A Timeline of the Violence in Leicester

The mainstream media serve the needs of the powerful, this much is obvious: as such they can rarely be relied upon to explain the way in which the ruling-class dominate ordinary people on a daily basis. Mainstream reporting on the recent outbreak of violence on the streets of Leicester affirms this point, as the media and local politicians have generally proved unwilling to explain what happened and why. All the same it is still possible (but not easy) to piece together what happened in Leicester by relying upon mainstream reporting, which is something that this essay sets out to do.

According to a BBC radio report (broadcast on October 4) “the first major incident [of violence in Leicester that was] investigated by the police was in May”. This incident occurred late in the evening of May 22 and involved a gang of around twenty Hindu men violently setting upon a young Muslim man. Now, four months on from this attack, on October 3, the Leicestershire police finally posted the following formal appeal for witnesses on their web site:

“An investigation is continuing after an 18-year-old man was injured during an incident in Harewood Street, Leicester, in May this year.

Officers were called to a report of a group of men fighting in the area during the early hours of Sunday 22 May. An 18-year-old man was assaulted during the incident. The victim, who is now 19, reported he had been punched and kicked to the face and head and had a glass bottle thrown at him. The victim was taken to hospital following the incident and has since been discharged.

A number of enquiries remain ongoing into the report including taking witness statements and checking CCTV. Officers also remain in contact with the victim and his family. A 28-year-old man has also been voluntarily interviewed in connection with the incident.”

The following day an article based upon this police appeal was then featured in a report carried by the Leicester Mercury (“Teenager punched and kicked and bottle thrown at head”). The only new bit about this otherwise old news was that a 28-year-old man had been interviewed in relation to the attack, although according to another article in the Mercury this interview took place on the same day as the attack. As it turns out the incident in question had already been belatedly covered in detail by BBC Radio Leicester (on September 8) when the local reporter, Ben Jackson, had interviewed the mother of the young man who had been attacked. She recounted the details of the attack in the following way:

“Back in May now, my son was coming back from work, and he noticed that a young lad, no older than 13 or 14, was actually getting mugged in the street, so my son decided he would go around and check up on him. And so, he drove around and at this point this child was on his own, and he rolled down his window and he said ‘are you alright, I have just seen what happened?’ and the boy just kind of backed away… My son then got out of his car, and he walked towards him… and it was almost like he was led to this dead-end street, and out of nowhere with no warning, so many people come out of the alleyways and parked cars, and they have all come out armed, ready.

They approached him and the first thing they said to him was ‘are you a Muslim?’ He said, ‘yes, I am a Muslim, but I don’t know the bloke, I don’t know what’s wrong, I am just checking up on him,’ but even before he could finish talking, they went straight for him. They just attacked him, head and face, head and face. They had him on the floor, kicking him in his face. They took poles and alcohol bottles and smashed them across his face and his head, and he got up and they got him back down again, and we are talking nineteen-plus people were there, and there were loads of them just on top of him, and they wouldn’t let him go. And when he finally did get up, he ran for his life, and his words exactly to me were ‘mum, I was just running and I couldn’t see anything, but I could hear them coming,’ and so he was fearing for his life.

When he finally got up and ran, he ran to his friend’s house which was the safest place he could go to, and luckily when he came banging on the door his friends brother opened the door. And as he opened the door, they went for him again and smashed more bottles on his head. They punched the brother, his friend’s brother, and it just went crazy. He said he didn’t know what happened. They were in the house now, and the parents had come out the house, thinking what is all this commotion going on, and tried to reason with them, saying what’s happening and they didn’t even give them a chance to talk they went straight for the parents as well. Even the father has a mark across the back of his neck where a pole hit him; it was awful. They threw loads of alcohol bottles through the house, and literally trashing the place in the house… and by this point people were coming in cars, pulling up in cars, they were already armed and coming for them. And then when the realised they had no more glass bottles or anything left they decided to run. They ran in the opposite direction. At the time [my son] was so out of it he couldn’t even talk. He was in a state of shock, his injuries were horrific.”

