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False narratives tearing our Leicester apart must be addressed

False narratives tearing our Leicester apart must be addressed

I was born and grew up in Leicester, and my family have lived here for over 30 years. When my parents first arrived in this country, Leicester was a sanctuary. It was a place they could celebrate and be proud of who they were whilst also integrating into the country they had decided to call home.  

We have lived alongside people from all faith groups in the community for decades, and it is this multi-ethnic diversity with shared respect that makes has made the city so great. Parts of this community are now living in fear and being blamed for creating hate they themselves are victims of. 

The recent troubles in Leicester resulted from a breakdown in law and order and were amplified by politically motivated groups from inside and outside Leicester, using social media to stir up hatred. These troubles have nothing to do with Hindutva, the RSS or Indian politics.  

Blaming Modi or India for these incidents on the streets of Leicester is not only lazy but feeds into a dangerous trope and malicious narrative to create a division that would otherwise not exist. As Charlotte Littlewood, a former counter-extremism coordinator for the UK government and current research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society, quoted in a Times Now interview, "This particular instance is an attack on a young group of Hindu males that have nothing to do with Hindu national extremism or terrorism." 

There are, of course, problems we need to address. On the one hand, like many other cities, we have local, sometimes territorial tensions and ongoing anti-social behaviour. But on the other, and altogether different, we have external forces maliciously using our city as a backdrop for their manipulation. By projecting a divisive narrative, they victimise one community and stir up hatred against the other. Ultimately, this has pitted one community over another.

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Breakdown in local community cohesion 

There are certainly some tensions in pockets of the city caused by the arrival of new communities. They have settled into areas where they have not been welcomed, and this has caused some issues between the settled communities and recent arrivals from India. Those that have arrived in the city are culturally different to those migrants of my parent's generations who had more in common with other Muslim Gujaratis and Pakistanis. Over the years, this has caused clashes in culture and brewing tensions that ultimately led to a breakdown in law and order.  

The group of young men who walked down Green Lane Road did not do so out of any sense of Hindu nationalism. The BJP has been in power in India for over eight years. Why would these young men choose a random backstreet in the middle of September in Leicester to “rise up”?  

Although I don’t condone it and understand its provocative nature, they felt they had no other option but to stand up for their families and friends who they saw being driven out of the area. There are documented reports of Hindu families being attacked over several nights leading up to the troubles. They had their front doors kicked in, vehicles damaged, and family members attacked. When you hear about recent waves of immigration that are exporting “Hindu Nationalism” from India, it is these communities they’re referring to. They are not extremists. They are some of the victims, and most of them wouldn’t know who or what the “RSS” is. In fact, many do not even identify as Hindu. For example, Amos Noronha, one of the young men charged, was wrongfully identified by 5Pillars, a Muslim-focused media platform, as Hindu when in fact is Roman Catholic.  

So, the original issue here is not a communal conflict between Hindus and Muslims. By painting a broad brush Hinduphobic narrative for troubles in Leicester, you’re appeasing a divisive agenda and ignoring the root cause, which is to maintain law and order and dialogue between the local communities to respect each other's way of life.

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Dangerous forces attempting to further their agenda of division through Leicester

It's been disappointing to see mass media allowing an agenda-driven narrative to spread, which lays the blame on a single community. All of a sudden, Hindus feel that they have a target on their back and anyone that shows any reverence towards India or their own religion is a ‘Hindutva’ follower, thereby a target. This incorrect, irresponsible, and incredibly dangerous trope has validated extremists in spreading hate, fake news and inciting violence.  

The young Muslim men that have aggressively taken to the streets are victims too. They are victims of a misinformation campaign that is using them as cannon fodder to confront a threat of “Hindutva”, something that they can’t describe or have ever experienced but are being convinced on social media is real. One of the young men charged so far told the magistrates that he had been “influenced by social media” about events near where he lived, which “upset” him. Impressionable young men are being whipped into a frenzy under a false pretence of protecting their community. How else do you explain the attacks on places of worship in Leicester and Birmingham?  

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These toxic and coordinated narratives are dangerous, and we should be concerned about how quickly and coordinated the fake news about supposed attacks on Muslim communities was deliberately spread on social media. The more we allow this false narrative to spread without a critical lens, the greater the danger of radicalisation of people that feel under attack and unprotected.  

Ultimately, the victims here are the families that are scared to live in their homes, visit their temples or continue their daily lives in Leicester and the young angry men who are in danger of throwing their lives away over a false narrative that is convincing them they are under attack from a threat that doesn’t exist. This is where we must now turn our attention, and I expect the independent investigation announced by the City Mayor, Sir Peter Soulsby, will corroborate.  

Leicester has been and will continue to be a beacon of multiculturalism, but if this incident has taught us anything, it is that community cohesion is something we need to continue to work on actively, and we need to be more conscious of outside forces that try and divide us and spread hateful narratives.  

Hersh Thaker is the Co-Founder of the Good Plate Company. He works in product development for a global energy company, with a focus on electric vehicle (EV) charging. He's also a school governor at Cedars Academy. 

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