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When Narinder Kaur was at school, she faced racist taunts on a daily basis and says dealing with prejudice became part of her life.
“I was the only brown face in the whole school and I was called a P*** every single day of my life,” Narinder, who grew up in Newcastle, told HuffPost UK.
Now living with her family in the centre of Leicester, which has become the first city to be put on local lockdown following a spike of coronavirus cases, Narinder says she’s depressed but not surprised to see racism rear its head again.
Health secretary Matt Hancock revealed the national easing of lockdown would not be happening in the Midlands city of Leicester as he told how it had recorded 10% of all positive Covid-19 cases in the country over the past week.
While other areas of England will be seeing a loosening of coronavirus lockdown restrictions, Leicester has seen non-essential shops shut and schools close.
The move to address the flare up was imposed as it emerged there were 944 positive coronavirus tests in Leicester in the two weeks up to June 23.
Leicester is a diverse, multicultural city. According to the 2011 Census, 37% of people in the city were Asian or British Asian, with 28% being of Indian heritage.
But campaigners and residents say Leicester’s diversity has become a target for racists, who claim minority groups have been flouting lockdown rules, going to each other’s houses and mixing.
Social media has been rife with accusations that Leicester’s high Asian population is to blame for the high number of Covid-19 cases, with many targeting the Muslim community.
One person wrote: “Leicester is facing a local lockdown because the majority of its 50% ethnic community can’t speak English and ignored government rules to lock down.
“It’s the Asian community who are spreading the virus and it’s the reason why so many of them are disproportionately dying from it.”
Another said: “The reason why Leicester has gone into lockdown again is because the Asian and BAME population will not be social distancing and probably don’t wash their hands.”
“If Leicester mosques had complied with the original lockdown measures it wouldn’t be necessary.” wrote one person. “But they didn’t. Because they don’t think it applies to them. Because they think they’re above government guidance.”
Narinder, 47, a former reality TV star who was in Big Brother in 2001, lives in Leicester city centre and told HuffPost UK the vitriol being directed at Leicester’s Asian community is “absolute rubbish”. She has seen with her own eyes how the majority of people have been adhering to the lockdown rules.
From what I have seen with my own eyes, Leicester has been like a ghost town. There’s certainly been nothing like the packed beaches in Bournemouth. Narinder Kaur
“I live in an Asian area and have got lots of Muslim, Hindu and Punjabi friends and none of them have been going to each other’s houses or breaking the lockdown rules,” she said.
“I have been going on daily walks and runs throughout lockdown and Leicester has not been breaking any more rules than any other city.
“In fact, from what I have seen with my own eyes, Leicester has been like a ghost town. There’s certainly been nothing like the packed beaches in Bournemouth.”
Narinder, who is married to Jatinder Singh and has a 14-year-old son and a 12-year-old daughter, said people from Asian backgrounds are in fact terrified of leaving their homes. Coronavirus disproportionately affects people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) populations.
She highlighted the high numbers of intergenerational ethnic minority families cohabiting in the same house in Leicester – but pointed out they aren’t breaking the rules by doing so, and said their living situations were fuelled by poverty.
“There are a lot of Asian families in Leicester where there are two or three families living in the same house,” she said. “But from the Asian people I know and have seen, there hasn’t been flouting of the rules or going to each other’s houses.
“Even during Ramadan, my Muslim friends were sticking to the rules and not seeing other people. One of my friends just left a box of treats at my gate.
“I know some Asian families who have had someone ill with coronavirus and they have been too scared to go to hospital and have stayed at home with their families as they fear that Asians are dying of coronavirus in hospitals.
“There is a lot of poverty in Leicester and Covid disproportionately affects the poor and people from ethnic minorities.
“I think the reasons for the spike of coronavirus cases in Leicester are government underfunding, poverty and a lack of coronavirus testing. The testing has been a shambles.”
Narinder, who is a social media consultant and runs her own win-a-car business, told HuffPost UK she has faced racism all her life. “I wanted to be a TV or radio presenter [after Big Brother],” she said, “but the mainstream media told me to go to the Asian channels as I’d have more luck there.
“But when I went to the Indian channels, they felt I was too ‘white’ and westernised.
“This racist backlash to the Leicester lockdown and the blaming of certain communities does not surprise me – but it does depress me.
“I have had to fight racism all my life and now my children are going to have to fight these types of attitudes.”