The BBC journalist then asked the mother what happened after the police became involved and she said:

“Initially the police were called because of the incident but because of the state of my son’s injuries they couldn’t take a statement from him. But a week had gone by now and they had still not come for a statement. No support, or not even a phone call to ask how he was doing. And then a week had gone by and by this point everyone in the family were all getting together, friends were getting together CCTV images together to try to track down these people, trying to get the best possible images so we could hand these to the police. But as time had gone on, we had realised that it was a racial attack because the first thing they had said to him was ‘are you a Muslim?’ before they went for him. And when they followed him to his friend’s house, the same thing was said ‘are you a Muslim?’ and then they went for them. And I thought that this was really important to let the police know, so I tried to contact the police and I couldn’t get hold of the police officer for ages with messages and emails, and finally she did contact me and were very abrupt like he was an adult and we can’t speak to the parent anyway.”

When asked if she felt like she “had a good service from the police? Do you feel that you have been supported?” The mother replied:

“Not at all. Not at all. We’ve had no contacts, no updates, no nothing. Most recently in the last month, just over a month ago [so sometime in early August], my son was called in to ID them, and he pointed them out, both of them pointed them out. So, we’ve ID’d them, and we heard nothing back from [the police]. My son actually rang the police officers to speak to them and left emails and messages, but it was only last night that I asked him, have you back from any of them? And he said no mum, I still not heard back from them.”

Some months later, on August 28, India then beat Pakistan in the Asia Cup, and ensuing racial provocations (including chanting calling for “death to Pakistan”) served as a trigger that precipitated further violence. Hence on September 8, the aforementioned BBC report began by noting how:

“The last few days have seen parts of the city come under some scenes of some violent disturbances as there have been growing tensions in and around the Spinney Hills area of the city. Leicestershire police have issued dispersal orders for Belgrave, Spinney Hills, and Highfields following a series of disturbances. The orders allow officers to return anyone under the age of 16 to their home address.

Well, the recent disorders seem to have started on the Golden Mile last week when India beat Pakistan in cricket in the Asia Cup, but one Leicester mum says it has nothing to do with cricket. Her son was attacked back in May when he was set upon by around twenty youths. It is important to mention that these separate incidents haven’t formally been linked.”

Six days later, on September 14, local MP for Leicester East, Claudia Webbe, wrote to Leicestershire police’s Acting Police Constable Rob Nixon wherein she warned:

“I note that violent incidents were… reported on Friday 9 September, with at least two people arrested as a result. There are also allegations that hate towards specific nationalities, race and/or religions and antisocial behaviour predates the Asia Cup, by possibly several months, which implies that tensions in the community may be more long standing and not narrowly [referring to the May attack] related to the India v Pakistan cricket tournament.

I understand that the days that followed have been reported as more “settled”, which implies that the conclusion of the Asia Cup has eased tensions for the time being. Nevertheless, I am also aware of the risk of escalation if community tensions increase. There are reports of incitement to hate being targeted at those of Muslim or Hindu faith, which is being shared on social media to cause fear, intimidation and disunity. I was therefore concerned to learn of “fake” social media post, circulating in places like Facebook and via WhatsApp designed to “entrap” member of the local community to attend a protest sparked by hate. In one particular post, it was billed as a “peaceful protest” “against Muslim hate crime” with a meeting point in Belgrave. All of which was entirely fake and hateful and which was intent on causing unnecessary alarm, fear and distress.”[1]

Irrespective of whether the police believed that tensions were now settling, the subsequent decision taken by the Rob Nixon to allow many of his police officers to take their first day leave for weeks on Saturday September 17 was a massive mistake. This was one of the reasons why there were only eight police officers available on the scene when a crowd of 300 masked-up Hindu nationalists insisted on undertaking a long two-and-a-half-mile ‘peace’ march from Belgrave to North Evington while chanting slogans firmly associated with the type of anti-Muslim pogroms that are undertaken in India.

To correct the widespread belief that the police had not done anything to stop this extremely provocative march, a few days after the outbreak of communal violence on September 17 the Leicestershire Police (ie., Rob Nixon) released a statement which explained:

“There was no direct intelligence relating to the volume of people who were going to mobilise early on Saturday. My officers were dispatched in order to try to engage and seek co-operation. They were confronted by in excess of 300 people and there were eight officers at the time. They did the best they could in the circumstances by staying with them until more officers could arrive. That is what videos on social media show. Two arrests were made later. Separately, earlier in the day, officers had dealt with a small group who had posted on social media that they planned to come to Leicester from Birmingham. Protests need advance notification and none was given.”

