Eighteen arrests were made after clashes on Saturday September 18 and Sunday September 19 between members of the Hindu and Muslim communities in Leicester, a city in central England. Tensions emerged after a widely shared video was posted on Twitter in which a man was seen removing the flag from a Hindu temple in the city.
Several Hindu men first met on Saturday in a neighborhood in the east of the city, for a « unscheduled event » according to local police. The next day, another demonstration took place, in response to that of the day before, giving rise to clashes and arrests. In the aftermath, on Monday September 19, the Indian High Commission, India’s representation in the United Kingdom, strongly condemned, on Twitter, « the violence perpetrated against the Indian community of Leicester and the vandalism of places and symbols of the Hindu religion ».
For his part, the mayor of the city, Peter Soulsby, warned the BBC against the disinformation spread on social networks, which has « distorted » the causes of these tensions. A version corroborated by the county police, who considered that the videos relayed were fake news. “We have seen social media posts that a mosque is being attacked. Officers in the field have confirmed that this is not true,” wrote law enforcement in an online post.
These clashes between Hindus and Muslims are part of a context of recurring tensions between the two communities for several weeks. At the end of August, several arrests took place during the broadcast of a cricket match between India and Pakistan as part of the Asian Cup in Dubai. A few days later, on September 5, clashes again opposed members of the two communities.
According to the county police, however, these tensions were not initially based on religion. “An incident was shared on social media claiming that a Muslim was being attacked by Hindus. It was fake – the victim was actually Sikh and supported the same team as the people who attacked her,” a spokesperson for the institution told the Guardian.
In a September 14 statement, Leicester East MP Claudia Webbe also denounced fake social media posts, including an alleged « peaceful protest » which would have been planned on September 11 against the « hate crimes against Muslims », an event “entirely false and hateful”.
In Leicester we remain vigilant to incitement to hate, whilst working hard to bring our communities together and end race and religious violence
Leicester is one of the most diverse cities in the UK. Our unity is our strength
My letter to the Chief Constable of Leicestershire👇🏾 pic.twitter.com/L2DPOAkZSX
— Claudia Webbe MP (@ClaudiaWebbe) September 17, 2022
Influence of Indian politics
Furthermore, according to information from the Guardian, almost half of the protesters last weekend were not from the county, but from elsewhere in England. For Mayor Peter Soulsby, interviewed by the British media, « It suggests that there are people with other battles to fight who come to Leicester to fight them. » Several videos show Hindu demonstrators chanting an infamous anti-Muslim song in India, where the BJP, the Hindu nationalist party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in power since 2014, orchestrates the repression of religious minorities, including Muslims.
According to Gurharpal Singh, Emeritus Professor of Sikh and Punjabi Studies at Soas University, interviewed by the Guardian, “these tensions are now part of a larger social change that is happening in the city,” against the background of the growing influence of the Indian political context within the diaspora.