Shyam Bhaisod, who was born and brought up in Leicester, told HuffPost UK some of the racist material he had read accusing ethnic minority communities of being the culprits of spreading coronavirus had been “horrible and disgusting”.
“I have seen comments saying that Asians all look the same so police can’t tell if they’re from the same household or not,” he said.
Some people seem to be using this to meet their agenda and the racists are coming out of the woodwork. Shyam Bhaisod
“There have been others saying things like: ‘Why is it always these people?’ and making accusations that there are dozens of people all living in the same household.
“I can understand that there is a lot of frustration with the lockdown being extended in Leicester, but some people seem to be using this to meet their agenda and the racists are coming out of the woodwork.
“I was seething when I saw and heard the horrible and disgusting racism that was being spouted.”
Shyam, 26, a business analyst, says people who don’t even know the city of Leicester have been looking for someone to blame and have been tarring communities with the brush of breaking the rules.
“I know not everyone has followed the lockdown – but this applies to people from all communities and isn’t limited to a particular ethnicity,” he said.
“The attitude I have seen from Asian people is that they have been very careful and cautious as they know coronavirus affects people of colour more disproportionately.”
Leicester is home to a highly industrialised area with factories owned by textiles and manufacturing firms. He believes the working conditions in some of these factories are to blame for the spread of the virus.
“A lot of Asian people moved to Leicester with nothing and tried to build themselves up,” he said. “There are many Asian people living in poverty and working on zero-hour contracts and having to go and work in these factories as they have no choice.
“Poverty is definitely a major factor in Leicester’s coronavirus cases.”
There are around 50 mosques around Leicester and Malik Salim, chair of the management committee for Leicester Islamic Centre, says they have all followed government guidelines during the coronavirus pandemic.
The 78-year-old told HuffPost UK he was not surprised to hear about racism being directed at certain communities.
“What I have heard is that all the mosques in Leicester have obeyed the rules.” he said. “We are law abiding citizens.
“Even at Ramadan and Eid, there were no prayers. There are around 50 mosques in the Leicester area and they all obeyed the rules and not a single one had any Eid prayers or activity during Ramadan.”
He added: “Blame is always directed at the Muslim community. We are targeted all the time so this is nothing new for us.
“Islamophobia is a daily thing and we have learnt to live with that.”
Mustafa Malik, Labour city councillor for the Spinney Hills area of Leicester, says it isn’t just mosques but all places of worship that have been abiding by the rules, making the decision to close even before the instructions came from central government.
He said for the last couple of weeks places of worship had been putting safety measures in place in readiness for reopening on July 4 – but this has now been scuppered.
“I don’t think Leicester is any different to any other community or city in the UK,” he told HuffPost UK. “I think it is completely wrong that people are naming and blaming the BAME community in Leicester.
“I am not saying everyone in Leicester is an angel – but that’s the same everywhere. In general, the majority of people followed the rules.
“As the lockdown was easing, people became more relaxed and I think the hot weather played a part in that. But this was not specific to Leicester and it didn’t just happen in our city but everywhere.
I am not saying everyone in Leicester is an angel – but that’s the same everywhere. Mustafa Malik, Leicester city councillor
“People from the BAME community being blamed is unfair and unjustified.”
Malik says there is frustration over the fact it took a week for the government to share testing data with the local authority.
“There are many unanswered questions,” he said. “We need to know why the cases are higher in Leicester.
“We need further information to get a better understanding and more sharing of data and whether it is broken down into communities and ethnicities.”
Leicester city councillor Ratilal Govind agrees it is wrong to point the finger at the Asian community.
“Leicester is a diverse city and we have a lot of different communities living in harmony,” he told HuffPost UK.
“I can’t understand myself why Leicester has been flagged for having a high number of cases.
“Clearly, the government has some sort of information. They should have had better communication with the local authority and told us about hotspots ahead of time so we could have taken action.
“There are always going to be certain groups of people who are not going to abide by the guidelines – such as what happened in Bournemouth.
“But it is not about one community or ethnicity – we have to educate everyone.”
Govind admits there may be an issue with language and cultural barriers, particularly in some communities where English is not people’s first language.
To tackle this, the council will be producing coronavirus information leaflets in 14 different languages and distributing them in Leicester.
“I think the majority of people have been following the guidelines and community leaders from temples, mosques and gurdwaras have all been giving the message out to people,” he said.
