The British mainstream media are living up to the publics generally low expectations in relation to their so-called ‘reporting’ on the violent conflicts currently taking place in Leicester. In this respect the Guardian newspaper does slightly better than others, but their reliance upon a few problematic sources perhaps does them no favours in helping their readers understand the root cause of the current violence.
Although the Guardian, like other media outlets, refer to the start of the ongoing problems to “a cricket match between India and Pakistan on 28 August” it is obvious that the existence of far-right Hindu nationalists engaging in violent attacks in Leicester far predate the results of the latest cricket match. It was however only on Sunday (September 18) that the Guardian published their first article on the violence, and they at least highlighted the latest problems were caused by a deliberately provocative march of around 300 Hindu nationalists through Leicester on Saturday afternoon. The newspaper article explained:
In Green Lane Road, where there are several Muslim-owned businesses and a Hindu temple close by, a group of Hindu men were filmed marching through the area on Saturday.
Rukhsana Hussain, 42, a community leader, described hearing loud chants of “Jai Shri Ram”, which translates from Hindi to “hail Lord Ram” or “victory to Lord Ram”, from several streets away.
It is a chant that has recently become synonymous with anti-Muslim violence in India, where India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, is under increasing scrutiny for the treatment of minorities, including Muslims in the country.
This information is critical as it is a chant that is linked not just with violence but with the undertaking of murderous pogroms. Little wonder that many Muslims living in Leicester gathered on the streets to defend their community, a point that was well made in the Guardian article by Majid Freeman who was identified as a community activist.
“They were throwing bottles and all sorts,” Freeman said. “They were coming past our mosques, taunting the community and physically beating people up randomly,” he said.
A gathering of young Muslims in the city was in response to the impromptu march, Freeman added. “That’s when the Muslim community came out and said: ‘We can’t trust the police, we’re going to defend our community ourselves.’”
The violent war chants being made by the Hindu marchers have been popularised by the far-right Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). For those who are unaware of the toxic history of this group, a 2020 article published in the Guardian surmises: “Founded 94 years ago by men who were besotted with Mussolini’s fascists, the RSS is the holding company of Hindu supremacism: of Hindutva, as it’s called.” (To read this article, see “How Hindu supremacists are tearing India apart.”)
But discussion of the hateful politics associated with the RSS has been largely overlooked in the mainstream media’s coverage of the unfolding events taking place in Leicester.
Ironically, instead of discussing the influence of the RSS in Leicester the recent Guardian article, after letting Majid Freeman discuss his views on the ongoing events, invites a speaker from the Hindu community whose own political affiliations actually bring her closely into the orbit of the RSS.
Drishti Mae, 31, a lifelong Leicester resident who used to chair a national Hindu organisation, said the recent unrest was unprecedented in the more than three decades she had lived in the city.
“It’s the Hindu community that’s being targeted, a first-generation migrant community,” Mae said, claiming Hindu families were being harassed by some Muslims in the city.
“They feel threatened, and attacked,” she added, saying the police were failing to protect property, people and places of worship. “We do have a right to protect ourselves,” she said.
Although no other background is given by the Guardian, the group that this concerned individual used to chair is the National Hindu Students Forum (UK) – a group which remains an important source of support for Narendra Modi’s authoritarian BJP government. More pertinent to Drishti Mae’s own connections to RSS activists however is her current role as an advisor to the Hindu American Foundation, an American group that acts an important booster to Modi’s far-right politics. (For more background on this group see “Under fire from Hindu nationalist groups, U.S.-based scholars of South Asia worry about academic freedom,” Washington Post, October 3, 2021.)
Either way, just a day later a follow-up article was published by the Guardian which provided no further context to help explain the political roots of the violence as all it did was report on the arrests (see “Fifteen arrested to ‘deter further disorder’ in Leicester, say police,” September 19). But later in the day a more detailed article was carried by the Guardian which not only exposed the useless politics of Leicester’s Labour City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby but also shed some much-needed light on the cause of the violence.
The article in question thus quoted some of the politically illiterate comments made by Peter Soulsby earlier in the morning during a radio interview:
“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,” Peter Soulsby told BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme.
“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”.
These apolitical comments are befitting of a City Mayor who perhaps needs to retire from politics. But his full comments as broadcast on BBC Radio 4 were hardly any more enlightening as he began his media statement by admitting how everyone in the community including himself was “baffled” by the violence and ended his statement by saying “there’s no obvious local cause for this at all.”
In lieu of getting any sense from Peter Soulsby’s self-described bafflement the Guardian journalist did us all a favour by noting how in India:
The polarisation within Hindu-Muslim communities has been exacerbated under India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, who has come under fire for his treatment of minorities, predominantly Muslims, and for undermining the country’s secular foundations.
