The poisonous politics of the Indian right are finding their way into Britain. In India the BJP governing party’s obsessive hatred of Muslims has translated into mob attacks and state violence. Hardly a day passes without reports of beatings or of politicians bulldozing Muslim neighbourhoods. Now it appears that communal violence has come to the streets of Leicester, famed as Britain’s most multicultural city.
Trouble flared last weekend as a large group of Hindu men, many wearing Covid masks or balaclavas, joined a march in the town. The press has largely followed the police and reported this as a “spontaneous” event, perhaps related to India’s recent victory over Pakistan in the Asia Cup cricket. But for hundreds of young men to be parading at the same time and in the same direction—under the Hindu chauvinist chant, “Jai Shri Ram”—there must be organisation and direction. The phrase, meaning victory to the Hindu deity Lord Ram, is now ubiquitous with gang attacks in India.
By evening, bottles and rocks were being thrown towards Muslims that had lined one of the city’s main streets. Some cars were turned over and the police seemed struck by paralysis. There will doubtless have been retaliation by some Muslim men on the streets.
It has been widely reported, particularly in the right wing Indian press, that the saffron flag that was hanging from a temple on Melton Road was ripped down. They say this is proof of the existence of “Jihadist gangs”.
In India, the Hindu right often justify their attacks on Muslims with tales of “Hinduphobia”, or attacks on the rights of Hindus. These spurious stories are spun as justification for the violence that then follows.
In Leicester, it appears the marchers were following the same pattern. They accused Muslims of beating Hindus, and even of attempting to kidnap Hindu children. The police faced heavy criticism from community leaders for allowing Saturday’s march to take place. The next day they came down hard, arresting 15 people “to deter further disorder”. And, after young men started gathering in the North Everington area of the city, they flooded the area with officers. That points to another danger opened up by the injection of communal violence into Leicester.
The police will be quite content to use the excuse of Hindu versus Muslim violence to further criminalise all Asian youth. Cops see little distinction between Asians of different religions. To them we all look the same, because we are all the same. Arrests will be followed by trials and sentencing where all Asians can expect a worse outcome than if they were white.
New Tory home secretary Suella Braverman will be only too happy to show her law and order credentials by helping the police enforce a crackdown that will hit all young people in the city. The government’s existing anti-Muslim prejudice and its welcoming of India’s hard right prime minister Narendra Modi into Britain will also receive a boost.
Division will also feed the racists. They will insist the fighting in Leicester is the result of “multiculturalism” and the failure to instil British values into “immigrant” children, regardless of how many generations their families have lived here.
Covid exposed the way race and class punished working class people in Leicester. Thousands of people on some of the lowest wages in Britain were forced into work as the virus raged. Many reported their factories as having no additional safety measures and bosses concerned only with profit. And all too often, overcrowded housing further enabled the disease to spread. The result was that a disproportionately large number of Asians, both Hindu and Muslim, died from Covid.
The only way to address the plague of low pay, crap jobs and poor housing is to come together and fight back. But to do this, the destructive role of Hindu chauvinism has to be exposed and beaten back. A united fight has been the tradition in Leicester since the early 1970s. Then Asian workers struck at Imperial Typewriters to demand equal pay with white workers, and fought off the National Front when the fascists marched through the city. We desperately need to revive that spirit if we are to overcome the communal divisions that have already wreaked havoc in India.
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