“But sometimes, as in all communities, some people do not listen so we need to educate them more.”
He added: “We are in crisis, we accept that. Let’s forget our political differences, let’s not blame each other and let’s work together to combat the problem.”
Sometimes, as in all communities, some people do not listen so we need to educate them more. Ratilal Govind, Leicester city councillor
While some people have been making racist remarks about the Leicester lockdown and shunting blame on to certain communities, other people have been horrified and ashamed at the victimisation.
One person wrote on social media: “Sickening to see the vicious racism directed at Leicester’s Asian communities: a direct result of the fearmongering and exaggeration surrounding the alleged spike in coronavirus cases there.”
Racists blaming the large Asian community in Leicester for the spike like they weren’t sunning their arses on packed beaches last weekend.
Give me a fucking break.#Leicesterlockdown
— Angela Night (@Angelheartnight) June 29, 2020
“I really want to scream at how racist people are being.” said one Leicester resident. “Just because we have a high Asian population. So what. They can only spread it as much as whites living here. I’m proud of Leicester and its diverse cultural influences.”
Another wrote: “Leicester gets lockdown extended and the racists start to appear,” while one person said: “Too many racists being exposed in Leicester right now. I’m ashamed to live here.”
genuinely feel sick at the amount of racists on #leicesterlockdown
stop using other races as a scapegoat. asians did not case this. every individual within Leicester and Leicestershire who have broken lockdown rules are accountable
stop blaming my ethnicity and culture.
— Rhi🌻 (@spooniestudent) June 29, 2020
Bradie McDaid, 20, lives in Leicester. He told HuffPost UK he has always had friends from all different communities – white, Black, Asian – and is proud to live in such a diverse city.
He said he was sickened by some of the things he had read on social media blaming ethnic minority communities for the rise in coronavirus cases.
“The racism I’ve seen is disgraceful,” he said. “There have been disgusting tweets calling people from BAME communities ‘third world people’ and comparing them to being like animals and calling them unclean.
“This is horrendous, and it made me feel awful to see BAME communities targeted in this way.
“People who are not even from Leicester are attacking the city and using these communities as a scapegoat for their racism.
“Seeing people talk about others in that way because of differences in skin colour was so disheartening.”
People who are not even from Leicester are attacking the city and using these communities as a scapegoat for their racism. Bradie McDaid, 20, who lives in Leicester
Bradie believes the high level of coronavirus in Leicester is down to its size and relative poverty.
“A lot of families, particularly in the Asian community, have relatives and family members living with them,” he said. “But many of them are only in that situation because of things like poverty.
“They are going out to work and then returning home and living in close proximity to their relatives, which means coronavirus can spread to them. But that is about poverty and not a reason to target them with racism.”
Claudia Webbe, MP for Leicester East, told HuffPost UK it was completely wrong for people to accuse certain communities, and said she wholeheartedly rejects those seeking to blame Leicester residents for the outbreak.
“Leicester East is one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse places in the UK and has high levels of both child poverty and in-work poverty,” she said.
“The virus itself may not discriminate, but our economic and social system certainly does.
“It is my view that all workplaces must adhere to health and safety measures and no workers in Leicester should be forced to work in unsafe conditions.
“At every step in this crisis – from lockdown delay, equipment shortages, care home neglect, testing delay and inefficient data and much more – the government has failed to adequately protect our communities.”
The virus itself may not discriminate, but our economic and social system certainly does. Claudia Webbe, MP for Leicester East
Weyman Bennett, co-convenor at Stand Up To Racism, told HuffPost UK that racists are targeting Leicester and scapegoating people from certain communities.
Stand Up To Racism is planning a special meeting in the city to dispute these “racist lies”.
“There are large numbers of people living in smaller houses in Leicester,” he said. ”A housing crisis exists and, unfortunately, there is a correlation between BAME communities having poor housing and poorer access to bigger spaces.
“This is to do with poverty. The higher the poverty in areas, the higher the likelihood of people getting Covid and dying.
“This is why we are calling for a public inquiry to investigate properly why people from BAME communities are suffering disproportionately.”
He added: “The government operated lockdown badly and Leicester is impacted worse because it is a big conurbation.
“The people living there suffer disproportionately because of the jobs they do, the housing they live in and poverty which all make them more susceptible to the virus.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.