Roots of UK's Hindu-Muslim Tension
Contemporary and historical
Beginning on August 28, Leicester and surrounding areas in the United Kingdom (UK), saw confrontations between Hindu and Muslim youth. This instilled insecurity in the minds of a largely peaceful South Asian community. Leicester is 40% South Asian and hence the worry that it could become a communal tinder box, with a fallout far beyond it.
Police tightened security and arrested 47. Not surprisingly, the Indian and Pakistan High Commissions issued statements seeking protection for either the Hindus or the Muslims, underlining an external interest in the matter.
As usual, the immediate causes were local. The first was an Indian win in a cricket match against Pakistan in Dubai on August 28 and the other was the proposed visit to Leicester of an Indian-Hindu communal rabble rouser Sadhvi Rithambara in September organised by the Param Shakti Peeth UK, a registered charity founded by Sadhvi Rithambara.
While the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, which was to organise the meetings, said that Sadhvi Rithambara was a Hindu nationalist and spiritualist, the Muslims felt that her visit would lead to a sharpening of the communal divide given her activities in India. In the event, Sadhvi Rithambara cancelled her talk citing illness.
But the atmosphere was so charged that on September 17, Hindu youths marched through a Muslim area shouting "Jai Shri Ram", a slogan used by communal radicals in India to provoke Muslims. And Muslim youths climbed atop a Hindu temple and brought down the temple flag.
On September 20, nearly 200 Muslim youth gathered in front of a Hindu temple in Smethwick to stage a scheduled protest. Several videos were shared on social media of a sizable gathering walking in the direction of the Durga Bhawan Hindu Centre on Spon Lane.
In the video, most of the protesters were masked and were heard chanting slogans. Earlier this month, claims about the attempted kidnap of a Muslim teenage girl at the hands of Hindu men were shared on social media, an incident police have since said "did not take place", as well as unfounded claims of attacks on mosques.
According to The Telegraph, Hindu and Muslim religious leaders in the UK were bracing themselves for further clashes. The Hindu Council UK said: "Religious leaders have continued to call for calm but the youths… It's very difficult. You can't control them. It's crazy. It's going everywhere."
One member of the Hindu community in Leicester, Vinod, warned: "This will continue to spread. Social media is playing a big part in this and there is an agenda - people are looking at creating disarray between communities - not just in Leicester but across all of the UK. We've been informed that there's going to be something similar in Nottingham and Coventry. It's well-planned with a narrative of anti-Islam and anti-Hindu sentiment and it's the actions of a few fanatics who are trying to get a reaction."
Sociologist Dr. Fatima Rajina told New Lines Magazine that the disorder exposes a worrying trend, wherein the "national politics in India have created fault lines in the Diaspora. Hindutva, the divisive political ideology endorsed by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which advocates for Hindu supremacy – and wants to transform India into an ethno-religious state – has crossed over to Britain."
The veteran activist, Amrit Wilson, who has spent years raising awareness about the rise of Hindutva, has noted the growth of the ideology across the global Indian diaspora, with RSS branches from Britain to Kenya. Leicester in particular is not only home to one of Britain's largest Indian communities – it also contains a sizable Gujarati population including East African Asians expelled in the early 1970s by Idi Amin. Contributing to the appeal of Hindutva among the Hindus in the US and UK, is Islamophobia among the Whites in both countries following 9/11.
Mihir Sharma, writing in Bloomberg, blames British politicians' mobilization tactics for the growth of Hindu and Muslim communalism. He points out that British politicians, irrespective of their race, approach religious leaders mistaking them for community leaders, to garner votes. These politically empowered Mullahs or Hindu leaders, shape the political thoughts and actions of their communities. They import the sectarian politics of South Asia into the UK. Preeti Patel, a former Home Secretary, had announced that her Conservative Party and the BJP were "sister parties".
In her paper entitled: Divine Development: Transnational Indian Religious Organizations in the United States and India, Rina Agarwala of Johns Hopkins University, relates the growth of Hindu-Muslim communalism in the US to the changing character of the Indian Diaspora, which in turn, reflects changes in India's Diaspora policies.
During the colonial and the immediate post-colonial periods, Indian leaders looked at emigration or the Diaspora communities as a matter of disgrace as they were the poor and exploited lot. In the late 1930s, Indian nationalists got the Indian government to ban labour migration.
At that time, Indian subcontinental politics had no impact on the Indians abroad, whether Hindu or Muslim. Indian leaders asked the diaspora to integrate themselves with the indigenous people thus insulating them from India.
But in the 1980s, India-Diaspora relations changed. Emigration for work was seen as a source of national income to offset a forex shortage. From the 1990s onwards, the Diaspora was looked at very positively because the new migrants were from the educated and upper classes who secured good jobs, and enjoyed high prestige in the host countries. T
hey were seen as an asset to India both notionally and financially as they brought India prestige as well as hefty remittances. The government of India established a Diaspora organisation to celebrate their achievements. An Overseas Citizenship category was introduced to help the Non-Resident Indians (NRI) set up businesses and work in India.
Rina Agarwala notes that with the government of India getting involved in their lives and bestowing them with high status, the Diaspora got incorporated into Indian national development efforts. From there, it was but a short step towards involvement in Indian national political efforts too.
There was also a reverse flow of ideas and ideologies besides money. The BJP gets support from the Diaspora in the US, as seen in the grand "Howdy Modi" event in Texas. The BJP's active supporters are typically the first generation, younger and educated immigrants.
In New Jersey in the US, radical Hindu elements embarrassed the organisers of a rally to mark the 75th anniversary of Indian Independence when they brought a bulldozer into the procession with portraits of Modi and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath who bulldozed Muslim houses on the grounds that they were illegal.
Agarwala's paper specifically analyses Indian-American Hindu and Indian-American Muslim religious organizations that try to shape development goals and ideologies in India. They do so differently. She found that in addition to sending financial remittances, Indian-American Hindu and Muslim organizations actively engaged in remitting their development ideologies and frameworks to India.
These "social" remittances are different in the case of Hindu and Muslim groups. Hindu organizations address the question of India's geopolitical inequality with other countries, while Muslim organizations address class inequalities within India.
Hindu organisations aim to increase the status of India vis-à-vis other countries and at the same maintain the purity and relatively higher economic status of the Hindus vis-à-vis other communities which are seen to be aligned to non-Indian powers. The Muslim organizations' aims are to turn India into a secular country with equal opportunities for all as enshrined in the Indian constitution. According to Agarwala, Indian Muslim organizations in America do not consider themselves part of the Muslims of the world as a whole. They also co-opt non-Muslims who empathise with their cause.