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Sunday, June 4, 2023

CDPHR fact-finding report on Leicester violence highlights rise of territorial majoritarianism and Hinduphobia

Leicester in the United Kingdom (UK) witnessed unrest and violence against the Hindu community in August and September. The violence that began in Leicester had a cascading effect in other regions as well. The Centre for Democracy Pluralism and Human Rights (CDPHR) sent a team to ground zero to collect facts and ascertain the circumstances that led to the violence.

Summary of CDPHR fact-finding team report on Leicester anti-Hindu violence

The fact-finding team’s Rashmi Samant, Political Conference co-ordination at the 2023 World Hindu Congress (WHC), presented the report in the UK House of Commons. We have summarised the important facts of the Leicester anti-Hindu violence and other details contained in the CDPHR report.

The ground zero of the unrest, violence, and tensions throughout August and September 2022 was East Leicester where the Hindu community is in minority. East Leicester is the ethnic enclave (organised by religion) of Muslims. The presence of these ethnic enclaves gave rise to territorial tensions and localised majoritarianism, which were witnessed both before and during the unrest in East Leicester.

The fact-finding team also discovered a deliberate attempt to target the Hindu community with cooked-up charges of Islamophobia. The kind of false narratives, that we usually see in nations like Pakistan and Bangladesh before Islamists go on a rampage against Hindus, were peddled here too. There was an attempt to defame and vilify the Hindu community as Hindutva nationalists and extremists with malicious propaganda of the false kidnapping of a minor muslim girl, false stabbing of a muslim traffic warden, a false account of a mosque attack and false accusation of desecration of the Quran.

The team also found an increased misuse of law enforcement, security measures, and appropriation of public good through false reports against the Hindu community in local media and with the police. There was a failed attempt to tarnish the image of the Hindus in the UK. Analysis of the reporting of the Leicester unrest by the media houses BBC and the Guardian when compared to the verified police reports, witness accounts and corroborating reports from think tanks showed how institutional Hinduphobia and bias were propagated.

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Recommendations of the fact-finding team

Tensions mounted between Hindus and Muslims in August and September 2022 resulting in widespread unrest and targeted violence against the Hindu community. Incidents of vandalism, desecration of Hindu temples and physical attacks on Hindus were reported.

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Various religious groups in Leicester

Leicester is home to more than 240 faith groups across 14 different religions and belief systems. As is evident from the above data, Islam has grown in stature from being the 4th largest religious identity by population to the second largest in just 20 years. Christianity continues to be the dominant religion even though the Christian population has almost halved over two decades.

The Muslim population has more than doubled in the same timeline. One of the main factors contributing to this increase is natural growth, as Muslim families tend to have higher birth rates compared to other groups. Additionally, there has been a significant influx of Muslim migrants to the city over the past two decades, including refugees, asylum seekers, and economic migrants. Many of these migrants have come from countries with large Muslim populations, such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Somalia.

East Leicester was said to be the epicentre of the anti-Hindu violence. The report highlighted the need to analyse the demographic makeup of the East Leicester region to understand the dynamics between different religious communities living in the area. The figures also reveal that Christians and individuals from other religious backgrounds are present in almost all parts of Leicester, but there is a noticeable absence of these communities in the eastern part of the city with the highest population density of Muslims.

Hindus are thinly spread in East Leicester, making up only a small percentage of the population. The team also found that Hindus were the most law-abiding and least rabble-rousing religious community in the UK accounting for 0 per cent of the prison population. “Hindus account for 2% of the general population and 0% of the Prison population. The muslim community on the other hand constitutes 4% of the general population but 17% of the prison population”, the report says.

As far as educational attainment is concerned, Hindus and Jews come out on top while Christians and Muslims occupy the bottom two positions. Moreover, Muslim women had the highest level of economic inactivity. In conclusion, the Hindus constitute one of the most law-abiding, gainfully-employed, well-earning and educated communities in the United Kingdom.

