Farrukh Dhondy | The outbreak of communal riots in UK’s Leicester still a mystery
The riots, which police are out in full force to suppress, have been happening, in varying intensity, from Aug 28 till this week
“The ultimate utterance is the cry --
Though words pretend, they are in vain
Expressing joy or soothing pain
But never able to explain
Why we live and why we die!”
From Tantric Tantrums, by Bachchoo
Religious riots have erupted -- no, not in Ayodhya or Gujarat -- but in Leicester, in the Midlands of the UK. And no! The riots are not between Protestants versus Catholics or even different factions of the Labour Party which treat their ideologies as religion, but -- wait for it -- riots between Hindus and Muslims.
These riots, which the police are out in full force to suppress, have been happening, willy-nilly, in varying intensity, from August 28 till this week, taking their severest turn during the period of mourning for the Queen.
I followed the reports of the riots over several days and couldn’t make head or tail from these reports of why they were happening, what had sparked them, what had fanned the flames or who precisely participated.
The BBC and other media, who alluded to the riots after long summaries of the funeral arrangements and procedures of Queen Elizabeth II, had not a clue as to what was going on. The media did report that 50 people had been arrested on charges ranging from assault on police officers, carrying weapons (not of mass destruction, as in Saddam and Putin), throwing bottles, affray, disturbing the peace, throwing toys out of the pram, etc.
As far as one can gather from these reports, the riots began on August 28 following a cricket match between India and Pakistan. Why that would cause a riot in Leicester was not divulged. The antagonisms were then exacerbated by campaigns on the social media which claimed, falsely and mischievously, that three young men of one faith had attacked a teenage girl of the other. This brought the defenders of the other not only from Leicester but from the neighbouring ethnic communities of Luton and Birmingham onto Leicester’s streets.
Other false stories were perpetrated on the social media. Three Hindu youths, it was falsely claimed, entered a mosque while the congregation was at prayer, shouting “Jai Shri Ram!” No such thing happened, but as with the spread of Covid-19, the false news went “viral” and Muslim youth gathered from Leicester and other Midlands towns to retaliate for what didn’t happen.
A Hindu flag outside a temple was torn down. That did happen. The police, separating the religious factions on the streets of Leicester after sunset, were assaulted and some were injured. The police operation throughout the Midlands was aimed at containment and at ensuring that these “religious” riots wouldn’t spread to other cities. Let Leicester remain the only arena or ridiculous circle of hell.
Several reports said that the riots and the false news on the social media were fanned, if not initiated, by cells of the RSS in the Midlands and by formations of fundamentalist Islamist groups within the Muslim community. Why either group, whatever their view of the other religion, would want to ferment riots in the UK Midlands, without any objective, material or ideological, remains a mystery.
However, both the high commissions of India and of Pakistan issued statements condemning not “their own” youth for participating in the riots and advising them to cease and desist, but attacking the rioters of the opposing side and asking the British government to intervene.
Two MPs representing Leicester constituencies came on television and protested that Leicester was a peaceful city and had never known any multicultural conflict. Neither MP gave us any clue as to what had occurred or why. They just said their wonderful city had never known conflict.
I lived in Leicester in 1968, writing a thesis on Rudyard Kipling on a scholarship for an MA at Leicester University. Through circumstances too convoluted to explain here (but, gentle reader, do read my autobiography entitled Fragments Against my Ruin, which tells the whole story – fd. We’ve told you NOT to advertise your wretched output here! -- Ed.) I worked with the Indian Workers Association in Leicester and we came into conflict with racist gangs. We desegregated pubs, initiated industrial action against racism in Leicester factories… it wasn’t a quiet, happy multicultural city at the time and I can claim that the mainly Indian Punjabi immigrant population of the time had to fight for its rights and existence.
Through 1968 and later, the Gujaratis expelled from Africa and the Mirpuris of Pakistan expanded the ethnic demographic of the city.
This Muslim community occupied a central city area called Highfields. And there a conflict arose.
I was, in the 1990s, commissioning programmes for Channel Four TV and one of the series I initiated was called “Quarrels”. The producers sought out disputes of public interest and our presenter/adjudicator Hamid Haroun interviewed spokespersons on either side of the conflict and then brought them together on camera to try and resolve their differences.
In the Leicester episode, the elders of the Muslim community of Highfields objected to the presence of the sex-working girls who had used the streets of Highfields for generations before the Muslim settlement. The mullahs said they didn’t want this trade on the streets with their wives and daughters living there. The ladies of the night protested most of their customers were from the Muslim community.
I believe our programme initiated a compromise. Leicester was peaceful again as we must all hope it will continue to be.