“Ignoring [ideology of Hindutva] won’t help us fully understand what is happening” in Leicester

On October 2, The New York Times ran a useful article about Leicester titled “Tensions that roiled English city have roots in India.” On the root causes of the outbreak of our localised violence, the article points out how…

“Experts say it is only the latest example of how the toxic politics that are roiling India — and leading to the persecution of Muslims, Christians and other religious minorities — have migrated to other parts of the globe.

Across the Indian diaspora, ugly divisions are emerging. A bulldozer, which has become a symbol of oppression against India’s Muslim minority, was rolled down a street in a New Jersey town during a parade this summer, offending many people. Last year, attacks on Sikh men in Australia were linked to extremist nationalist ideology. In April, Canadian academics told CBC News that they faced death threats over their criticism of growing Hindu nationalism and violence against minorities in India.

Since India’s independence struggle, Hindu nationalists have espoused a vision that places Hindu culture and religious worship at the center of Indian identity. That view, once fringe, was made mainstream when Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party came to power.

Human rights observers have since documented a sharp rise in violence against minorities in India, particularly targeting Muslims, but also Christians. Activists and journalists, including many Muslims, have been jailed or threatened with prosecution under an antiterrorism law that has received scrutiny from India’s highest court.”

Then on October 3, an even better article was published in the Leicester Mercury titled “’Looking for quick and simple answers to city disorder will just lead to blame game’.” Other than a quick introduction to the article itself by a local journalist, the piece was the reproduction of an article that had been published by The Conversation a few days earlier by Dr Chris Allen, an associate professor at the University of Leicester’s School of Criminology. This article is worth reading in full, but some stand-out remarks include:

“City mayor Sir Peter Soulsby has announced an independent review into what caused this disturbance. Mr Soulsby reportedly expects the review to make immediate headway. My research into unrest in Bradford in 2001 shows that an official response that sacrifices complexity in favour of quick solutions only serves to attribute blame at the expense of real understanding.

I investigated the 2001 disturbances in Bradford, when up to 1,000 young men of South Asian and Muslim heritage battled hundreds of police officers, following a banned march by the far-right National Front in the city earlier in the day. Not only was there pressure to explain why the disturbances had happened but also pressure to find solutions. This resulted in the disturbances being largely blamed on the city’s Muslims, the lives they lived and the values they adhered to.

The sustained and deliberate provocation of white far-right groups, meanwhile, was overlooked. So too, like almost every other disturbance involving minority communities, a host of social, political and economic factors.

In Leicester, no single group has, as yet, been blamed. However, there is a similar reluctance to dig into the complexity of the situation.

On September 20, Hindu and Muslim religious leaders issued a joint statement, describing Hindus and Muslims as “a family” who share a city that is “a beacon of diversity and community cohesion”. It echoed the increasingly popular explanation that the trouble was instigated by outsiders, bolstered by media reports that eight of the 18 people arrested on September 18, 2022 did not reside in Leicestershire. ‘We together call upon the inciters of hatred to leave our city alone,‘ the joint statement said. ‘Leicester has no place for any foreign extremist ideology that causes division.’ Mr Soulsby made the same point when announcing the inquiry, saying that it would be necessary to investigate whether the disturbances were “motivated by extreme ideologies imported from elsewhere”.

Some will assume this to be Islamist extremism. Despite there being no evidence to support such an assumption, research shows that a key trope of Islamophobia is the conflation of all things Islam with extremism. The mere involvement of Muslims will be evidence enough for some to jump to such a conclusion.

However, it is necessary – given the slogans chanted in Leicester and wider concerns dating back to 2019 – to also examine the extent to which Hindu nationalist ideologies or “Hindutva” is causing tensions outside of India’s borders.

Research shows Hindutva sentiment has been on the rise in Britain since 2014. This far-right ideology promotes hatred towards all non-Hindu religious minorities and Muslims in particular.

Despite this, local media has begun to distance the city’s established Hindu communities from blame. Instead it cites wide claims that Hindu nationalism has been imported into the city by recent migrants from India.

Mr Soulsby has reportedly said to be baffled by the violence. To believe that such things could never happen in Leicester suggests either wilful ignorance or collective denial at the level of the city’s leadership. To ensure that all the different people that make up the city, as well as the problems they face, can be both understood and responded to, this needs to change.

There also needs to be a recognition that the problems experienced by religious communities are not necessarily religious. Their lives are impacted by socio-economic and socio-political factors that transcend ethnic and religious identities.

Further, the impact of the global on the local cannot be overlooked, as the influence of Hindutva in Leicester, as elsewhere in Britain demonstrates. To take this into account is not to apportion blame. Ignoring it, however, won’t help us fully understand what is happening…”

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One comment

  1. Other groups besides ours are aware that “wilful ignorance or collective denial…” – this has been our point all along.

    There is no grasp that a lot of the relationships between different groups in Leicester is bourn out of animosity, though because it does not bubble to the surface, it’s easy for the clique of people who run the city to claim that everything is wonderful.

    I suspect that other groups will start to feel equally aggrieved with issues that are not being addressed, and that the tensions will spread.

    They might be amplified by external voices, but they are based on internal problems that aren’t being considered.

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