Violence broke out last weekend in Leicester, a city which has been experiencing religious tension and ‘serious disorder‘ since August. On 17 and 18 September, large crowds formed in the east of the city after groups of young men began an ‘unplanned protest’, inciting tension and violence between the Hindu and Muslim communities.
Incidents on 28 August and 5 September led to clashes in North Evington, where residents reported groups of young, hooded men assaulting and intimidating residents, as well as damaging public and private property.
Police officers have arrested 47 people since 28 August amid tensions between mainly young men from sections of the Muslim and Hindu communities.
The violence, which has been occurring sporadically for a month, has left residents scared to leave their homes or let their children walk home from school.
Concern grew this weekend following a series of videos showing a man pulling down a flag outside a Hindu temple on Melton Road and another video of a man burning a flag.
In the UK, under the Human Rights Act (HRA), everyone has the right to be free from discrimination and the right to practise their religion. People are also protected by the right to have their private and family life respected.
Leicestershire Police issued the following statement:
“Two arrests were made [17-18 September]– one man on suspicion of conspiracy to commit violent disorder and one man on suspicion of possession of a bladed article. They remain in police custody. We are continuing to call for dialogue and calm with support from local community leaders. We will not tolerate violence or disorder in our city. A significant police operation will remains in the area in the coming days.”
Almost half of those arrested travelled to Leicester to start the violence
Almost half of those arrested are reported to have travelled to the city to take part in the violence. Five came from Birmingham, while others travelled from Solihull, Luton and Hounslow.
Residents have spoken out about the longstanding peace within the city. Jasmin, 29, a resident of east Leicester, told EachOther:
“We have had some gang-related incidents in the past but nothing like the tension that we’ve felt since August. I’m British-Indian and non-religious but my neighbours are Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and atheist, and we’ve never had any issues. We take care of each other. We did throughout the whole of lockdown. We’re a community and it’s upsetting to see the worry, because no-one wants any trouble. We had a chat about it and the kids in our street are walking home in groups and not allowed to go out after 6pm.”
The mayor of Leicester, Sir Peter Soulsby, said:
“I have talked to many people across the communities since this trouble began, and they are utterly baffled by this. It does not represent anything that is simmering in Leicester, and does seem to have more to do with subcontinental politics [referring to religious tensions in India].”
On Monday, Soulsby told BBC Radio 4: “I’ve seen quite a selection of the social media stuff which is very distorting now and some of it just completely lying about what had been happening between different communities.”
Social media posts used to attract people to the area
A series of social media posts, circulated on Facebook and WhatsApp, attempted to attract people to the area for a ‘peaceful protest’ which was violent from the outset.
A ‘fake‘ event was scheduled for 11 September. The events so far have failed to list a sponsoring organisation, contact details or speakers. Leaders in the community have said that the event was “designed to provoke additional clashes and to cause disharmony and distrust”.
Claudia Webbe, MP for Leicester East, stated: “This weekend we have seen unacceptable hate-driven violence. Ours is a community of deep faith. Our unique cultural diversity is our strength. Right-wing fascism and toxic extremism have no place in a civil society. Our communities in Leicester stand united against it.”
“This is a time for cool heads. I implore everyone to go home. We can strengthen our dialogue to repair community relations. Your family will be worried for your safety. Please accept the advice of the police who are trying to defuse and are calling for calm.”
Leicester’s unity is its strength
A joint statement of unity made by Leicester Hindu and Muslim community leaders said:
“We, the family of Leicester, stand before you, not just as Hindus and Muslims, but as brothers and sisters. Our two faiths have lived harmoniously in this wonderful city for over half a century. We arrived in this city together and faced the same challenges together.
“We fought off racists haters together and collectively made this city a beacon of diversity and community cohesion. That is why today we are saddened and heartbroken to see the eruption of tensions and violence. Physical attacks on innocent individuals and unwarranted damage to property are not part of a decent society and indeed not part of our faiths. What we have seen is not what we are about.”
“We are from one family. We settled here in this city together, we fought the racists together, we built it up together. The recent violence is not who we are as a city.”
Joint statement on Hindu / Muslim tensions in Leicester pic.twitter.com/PPZLkusMeX
— Darshna Soni (@darshnasoni) September 20, 2022
Webbe stated: “In Leicester, we remain vigilant to incitement to hate, whilst working hard to bring our communities together and end race and religious violence. Leicester is one of the most diverse cities in the UK. Our unity is our strength.”
For residents, community and religious leaders, this message of unity, community and solidarity is central to their way of life.