Yet here even this public statement makes it clear that the police force knew something was going to happen on the day that the largest outbreak of violence in Leicester kicked off, as Nixon affirms that he knew that people were mobilising from far-away to congregate in Leicester on September 17. So, the question remains, why did the police choose to be understaffed on that Saturday of all days?

Either way, it is apparent that the toxic ideologies associated with the far-right Hindu nationalist government of India have played an important role in fueling Leicester’s outbreak of communal tensions. But unfortunately, a common narrative played out in the mainstream media has been that the violence can be traced to new immigrants to our city. Rob Nixon seems to concur with this view, and so when interviewed by the BBC he said:

“Well, I think you have to go back before the marches: I think there is also a perception that there has been an influx of people who have arrived in the area over the last few years and they arrived and we were very quickly locked down because of Covid, and then you’ve got the post-Covid impact when people went out socialising and doing various different things, and I think there is a sense that that has brought different sections of communities into conflict because of potentially a lack of social and cultural respect for one another. And then that has led to some increased tensions.

There has been some conflict over territory, and a genuine sense of territorial entitlement. So, I think it would be oversimplistic to say that it’s just a falling out of two different faiths, I think the other thing we have to factor in here is that there is a general movement of some of the younger people finding voice via social media and potentially moving away from the traditional leadership and faith-based leaders within the community, and trying to get influence from elsewhere.”

Yasmin Surti, who is the Secretary of the Federation of Muslim Organisations in Leicester, made similar points when speaking to the BBC, explaining:

“What we have here is a fairly new community to the city, from a part of India which is very different from our mainstream communities, that have established themselves in Leicester… [from a] very different culture, who probably arrived in the last eight to ten years or so…. This is not about this whole new community, it is within a section of a section of them, so a very small minority of young men. What had been leading up to the cricket match and beyond was incidents at prayer times, of driving past mosques, shouting, blowing their horns, at prayer time waving Indian flags.”

The same talking points were echoed by Cllr Rita Patel and by local Hindu businessman Dharmesh Lakhani, who is the owner of the Indian restaurant Bobby’s and a close friend of Leicester’s leading BJP supporter Keith Vaz. Here it is important to note that Lakhani, despite running a popular restaurant that is located literally a stone’s throw from the Leicester headquarters of the HSS (which is the sister organisation of the Hindutva promoting RSS), was reported as saying to the press that: “We can turn around and apportion blame but the reality is there are extremist ideologies floating around in all communities”. Indeed, rather than acknowledge the largely unreported fact that far-right Hindu nationalist ideas have a long pedigree in Leicester, the press reported:

“’Social media has played a big part in inflaming the situation’ Lakhani said. He said the problems were partly caused by a wave of newer arrivals to the city from the former Portuguese-run enclaves in India of Daman and Diu. By ancestry they had rights to Portuguese passports and migrated to Leicester in significant numbers before the UK left the EU.” (Financial Times, September 29)

Of course, such factors might contribute in some way towards the recent outbreaks of violence, but they do little to explain how the far-right ideologies of the RSS, HSS, and BJP have been largely able to avoid critical scrutiny in the UK. On this point, professor Gurharpal Singh, who is presently a visiting fellow at the University of Leicester explained to the BBC how:

“We were largely protected from these external events, but now alongside the potential of such events there is a real dynamic of social change in Leicester which is qualitatively different, and this is adding a degree of militancy to inter-religious relations in the city. The promotion of aggressive Hindu nationalism and the idea that you can only be a particular kind of Indian, and this kind of divisive politics will only undermine the strength and unity of these communities and give succor to racist and far-right parties.”[2]

Local resident and volunteer board member of Muslim Engagement and Development (MEND), Shokhat Adam Patel, had this to say:

“Reporters have mentioned that there are new communities arriving in the city. These new communities have been placed into a very congested area, so we must not discount the socio-economic factors in this, it’s complex, it is not binary. But unfortunately, there is that elephant in the room. My city has an undercurrent of RSS nationalism appearing repeatedly for the past seven to eight years, blatantly. So, in a city that has been so united there have been cases where I have raised the point several years ago that because we are such a united city, we are a beacon for other cities to follow, we pride ourselves that Leicester is so diverse here. So, we have taken our finger off the pulse, and they say in business that the biggest reason for failure is success: we got a little bit lazy, and we didn’t have those uncomfortable conversations.”

