local communities in Leicester. We do not believe these people represent the views of wider Hindu communities, with whom Muslims and Sikhs, among others, enjoy good relations in the UK, of which Leicester, historically, is a prime example.”
Sanjiv Patel, a representative of Hindu and Jain temples across the city, said he was deeply saddened by the recent disturbances. “Across the Hindu and Jain community and with our Muslim brothers and sisters and leaders, we are consistently saying ‘calm minds, calm heads’…Violence is not a solution to anything. This has to be a time for peace, calm and engagement,” he was quoted as saying.
Leaders of the Hindu and Jain temples and community organizations in the UK city also released a statement and said they were working with the police to get to the bottom of Saturday’s march. “We condemn the insensitive and utterly disgraceful acts on the streets of Belgrave and North Evington. Leaders of the Hindu community are not going to tolerate such acts of aggression that undermine the relationships and unity within this city of Leicester,” they said.