New Delhi: Leicester city in the United Kingdom has seen an escalation of scuffles and communal tension leading to the arrest of two in an area which has a mixed population of Hindus and Muslims, British media outlets have reported. BBC has called it a “large-scale disaster.”
The disturbances first began after the India-Pakistan Asia Cup cricket match of August 28. The latest episode has led to community leaders and police calling for calm.
On Saturday, September 17, a group led a march chanting ‘Jai Shri Ram’ through east Leicester, a community leader named Rukhsana Hussain, told The Guardian. A woman who had witnessed Saturday’s disturbances was quoted by BBC as having said that there were “people wearing balaclavas or with masks over their faces, and with hoods pulled up.”
“They were throwing bottles and all sorts,” a local of Belgrave Road in the eastern part of Leicester, Majid Freeman, told The Guardian. “They were coming past our mosques, taunting the community and physically beating people up randomly,” he is additionally quoted as having said.
Freeman said that in response, young Muslims led a march. “‘We can’t trust the police, we’re going to defend our community ourselves’,” is what they thought, he said.
One Drishti Mae, who is described as a former chairperson of a national Hindu organisation, is quoted by the newspaper as having said that the recent unrest was unprecedented but that it was Hindus who were being targeted and harassed. She described Hindus as a “first-generation migrant community.”
The Guardian report notes that leaders of the Muslim community, Hindu and Jain temples, and community organisations in Leicester have all promised to work to get to the bottom of what caused the march on Saturday.
“We need calm – the disorder has to stop and it has to stop now. There are some very dissatisfied young men who have been causing havoc,” Suleman Nagdi, of the Leicester-based Federation of Muslim Organisations told BBC.
Leicestershire police has been releasing frequent tweets, the latest of which says the situation is now calm. Earlier, its temporary chief constable Rob Nixon had released a video message urging peace, noting that this was an “unusual occurrence” for such a culturally diverse place.
“We are aware of a video circulating showing a man pulling down a flag outside a religious building on Melton Road, Leicester,” police also noted, adding that the matter will be investigated.
One of the Guardian reporters Aina J. Khan later tweeted a long thread in which she essayed her experience reporting the story and the comments she received from men purportedly aligned with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
“The interview got heated when another man, an RSS member, accused me of bias when I shared concerns about yesterday’s impromptu marchers chanting “Jai Shri Ram,” a Hindu chant appropriated by extremists in India, that has now become synonymous with anti-Muslim hatred,” Khan wrote.
Eventually, she tweeted in the thread, she was accused of being “a member of the Taliban, an extremist, playing the victim card” and of not “scrutinising Pakistan’s treatment of its minorities and fixating on India’s treatment of its minorities, of ignoring how Muslims are raping everyone.”
Khan also tweeted a video showing her audio recording the three men seen loudly speaking to her on the above topics. Khan wrote in the thread that she was also filmed and that had she not been visibly Muslim she would not have been treated like this.
“There is no doubt these men were not representative of the Hindu community,” she added.