Deceptive social media tactics used by the government have been described by experts as commonplace in India, where platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp have come under scrutiny for allowing the proliferation of disinformation, harassment and violence.
The article then incorporated a useful but short interview with Gurharpal Singh, an emeritus professor of Sikh and Punjab studies, who is presently a visiting fellow at the University at Leicester. For a start the professor correctly highlighted the related social problems linked to the growing economic deprivation in our city. He also then pointed out to the Guardian that “one perhaps should not rule out the increasing influence of homeland politics, you know, the mobilisation of the diaspora by the BJP [Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party].” The article continued:
While the facts on the ground remain unclear, Singh said Indian media outlets had reported in Leicester in highly communal terms, constructing events such as communal riots in India. “The underlying social-economic tensions are there, and they then get exacerbated by fringe groups that use communal discourse,” he said.
This is all true, but it the type of truth that eludes the types of pro-capitalist Labour politicians who unfortunately still lead the Labour Party like Peter Soulsby or Leicester East’s longstanding former MP, Keith Vaz, who remains a vocal supporter of Modi’s regime.
That is why if we want to understand why the ugly head of communal violence is now rearing its ugly head in Leicester, we need our politicians to do more than just congratulate the police response and waffle on vaguely about disinformation and troublemakers.
Instead, we need politicians, community leaders and trade union leaders to talk openly about why the politics associated with Modi’s political regime are so toxic, and how they are umbilically connected to the ongoing violence in Leicester. Then we will need to collectively work out concrete political solutions that can unite our communities in opposition to the reactionary ideologies associated with the RSS that aim to control their political opponents with violence. Indeed, as professor Singh warned in an academic article published in 2019, the threat posed by such anti-democratic ideas must be firmly opposed, as already:
Feminists, radicals, writers, intellectuals, social activists, and human rights campaigners who have opposed government policies [in India] have been marginalised or physically attacked. Directly or indirectly, [Modi’s] government has used its influence in the media, particularly the burgeoning digital media, to unleash a tidal wave of sectarian Hindu nationalism as the official state ideology in which opponents are regularly labelled as anti-national. Sedition laws have been used against women, students and political activists. Street activists of the Sangh parivar – the family of Hindutva organisations that include the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Vishva Hindu Parshad (VHP), Bajrang Dal (BD), Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) and the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), and a large assortment of vigilante groups – have been regularly employed to discipline opponents, often resulting in physical confrontations or death.
For an earlier report on the violence in Leicester which discusses potential solutions, see my earlier post “The misreporting of racist violence in Leicester.”
Journalist: How would you explain what is happening in your city?
Peter Soulsby: With difficulty: I have talked a lot with people in the community and with community leaders over the last few days and we are all pretty baffled. It seems to have started because of an India Pakistan cricket match and celebrations after that, it then got fanned by some very distorted social media stuff, and then fueled by a lot of people who came in from outside, but also some local lads who seemed to feel that it was appropriate to frighten and pretty much disturb an otherwise very peaceful city.
Journalist: But does it suggest that there is something that has been building for a long time. I mean India Pakistan cricket matches can be a flash-point, but it’s very strange for that to be something that would account for something that has been building since.
Peter Soulsby: Well, yes, except that 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. I also know that there was quite a concerted attempt on Saturday to bring people in from as far away as Birmingham to shift them across for a bit of a set-two in Leicester. All of those things taken together seem to have escalated the celebration of a cricket match into something that is for the city very disturbing indeed. I don’t want to minimise the impact of it but there’s no obvious local cause for this at all.
Journalist: So, you mean there has been misinformation that this is about what Hindus have done in Muslim parts of the city and vice versa?
Peter Soulsby: Yes, I mean that is what different communities are alleging, what others in the city have done to their place or worship to people of their faith and so on, and obviously the police have stamped on that very quickly, trying to correct the record, but social media is a world where it is perhaps a bit wild out there and it has been very difficult for the police. I must pay tribute to them actually, as not only have they been very quick to try and bring some reality in on the ground, but they have also been very quick to bring some people in on the ground and to stamp on things from there. The way they dealt with things last night was very effective indeed, and hopefully we have made sure that we won’t get a repeat of what happened on Saturday.
Journalist: You think that could be it?
Peter Soulsby: Well, I hope so, of course I do. Like I say, I have talked a lot with community leaders and they are all doing what they can to bring Leicester back to normal. Because obviously in Leicester, normal is very good relations between people of different faiths and I say, they and I are very disturbed by it, but I think we are all very confident that Leicester is resilient enough to be able to return to normal relations very soon.