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Hindu-Muslim Tensions in Leicester Exacerbated by Misinformation from India

Hindu-Muslim Tensions in Leicester Exacerbated by Misinformation from India

Categories: Latest News

Thursday November 03 2022

A few months ago, one of the largest conflicts between Hindu and Muslim communities occurred in Leicester, home to one of the largest South Asian diasporas. Only last year, Leicester was celebrated as the most multicultural city in the UK, so the widespread unrest shocked the nation. However, according to local Muslims, tensions between the Hindu and Muslim communities in Leicester have been simmering for some time. In 2018, for instance, an application by a Muslim run organisation to turn a former warehouse into a community centre and nursery on Belper Street was rejected. Comments from the local community at the time included concerns about having an Islamic place of worship in a part of the city where most residents are Hindu, and it was thus portrayed as a ‘mosque application’ in order to garner support to oppose it. Worryingly, further comments left on the council’s website appear to be Hindutva-inspired, parroting Islamophobic tropes. Another example of the rise of Hindutva was the 2019 General Election when Hindu Conservative supporters carried out an ‘operation Dharmic vote’ in Leicester. This operation was a campaign against the Labour party that used racist and Islamophobic slogans such as ‘will the Dharmic [referring to Hindu] community end up with Amrut [nectar i.e. Conservative candidate] or Poison [Labour candidate]?’. More recently, there has been an ongoing campaign of anti-social behaviour aimed at the Muslim community of East Leicester, including targeting local mosques and reaching the tipping point when Hindutva-inspired individuals paraded through the streets of Leicester wearing balaclavas.

Meanwhile, the spread of misinformation played a significant role in fuelling the Hindu-Muslim discord in Leicester. As a result, it is concerning that some media outlets and individuals exploited the tension to foment hatred and division between the Muslim and Hindu populations by promoting misinformation when peace and order were paramount.

A widely shared tweet, for example, accused ‘Islamist extremists’ of setting fire to a Birmingham supermarket. The Fire Service eventually determined that the fire was caused by outdoor litter burning. Nevertheless, many people used the incident to disparage Muslims amid the commotion. Whereas, when Majid Freeman covered the events in Leicester via his Twitter account, he was condemned for reporting the abduction of a 15-year-old Muslim girl. However, after he himself investigated this story further, he found it to be untrue, removed the post, clarified the facts and publicly warned others about the harms and consequences of making up such incidents. Although both Hindus and Muslims spread false reports, studies found that the propagation of misinformation was part of a larger and likely coordinated strategy by BJP followers.

According to a BBC investigation, more than half of the 200,000 tweets sampled came from accounts geo-located to India, with hashtags #Leicester, #HindusUnderAttack and #HindusUnderattackinUK. The BBC further noted that the ‘most prolific [Indian] user of some of these hashtags had no profile picture and the account was only started earlier this month’. Logically, a tech company that fights misinformation,  also examined these hashtags, corroborating the BBC’s findings, and highlighted that highly followed media figures in India fed into the anti-Muslim narrative by spreading lies on social media, such as the claim that ‘Muslims had attempted to keep Hindus, including children, hostage at a temple’. Their tweets received the highest reach and retweets, while Facebook posts with similar claims went viral. These findings are hardly surprising given the ubiquity of fake news in India. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data bureau showed ‘that incidents of fake news in India and rumour circulation’ increased almost three folds in just a year (486 cases in 2019 to 1527 cases in 2020). According to a later study, this has become increasingly relevant as BJP supporters who openly adhere to Hindutva principles have grown in number. Approximately 18,000 Twitter accounts spread fake news on behalf of the Indian far-right party, focusing on spreading anti-Muslim narratives. It is likely that Twitter bots were created during the tensions in Leicester to strengthen the narrative of Hindu victimisation or Hinduphobia in the UK under the guise of advancing the RSS-rooted Hindutva ideologies.

Furthermore, Henry Jackson Society (HJS) research fellow Charlotte Littlewood jumped on the bandwagon of spreading misinformation, claiming that Hindus fled the city due to violence, which was then denied by the police. Ms Littlewood also propagated Islamophobic tropes, saying it was ‘Islamist extremist influencers’ who were ‘rallying mobs via social media’. The HJS, has a history of downplaying Islamophobia and deliberately suppressing Muslim voices. Ms Littlewood’s accusations against Muslims in Leicester is unquestionably an intentional effort by the HJS to advance the ‘Islamist’ narrative in public discourse and, on the other hand, downplay the Hindutva angle.

Similarly, some Indian media outlets have misrepresented the tensions in Leicester, also downplaying the threats posed by Hindutva ideology. According to a Firstpost article, the violent incidents displayed Hinduphobia, and organisations, including MEND, other Muslim organisations, Sikh organisations and South Asian Rights groups, were chastised for instilling anti-Hindu sentiments. Such claims are baseless since MEND advocated for the cessation of violence and urged the Muslim community to remain vigilant while awaiting police response. MEND has also worked with Hindu and Sikh community leaders of Leicester to alleviate tensions and restore peace and harmony in the city.

The media has a responsibility to deliver impartial and accurate news, as false information not only acts as a catalyst of hate speech but is also associated with the ‘global rise of violence’ against minorities. The Leicester incident exemplifies how media may influence public opinion by spreading false information to its readers and ultimately inflaming tensions. It is concerning to the wider British Muslim community that Hindutva ideology with its roots in Indian RSS ideology, is now being played out in the form of violence on the streets of Leicester. This needs to be addressed by local and national politicians, police and community groups of all faiths coming together

Ultimately, MEND strongly condemns all violence and provocation, including the Hindutva-inspired violence against Muslims and Sikhs. We urge the new Government, led by Rishi Sunak, a Hindu,  to work towards strengthening interfaith and good community relations, e.g. by  preventing UK organisations from hosting inflammatory RSS speakers and clamping down on organisations seeking to promote hateful Hindutva ideology to sow discord on our streets.


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