Over the weekend, the UK police made 47 arrests in Leicester following a series of violent clashes mostly among the Hindu and Muslim youths in the city after a defeat of Pakistan by India in a cricket match in Dubai on 28 August.
While the arrests of 47 suspects involved in the clashes is indicative of good governance and looks like a reassuring step for restoring normalcy in Leicester, a city known for being the most multicultural in the UK, the clashes among the diasporic Hindu and Muslim communities demand serious examination of the entire chain of events. Leicester is a city where the Hindus and the Muslims have, by and large, been living in peace for long.
The recent violence was triggered by the march of a group of young Hindu boys on Melton Road of Leicester who, reportedly, were shouting slogans like ‘Pakistan Murdabad.’ Video footage of this celebration became viral on social media resulting in stray incidents of violence in the city. The next Saturday again saw another march of Hindu youths on the street with slogans like “Jai Shri Ram,” which, unfortunately is losing its sacred identity and has become a war cry for far-right Hindus.
This march allegedly threatened Muslim residents and shop owners of the city. Some such videos became viral again on social media resulting in the vandalism of a Hindu temple and a series of clashes between the two communities for quite some time. The arrest of 47 young men who were allegedly involved in the clashes is indeed important in this context.
It not only proves good governance on part of the local administration but also is in tune with the condemnation of the “shocking scenes of unacceptable incidents of violence” by Jonathan Ashworth, an opposition Labour MP in Leicester and his claim that all in the city “are united in calling for calm, peace and harmony.” It is also deeply assuring that following the incidents of clashes and the vandalism of a Hindu temple, leaders of the two religious groups have called for an immediate end to “provocation and violence.
” Leaders of both communities assembled on the steps of a mosque to make a plea to both communities to restore peace and order in the city. Pradip Gajjar, the president of the city’s Iskcon Leicester Hindu temple, said in a joint statement that they were “saddened and heartbroken to see the eruption of tension and violence.”
He also emphatically underlined that “physical attacks on innocent individuals and unwarranted damage to property are not part of a decent society and indeed not part of our faiths.” Whereas these responses are welcome moves in restoring peace and normalcy in Leicester, the reaction of the Indian High Commission to the incident was not wise, nor in tune with recent peace-making and peace-keeping strategies adopted across the globe.
The High Commission issued a statement condemning the “vandalisation of premises and symbols of Hindu religion” and declaring that they “have strongly taken up this matter with the UK authorities and have sought immediate action against those involved in these attacks.”
This statement of the Indian High Commission has not been welcomed by the Muslims of the UK. Zara Mohammed, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, in a letter to the High Commission expressed the grievance of the Muslims of Britain over this ‘biased’ and ‘partial’ condemnation of the violence of Leicester, “Whilst it is right that we condemn the desecration of Hindu symbols, you must represent all Indians and also condemn the deliberate targeting, intimidation and instances of assault of Muslims and Sikhs.”
In fact, despite the joint statement issued by the community leaders, the notion of harmony between Indian Hindus and Muslims has received a jolt from the High Commission’s reaction to the incident and the counter-attack that it produced.
Actually, apparent harmony and fraternity that exist on the surface in Hindu-Muslim relations in Britain at large as also in Leicester in particular is fraught with tensions of multiple kinds. In fact, the relationship between the Hindus and Muslims in Indian diaspora started deteriorating significantly after the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Aminah T. Mohammad’s essay, “Relationships between Muslims and Hindus in the United States: Mlecchas versus Kafirs?” also attests to the fact.
He, however, has pointed out partition as another major factor behind the widening of the gap between the two communities, “But tensions between these immigrants do not disappear…since in many cases Sikhs and Hindus, who retain a nostalgia for Urdu, are people who have lived through partition or whose family has lived through partition and who have not necessarily, like Pakistanis, overcome the trauma of the biggest tragedy that affected the subcontinent in the twentieth century.”
Whatever the reasons are, the incidents of conflicts between the Hindus and the Muslims of Indian origin in diaspora are not only deadly for the host countries but also for India. Statistical records and data have already proved that the Indian diaspora significantly contributes to the development of the homeland by supplying financial resources, information, and technology. These resources are not religion specific.
Both the communities (as also the Sikhs) have immensely contributed to the development of India. In this context, the role of High Commissions and embassies in making the diaspora contribute to the development of the homeland has also been acknowledged by diaspora scholars and researchers. Dilip Ratha and Sonia Plaza, for instance, have written, “Steps that could improve embassies’ engagement with diasporas include outreach programmes to gain more information, the training of embassy staff for contacting diaspora members and facilitating investment and trade contacts, and the use of embassies as a vehicle for marketing investment and financial instruments as diaspora bonds.”
Any biased attitude like the one shown by the Indian High Commission in regard to violence in Leicester could be damaging to the prosperity of India as a nation state.
In short, if India has to progress and become a developed country by 2050 (as dreamed of by the Prime Minister), the state should prove itself secular and neutral not only in India but also abroad