Leicester – The start of unrest through social media misinformation and amplification

A chain of events that took place between 28 August and 18 September beginning with social media misinformation that was amplified led to full-fledged anti-Hindu violence in Leicester. Immediately after Bharat defeated Pakistan in a cricket match on 28 August 2022, an altercation took place between fans of the two teams in Leicester.

The ‘Pakistan Murdabad’ slogan which translates to ‘down with Pakistan’ in this context was taken out of context and its literal meaning ‘death to Pakistan’ was spread on social media (SM) to give it a tint of ‘Hindutva nationalism’. This was the first incident that set the ball rolling for the Islamist rampage.

It is important to note that a deep analysis of the videos reveal that the slogans were restricted to the words above and did not mention any religious communities including the Muslim and Hindu community irrespective of context. However, viral claims on social media by key influencers of the community claimed otherwise and took the out-of-context claims a notch higher with a layer of misinformation.

Islamist Majid Freeman used his verified Twitter account to make a series of misleading claims adding fuel to the fire. Essentially a fan rivalry was given a communal angle and a political agenda was imposed on a sports rivalry. Freeman also made false claims about Quran desecration which is a sensitive topic and often leads to Islamist violence. “Despite these facts and circumstances, misinformation and diabolical conspiracies continued to go viral on social media regarding the circumstances of the fan rivalry. Many anonymous accounts also led the charge”, the report notes.

“While it is important to respect religious beliefs and practices, it is equally important to ensure that accusations are based on verified facts and evidence rather than hearsay or deliberate falsehoods. Failure to do so can lead to needless violence and harm to innocent individuals”, the report emphasises.

British journalist Sunny Hundal has also been named by the fact-finding team as spreading misinformation through his verified Twitter account. The team notes that Sunny Hundal vilified the Leicester Hindu community and defamed them as extremist Hindutva.

The team says that from 8 September 2022, there was widespread social media reporting and targeting of a young Hindu boy who was out of the UK at that time. ” The targeting started off with subtle provocative messages, doxxing of identity using photos and car plate number with suggestions that the boy was involved in violence against the Muslim community”, the report highlighted.

The Islamists also spread false information about the kidnapping of a minor Muslim girl and the stabbing of a Muslim traffic policeman by Hindus. The Leicester police debunked these false claims. The continuous misinformation campaign against the Hindu community progressed to accusations of an attack on the local mosque in Leicester by the Hindu community. The Leicestershire police issued a statement on 17 September 2022 confirming that the claim was not true.

Unfounded allegations and subsequent misinformation campaigns systematically added to the rising Hinduphobia across the world. In this case, malicious misinformation led to street violence and the temporary displacement of Hindu families.

“The Hindu community of Leicester suffered a tragic incident when their beloved temple was desecrated by mobs of Muslim youths. In the preceding weeks, the community had faced a series of misinformation, harassment, intimidation, and attacks by violent mobs. In response, Hindu youth organised a peace march to show solidarity with the victims and offer hope during a time of fear and despair”, says the fact-finding team in its report.

The report also highlights how unrest and tension were spread to other English cities using misinformation about the Leicester violence. An emerging trend of anti-Hindu bias was observed in the reporting provided by both the English media houses at the time of the Leicester unrest. In its reporting of the incident, it made larger unsubstantiated speculations and claims of the unrest being fuelled by outside (foreign influence) and that Hindu nationalist groups from Bharat were somehow involved in spreading the misinformation.

Whilst investigative reports and facts clearly suggest otherwise and the victimisation of the Hindu community using troupes about Hindu nationalist groups, such conspiratory theories against the Hindu community display clear signs of bias against the community and institutional Hinduphobia.

The report in its fact-finding and investigative endeavour concluded that the Hindu community was targeted using false narratives, misinformation and spurious accusations in a bid to victimise them with the ensuing violence. The Hindu community of Leicester stands falsely accused by the muslim community of East Leicester and fully vindicated by investigative reports and Leicestershire police.

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