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Home > 2022 > Communalism in Leicester: Who is to be Blamed? | Nilofar Suhrawardy

Mainstream, VOL 60 No 39-42 September 17 - October 8, 2022 - Bumper issue

Communalism in Leicester: Who is to be Blamed? | Nilofar Suhrawardy

Friday 16 September 2022, by Nilofar Suhrawardy

Undeniably, Indo-Pak cricket matches are viewed by citizens of both countries with great passion. There is no denying Indo-Pak enmity still prevails at various levels and their cricket matches are seen by certain sections as virtually equivalent to a war between the two countries. The Indo-Pak cricket match leading reportedly to tension in Leicester (United Kingdom) was held on August 28 in Dubai (UAE). It was watched in most parts of world, including Indian sub-continent. Leicester has been subject to communal violence apparently because of it for the first time. Some importance should be given to other parts not having witnessed what Leicester has. Besides, this was not the first time that Indo-Pak cricket match was held.

The situation may not have aggravated if concerned authorities had been on guard soon after certain demonstrators stepped out shouting defamatory slogans. Needed services should have been immediately pressed into taking necessary action against those who apparently initiated disturbances leading to law and order problems in Leicester. The cricket match did not take place in Leicester or any part of UK. If this was the case, to a degree, the failure to control aggressiveness displayed by groups of people would have been probably understood.

This raises the question, who is to be blamed for tension of this nature in Leicester between two groups of people? Given that recent history of this country has not witnessed communal tension of this nature on its own soil, one is prompted to raise questions as to who has failed, where? Understandably, the people responsible for participating in violence and trying to promote the same cannot be excused. But if tension lasted for so long and assumed greater proportions than probably ever expected, where have those responsible for ensuring prevalence of law and order in this area erred? Or have they chosen to turn a blind eye to the same and indirectly allowed tension to prevail? Certainly, several arrests have been made but then till latest developments indicate, tension still prevails.

Disturbance which seems to have begun because of bilateral relations between two countries took little time in being projected as communal tension between Hindus and Muslims. Attempts have also made been to link this with minorities being targeted by right-winged extremists and other communal incidents taking place in India. Irrespective of whatever is happening in India, how can these be linked with failure of concerned authorities to check disturbances in United Kingdom? Hardly a day passes by when some part of India is not subject to some social problem. In fact, probability of many cases going unreported, even unnoticed, cannot be ignored. Besides, India is not a super model or cannot even be placed on a pedestal as a clay/mud model to be viewed as an example of socio-cultural harmony. Logistics of linking disturbances in Leicester to nature of any tension in India is just incomprehensible. It is equivalent to transferring blame of what Leicester authorities failed to check to some other quarters.

In all probability, sections of people were aroused to taking part in activities leading to disturbance in Leicester after having watched the match in their own homes. There is a view that role of social media in circulating “false” messages, “misinformation” and so forth is also responsible for leading to communal tension. This cannot be denied nor can it be ignored. What perhaps need equivalent attention are reports of people from Birmingham having also entered Leicester further fuelling communal tension. Some of the arrested persons are reportedly from Birmingham.

Expressing shock at these disturbances in Leicester, City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby said that he was “baffled” by such violence. Leicester was normally peaceful, with there being good relations between people of different faiths. He also expressed hope that situation would be normal soon. Taking note of role played by social media, he said, “I’ve seen quite a selection of the social media stuff which is very, very, very distorting now and some of it just completely lying about what had been happening between different communities.” He pointed out, “There’s no obvious local cause for this all.” Deliberate efforts were made to bring people from Birmingham to raise “tensions” in a “very peaceful city,” according to the mayor.

Ironically, several aspects of tension do not seem to have been paid much attention and demand explanation. This includes, as mentioned earlier, attempt made to hold extremist elements and communal tension in India as responsible for what Leicester has been subject to. The labelling of two religious communities – Hindus and Muslims- as responsible for this tension also lacks credibility. It may be noted, several community leaders of these groups are reportedly making efforts to assert that they have been living there in communal harmony and peace as “brothers and sisters” for around half a century. They have issued statements calling for “peace” and condemned “violence” which they say is “not acceptable” by their faiths. Even if these statements were not issued, why should what a few communal elements tried disturbing there be linked with these two religions as well as all Hindus and Muslims? It may be emphasized when any faith is blamed, it also amounts to blaming practically all followers of that faith.

When any disturbing incident and/or element tries doing so in the guise of any religion, it is imperative to exercise caution in blindly accepting “religious” credibility of the same. Not doing so, should be considered equivalent to an attempt being made to abuse religion(s). Accepting and/or projecting disturbance with religious overtones used by criminals indulging in communal activities amounts to supporting them by indirectly/directly using religious jargons probably being deliberately used by them. This is nothing short of abusing religions.

Above all, it is rather disturbing, as to why has little importance has been given to national identity of communal elements? Is it because all participants were probably British citizens? This point has been specifically noted in context of importance accorded to their religious identity as well as tension having boiled over a cricket match between apparently countries of their origin. Chances of Indians and/or Pakistanis having indulged in such violence during their tour of Leicester and/or while visiting UK for some other purpose may be viewed as virtually none. Efforts have also been made to trace regional sources of social media, including communal tweets. Undeniably, investigations at various levels necessitate these. There is no dearth of negative, biased, communal, extremists, including fake and manufactured “news,” etc. circulating through various outlets of communication practically in most parts of world.

Of course, the probable role played by extremist elements from outside UK cannot be ignored. They cannot also be excused. But it is for their respective governments to pay greater attention to what’s happening in their terrain. The hard reality that British citizens were moved to this stage needs to be paid at least some attention. If “British” citizens were provoked to stage of communal tension in parts of Leicester, what does this suggest? Even if British identity of communal elements has been deliberately pushed to backburner, chances of their escaping tentacles of British law are slim. Those arrested and charged with spreading communal violence and hatred will be punished as per dictates of British law, not as Hindus and Muslims. What has happened is regrettable. Equally regrettable is little attention being paid to British society in Leicester being disturbed by some British citizens’ participation in communal violence. When authorities- whether politicians, diplomats, leaders or those from police, media and others - exercise little caution in deliberate or unintentional use of religious terms while taking note of situation in Leicester, tragically they are falling victim to trap laid by which ever elements are responsible for initiating this phase of communal tension. These elements’ key aim probably was and is to “convince” others about their “religious” agenda by use of “religious” terms they desire. It is time British authorities gave greater importance to their society having been disturbed by communalism displayed by British citizens!

(Author: Nilofar Suhrawardy is a senior journalist and writer with specialization in communication studies and nuclear diplomacy. She has come out with several books. These include:— Modi’s Victory, A Lesson for the Congress…? (2019); Arab Spring, Not Just a Mirage! (2019), Image and Substance, Modi’s First Year in Office (2015) and Ayodhya Without the Communal Stamp, In the Name of Indian Secularism (2006). )

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