He then went on to talk about the Belper Street controversy (see “Keith Vaz and his support of Hindu nationalism”), and then spoke about the 2019 General Election which saw the more conservative parts of Leicester’s Hindu community turn against the new Labour MP for Leicester East, Claudia Webbe (the individual who was selected to serve as a socialist replacement for the disgraced BJP-supporting Keith Vaz).[3] As Patel explained:

“We had a [general] election in this country in 2019. The city and the area where this violence has erupted has been traditionally what we call a Labour seat. So, the Labour Party was in power there for over thirty years. They had a majority of over 25,000. At this latest election, due to the stance that the Labour Party took on the Kashmir issue, for the first time in my city I saw politics being played on the ground of religion. So we had people from the Overseas Friends of BJP canvassing on our doors, we had leaflets coming through our doorsteps saying that if you were to vote for the Labour Party, you are voting for poison, they are the party that supports Muslims, you should vote for the alternative party which is the Conservative Party, who had put in a Hindu MP: and none of these were official documentation I should make very clear, a vote for him was a vote for purity, and a vote for Labour would be a vote for poison. And this was blatant. And this majority was cut down from about 24,000 to about 2,000 [correction: 22,428 to 6,019]. And I was speaking to that community that the lady alluded to, a new community in our city, who are on the lowest socio-demographics in this country, who are living with 10-15 people in a house, who are working 14-15 hours a day, who are making ends meet, and the only thing they were saying to me was that we cannot vote for Labour, which is traditionally the working-class party, because they [Labour] support the Muslims and we cannot vote for them.”[4]

In another recent interview that was featured on the Islam Channel, local Labour councillor Kirk Master (who is the former Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner for Leicestershire) reiterated the same point that the problems in Leicester East were longstanding:

“This has been ongoing for months and months and months, and you could even go back years in regard to a number of separate incidents that have happened to individuals; a number of separate incidents that have happened to members of the community; a number of incidents that have happened around faith organisations, some of the temples, some of the gurdwaras, and some of the mosques. So, there is a catalogue of things that have happened over an extended period of time which the community felt haven’t been dealt with and haven’t been addressed. And then the cricket match occurred, and everyone said it was because of the cricket match, India-Pakistan, but India and Pakistan have been playing cricket for decades and we have never had this kind of trouble, so it clearly wasn’t over one cricket match.”

Cllr Master likewise argued that part of the problem relating to the recent violence owed to recent migrants from India with Portuguese passports. He said:

“There were some particular incidents around the cricket march as well where members of the Muslim community had been attacked by large groups of a particular community and that obviously escalated things very quickly because they felt vulnerable, they felt frightened. Communities within that particular area also felt that they were under threat, and it wasn’t a nice situation, and the police needed to deal with that, and the communities felt that they weren’t dealing with that, and they wanted to take control.”

But he then went on to wrongly assert that the far-right Hindutva ideologies actually came from these new communities, which is not true as the RSS’s sister organisation has been located in Leicester for decades and has even featured in a critical Channel 4 investigation from 2002. (Also see the more recent ITV investigation from 2015 which I reported on here: “The ‘ideological commonality’ of the far-right RSS and the Leicester-based HSS UK.”) Ignoring this background Cllr Master thus stated:

“Well, the Indian politics that we are talking about in terms of the RSS strand is new here in the city, it’s arrived here with these new communities; it’s a belief and an ideology that they bring and that they hold.”

FOOTNOTES


[1] As the BBC report (October 4) noted: “The following week [after India beat Pakistan at cricket] there was a report of an egg being thrown at a Ganesh statue, a popular and revered Indian deity. For Hindus who have to be vegetarian inside a temple, it’s an act that considered to be as offensive as throwing pork into a mosque. The next day there was another assault on a Muslim man. As news of this latest attack spread, young Muslim men took to the streets. There were reports of eggs being thrown at Hindu houses and large numbers of youths damaging cars. Police began daily patrols of the area to stop groups gathering. Community leaders called for calm, but tensions continued to simmer. Then on Saturday Sept 17 a group of around 300 mainly young Hindu men marched to Green Lane Road where there are many Muslim owned businesses. There was a tense stand-off and sporadic outbreaks of violence.”

