At least 47 people had been arrested in connection with tensions between Hindu and Muslim communities in the British city of Leicester over the past week, police said on Monday.
Tension had gripped Leicester on Saturday after young men from Muslim and Hindu communities took to the streets to express their indignation over, what both groups alleged, manhandling of the members of their fraternity.
Initially, police said they had arrested two individuals after violence flared up following “an unplanned protest” — the latest in a series of incidents post the Pakistan-India match during the Asia Cup on August 28.
The city saw another protest, involving around 100 individuals, on Sunday, a BBC report on Monday morning said, adding that police had made at least 15 arrests on Sunday to “deter further disorder”.
However, police later said 18 arrests were made on Sunday night for several offences, including affray, common assault, possession of an offensive weapon, and violent disorder.
“In total, 47 people have been arrested for offences in relation to the unrest in the east of the city,” police said, adding that some of the arrested individuals were from outside Leicester, including some people from Birmingham.
According to a report by The Guardian, eight of those arrested were not from Leicestershire. “Of these, five came from Birmingham, while one came from Solihull, one from Luton and one gave an address in Hounslow,” it said.
Leicester Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby described the development as something that appeared to be the first evidence of individuals coming to Leicester to participate in clashes.
“It does suggest that there are people with other battles to fight who are coming to Leicester to fight them. It’s distressing that they choose to do it in our city. We pride ourselves on good relations between communities,” he told The Guardian.
He added: “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.”
Meanwhile, police said, a 20-year-old man was sentenced to 10 months in prison following his arrest in connection with the episode.
“Amos Noronha, of Illingworth Road, Leicester, appeared at Leicester Magistrate’s Court this morning (Monday) and pleaded guilty to possession of an offensive weapon,” the police statement read.
Early on Tuesday morning, police said, “Our policing operations continue in east Leicester tonight with proactive patrols. The situation is calm.”
‘Toxic brand of extremism imported from India’
For its part, the Muslim Council of Britain has condemned what it terms the “targeting of Muslim communities in Leicester by far-right Hindutva groups”.
In a statement on Monday, the body highlighted that during the past few days, “there has been a heightening of tensions among the diverse communities of Leicester, as concerns grow about the rise of violent right-wing Hindutva extremism taking root locally”.
“On Saturday, September 17, groups of balaclava-clad men led a march, chanting slogans rooted in Hindutva nationalist supremacism, along Green Lane Road — a predominantly Muslim and Sikh populated area,” the statement said, adding that the was followed by a “series of provocations”.
It described the instances of such “provocations” as “chanting outside mosques, targeted mob attacks on Muslims, and vandalism to homes and businesses over recent months”.
Groups of young people from both communities had subsequently come out on the streets to protest, resulting in physical altercations and running battles, the statement added.
“Whilst faith leaders have shared statements of solidarity and appealed for calm, there is criticism locally of the perceived inaction of law enforcement officers, who failed to disperse the mobs, despite long-standing concerns being raised,” it said.
“Tensions still remain among local groups, and demonstrations continue. There is now a concern of this toxic brand of extremism, imported from India, spreading to other cities,” the statement read.
The council’s secretary general, Zara Mohammed, also said in a statement that “communities have expressed their deep concerns to me around the propaganda perpetuated by far-right groups in India and their Hindutva agenda, which we are now seeing expressed on British streets.
“These provocations have targeted Muslims, Sikhs, and other minorities and as a result, instigated hostilities between local communities in Leicester”.
Mohammed said, “We do not believe these people represent the views of wider Hindu communities, with whom Muslims and Sikhs, among others, enjoy good relations in the UK, of which Leicester, historically, is a prime example. We condemn attacks against any place of worship or symbols of religion — hatred of any kind has no place in our society”.
She called upon all communities to exercise restraint and for local leaders, including the police and politicians, to “listen to the concerns of locals objectively and work constructively to diffuse the situation.
We must all remain united as we have been for many years and not let this imported hate divide us.“
‘Social media exacerbating tensions’
On Saturday evening, Leicester saw a standoff between Muslim and Hindu communities and police, The Guardian reported, adding that another demonstration on Sunday was witnessed in “response to an unplanned protest of Hindu men on Saturday, who marched through the city”.
Meanwhile, the video of a man pulling down a flag outside a Hindu temple on Leicester’s Melton Road and another of a flag being burned circulating on social media “aggravated” the already “febrile atmosphere” in the city, the report said.
According to The Guardian, Soulsby told BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on Monday that social media was exacerbating the tensions and there was “no obvious local cause” for such clashes in “an otherwise very peaceful city”.
“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,” he said.
India seeks action
In a statement on Twitter, the High Commission of India in London “strongly condemned” what it called the “violence perpetrated against the Indian community in Leicester, and vandalisation of premises and symbols of Hindu religion”.
“We have strongly taken up this matter with the UK authorities and have sought immediate action against those involved in these attacks,” the statement added.