From the outside, Leicester’s Golden Mile looks like it’s full of its usual colorful life this week.
During the day, silk and sari shops, jewelers and money changers were bustling with trade. As the evening wore on, the neon lights of myriad vegetarian restaurants lit up as usual.
But for those in the know, the city’s hustle and bustle on Belgrave Road was a little quieter.
“People are scared,” says Dharmesh Lakhani, who runs Bobby’s Deli and is a board member of the Belgrave Business Association. “My income is down by 30% for him. People are indoors with the curtains closed. They don’t feel safe going out.”
This was the aftermath of a weekend when tensions erupted into riots.
More than 500 young Hindu and Muslim men clashed with each other and the police during two nights of violence that swept across Leicester’s East End. Cars were smashed, bottles and stones were thrown, and 20 people were arrested.
At least 25 police officers were injured. The violence was so bad that a patrol had to be redirected from the Queen’s funeral. This was the largest police operation ever undertaken in the UK and helped address it.
Now Lester finds himself at a sudden reputational crossroads.
Half a century after its peaceful diversity became a recognized model for integration around the world, city leaders fear weekend violence could undermine 50 years of efforts. I’m here.
What went wrong? How come no one saw it coming? And can peace be restored to a city still filled with tension?
Lahani himself was at the nearby Bapus Swaminarayan Hindu Temple when trouble first broke out last Saturday night (September 17). The congregation was told by police to stay indoors for their own safety, but the 54-year-old father of two couldn’t stand it. he went to see
“This is my city, my region,” he says. “I had to see it with my own eyes. All these young bandits running around and throwing things. Couldn’t this, Lester?
He wasn’t the only one.
The restaurant owner explains that they had to close the curtains and turn off the lights because of the mob’s rampage. A local car wash owner rushed to his company only to find that hundreds of thugs had been kettle-killed by police. “Glass and horses** everywhere.”
Lester is very proud of its reputation for harmonious cohesiveness, so the shock here is felt deeply.
Immigration and tolerance are seen as the foundation of the city’s character. It’s often said that the best moment was exactly 50 years ago when Idi opened his doors to 10,000 Asian Ugandans who had escaped Amin’s exile.
Half a century later, the city has experienced no racial or religious clashes as its Asian heritage population has grown to nearly 40%. Until last weekend.
It is unclear exactly how the incident unfolded last Saturday, distorted by allegations, counter-arguments, social media speculation and deliberate misdirection. Some say it was started by a large group of Hindu men marching towards the Green Lane Road area of the mosque.
Others say it was a peaceful demonstration and that Muslim rebellion led to violence.
In any case, what we do know is that this was the culmination of weeks of small skirmishes following a cricket match between India and Pakistan in Dubai in August. What we do know is that the sport ultimately had nothing to do with it.
Rather, many here suggest that tensions between communities have become increasingly tense over the past five years due to changing demographics and global politics.
One theory suggests that Hindu new arrivals living in the predominantly Muslim Highfield area were frequently abused, leading to wider hostility. Another theory holds that the same arrivals brought Hindu nationalist politics to their homeland of India.
“There is no doubt that religious tensions in India and the actions of India’s hardline and violent nationalist government have had a direct impact on what we have seen. Research. “Without the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) in power in India, it is difficult to imagine the same tensions here without demonizing minority groups.
“And what it shows is that not only here in Leicester, but everywhere where different communities coexist, what we have to realize is happening thousands of miles across continents and borders. That has ripple effects within the country: the global is local, and in an interconnected world, events elsewhere will expose and exacerbate regional tensions.”
In addition to this, Professor Chakraborty attributes it to a factor related to Lester itself: self-satisfaction.
“I think as a city we assume we are immune from the challenges we see elsewhere,” he says. “It makes sense, because tolerance has been part of our DNA for 50 years. We must not hide from the facts.”
A more tricky and potentially thorny issue is why no one seems to see the violence coming.
The failure of the police and political intelligence services apparently prevented city agencies from realizing how hot the air had grown. It looks like this and has been accused of being totally unprepared.
“At one point, eight police officers were trying to keep 300 youths down,” said one business owner, who requested anonymity. “They looked terrified. All eight of them. And so did I.”
Interim Constable Rob Nixon said police were “trying to arrest and bring to justice those who are causing harm to our communities.”
The question, perhaps, is where Lester goes from here.
Community leader, interfaith and elected mayor, Sir Peter Soulsby, is painstakingly saying the solution lies in communication, not violence. They also stressed that more than half of his 20 people arrested last weekend were not from Leicester, in fact five of them were from Birmingham.
Sir Peter said Wednesday: “It suggests there are people with other fights coming to Leicester to fight.”
However, the mayor’s claim that the issue “doesn’t represent anything simmering in Leicester” has been described as naive by those on the ground.
“There are tensions and frustrations here. ‘And we have to recognize them, because if we don’t recognize them, how are we going to deal with them?'”
The 55-year-old mother of three says she has only felt insecure twice in her 40 years of living in Leicester.
The first was in 2010, when a highly publicized EDL march took place in the city. The second is sitting and talking this week Independent Belgrave Road, a predominantly Hindu area, wearing a hijab.
“It’s internalized,” she claims. “No one said anything, no one even looked at me differently. I know people here are good people. I work here and I have friends here.” But I get out of my car and yes, it makes me think about what happened.
Like everyone here, she believes two nights of trouble won’t be enough to tarnish Lester’s hard-earned reputation.
But like everyone here, she also knows that her reputation can quickly erode. She warns that more clashes could make the city unsafe, unfriendly and unwelcoming. “There are no winners. Everyone here loses,” she says. “It drags us all down.”
How to prevent this from happening is now a major concern for many city dwellers. And there already seems to be a growing consensus that community engagement needs to be improved and adapted for the 21st century.
Professor Chakraborti says again: But today’s efforts are very outdated.
“As a city, we rely on dialogue with a very narrow range of community leaders and opinion-makers. We need to think of new and sophisticated ways to hear all of our voices and reach out to those who feel disenfranchised. there is.”
He makes one point. “This is not just a Leicester issue,” he says. “I think this is something every town or city has to learn to do better.”
His counterpart, Kim Sadiq, associate professor of community and criminal justice at De Montfort University across town, agrees.
“Samosa and tea,” she says. “You invite people to samosa and tea and talk about what you can do to improve your community. We need to find mechanisms to talk to people who aren’t coming forward so we can build a better future.”
For now, it is now that Bobby’s Deli on the Golden Mile raises some concerns.
On Diwali next month, the road claims to host the biggest festival of lights outside India.
However, there are concerns that people will not stop by even if the streets are already decorated. These concerns are not furthered by the fact that India will face Pakistan in her T20 Cricket World Cup the day before.
“It’s a great night every year,” says Lakhani. “It’s not just Hindus. All people are coming. Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians. Everyone. And this year should go well. No doubt. Show the world that this is what Leicester is all about.” It is necessary that we celebrate each other, that we are one community.”