[2] Another individual who is interviewed in the same radio broadcast is professor Chetan Bhatt who explained why new immigrants from India can easily be scapegoated for deeper underlying problems relating to caste and Hindu nationalism:

“They haven’t gone through the process of migration to East Africa and then to Britain. They hadn’t gone through the process of establishing and creating that community, and they face hostility not just because of racism and discrimination, but also forms of prejudice from the already settled and established South Asian communities, and that creates an important and interesting dynamic because those smaller communities that arrive later can often be blamed for problems or social issues, they often come from much poorer regions of Gujarat, and sometimes they also come from castes that are different or sub-castes that are different, and that creates other forms of prejudice. And some of the communities that have come recently from Gujarat come from quite deprived areas and they have suffered economic hardship there and they suffer economic hardship in the UK.”

For an academic discussion of the relationship between caste and immigration, see Roger Ballard, “The South Asian presence in Britain and its transnational connections,” in Bhikhu Parekh, Gurharpal Singh and Steven Vertovec (eds.), Culture and Economy in the Indian Diaspora (Routledge, 2003).

A useful BBC article titled “Leicester: Why the violent unrest was surprising to many” (September 24) notes: “The politics of the Indian subcontinent has started to be felt in another way in Leicester since 2014, says Prof Singh, when the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took power in India. The rise of the BJP has fostered a brand of nationalism among the diaspora, he says. ‘The party is popular among Leicester’s Gujarati Hindu community which manifests in the outlook and politics of the community.’”

[3] In May 2019 the then Labour MP for Leicester East, Keith Vaz, had publicly celebrated the electoral victory of India’s far-right BJP government, and then in October he had come to the defence of Hindu nationalists again when he sought to undermine the democratic validity of a political motion relating to Kashmir that was passed by his own political party. However, it is also interesting to point out that right at the start of the year Vaz had flown to Daman after the local Damese population in Leicester (which is about 11,000 strong) had raised their concerns with him about the land grabbing activities of Praful K. Patel, the far-right BJP State Administrator for Daman and Diu. This controversy involved Patel “ordering the confiscation of the land and ordering the demolition of homes along the Daman coast to make way for development of the Daman and Diu coastline.” Vaz evidently spoke with Patel, and although Vaz was slightly critical about the home demolitions that had taken place, he maintained that Patel’s ongoing land grabbing activities were coming from a good place. Vaz explained:

I had a very constructive discussion with Mr. Patel. I believe that Mr. Patel has a vision for Daman and he wants to develop it as a tourist and education centre. I was particularly impressed by the commitments made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in order to enhance the development of Daman.”

However, these warm words for the BJP’s repression did not stop Mr. Patel from carrying out his violent plans (see “Daman – Land and property owned by the fishing communities confiscated and homes demolished”). And to this day Mr. Patel continues to promote the BJP’s Hindu nationalist agenda which in past years has seen him launch a vicious attack on the majority Muslim inhabitants of the island of Lakshadweep (for more on this, see “From Gujarat to Lakshadweep, Praful Patel is following the Hindutva playbook”).

[4] Islamophobic group Insight UK made the following highly selective statement following the 300 strong march that took place on September 17. “The Hindu community has been a target of organised violence in Leicester over the past 20 days. It has suffered at the hands of extremist Muslims who have sought to cause deliberate harm, disruption and fear amongst Leicester’s thousands of citizens. On the evening of 17 September, a peaceful protest march by Hindu youths was attacked by radical Islamists with stones and glass bottles. It is obvious from the video footage that this attack was carefully planned to terrorise the Hindu community. Included within the attacks are the Diu-Daman Hindus, a small and marginalised group who are based in the Belgrave and Latimer areas and face various socioeconomic challenges.”

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One comment

  1. This is an excellent, well researched article about a timeline of violence in Leicester dating back to May of this year. However the issues which brought about this violence have been in place long before May. You can imagine ‘anger’ like a sack and as more and more ‘anger things’ are added to the sack, then it comes to bursting point.

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