Hindu-Muslim tensions flare in central England

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On the streets of Leicester, England, groups of young people, mainly Hindus and Muslims, have been facing off. Since August 28, videos have shown groups of masked youths heading into the streets amid rising tensions. Although community leaders have called for calm, many people, including our Observer, fear the violence will resume in the coming weeks.

Representatives of both Hindu and Muslim communities gathered outside Leicester's Jame Mosque on September 19 to call for calm. After several weeks of tension and violence involving Hindus and Muslims, they called on "inciters of hatred to leave [their] city alone"

At the same time, tensions have taken a geopolitical turn. Both the Indian and Pakistani embassies in London have issued statements on recent events, with India denouncing "violence against the Indian Community" and Pakistan referring to "Islamophobic incidents".

'Many pointed the finger at the Hindu community, but the attackers were RSS supporters'

Our Observer Dee Patel has lived in Leicester for the past 15 years. He feared for the future as new tensions erupted in the area on September 20 outside a Hindu temple in Smethwick, a suburb of Birmingham:

In Leicester, there have been no new outbursts in the city since Sunday, and I think it will remain quiet for a few days. But several voice messages that are being shared in community WhatsApp groups suggest that it's not over.

It began on August 28 in the Belgrave area of east Leicester. Dozens of men, some with Indian flags, were marching after their team's victory over Pakistan in the Asian Cricket Cup.

Shouts of "death to Pakistan" were heard as the procession moved on, before several individuals violently attacked a Sikh man.

This episode was presented as the starting point for the inter-communal tensions in the Midlands city, interpreted by many as opposition between the Hindu and Muslim communities.

But our Observer disagreed with this version of events:

Leicester is a relatively mixed city. Unlike other cities, people live together here – Muslims, Hindus. There have never been any problems in the last 50 years [Editor's note: since the first wave of Indian immigration]. The first problems occurred last May, when a teenager was attacked by about 30 people. Many pointed the finger at the Hindu community, but the attackers were RSS supporters.

The RSS, or "Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh", is a right-wing Hindu nationalist paramilitary group, which included, for example, Gandhi's assassin.

Despite several minor sporadic incidents, calm returned to the city following the events of August 28.

But the situation took a turn for the worse on September 17 during an undeclared march by young Hindu extremists.

The procession went to the east of the city, to a residential area with a Muslim majority. The protesters, some of them from London, chanted "Jai Shri Ram": a Hindu slogan that means "Glory to Lord Rama" and has become synonymous with anti-Muslim hatred in India.

Members of the Muslim community held a counter-protest.

Later in the evening, counter-protesters continued to confront the Hindu extremist march, still separated by cordons of police. They threw several projectiles, such as glass bottles.

Patel explained what happened next:

The counter-protesters were joined later in the evening by young people who had come to fight. Many of them were from Birmingham. And there were stupid outbursts, like damage to a Hindu temple, or broken car windows.

RSS supporters will come back. Many thought the tension was about cricket, so they didn't get involved. But now they understand and will come out in the future: it's not a cricket problem, it's a RSS problem.

On September 21, Leicestershire police announced that 47 people had been arrested since the tensions erupted in late August.