Hindutva in Britain
In August and September 2022, the English city of Leicester provided the backdrop for the convergence of international and local dynamics as unrest erupted between the city’s Hindu and Muslim communities. The events that unfolded highlighted the existence of Hindutva/Hindu nationalism and Islamophobia in the United Kingdom, and how online voices (both locally and globally) used social media platforms to inflame tensions and spread mis/disinformation.
Hindu nationalism from India collided with a deeply entrenched Islamophobia in one of the most diverse cities in Europe. It was quickly apparent in the days that followed the violence in Leicester – as the local authority, police, and community tried to grapple with the events that had occurred – that many were not aware of the international politics that had likely factored into these events. Initial responses attributed the violence to a cricket match between India and Pakistan, with even the City’s Mayor presenting this view, However, further investigations revealed underlying issues within the communities long before the cricket match. This unawareness and inexperience was compounded by the abundance of voices seeking to use this opportunity to amplify Islamophobia. British Muslims are already the targets of the highest proportion of religious hate crimes in the country, and this response by some appeared to take advantage of that environment to shift the narrative away from the dangers of Hindu nationalism. The impact of this has been heavy on a city like Leicester, as residents have expressed an atmosphere of distrust emerging amongst communities.
The events in Leicester and the conversations around it introduced a relatively new term to local and national discourse: Hindutva. While this term may be new to many, as an ideology, it has been around for decades. Hindutva is distinct from Hinduism – it is a modern ethno-nationalist movement that seeks to establish Hindu hegemony in India and should not be confused simply with the religion of more than a billion people.
This report will examine the historical and contemporary context that has cultivated the complex landscape in which Hindu nationalist influences have materialized in the UK. It will discuss the history and background of Hindutva. It will then examine how British voices who have long played a role in spreading Islamophobia have aligned themselves with Hindu nationalist narratives, which often employ anti-Muslim tropes. This report will also profile several organizations that function within the UK and have expressed or supported Hindu nationalist sentiment, which serves as evidence against those who argue against the presence of Hindutva ideology in the country. Lastly, it will assess how the existence of Hindutva is impacting the harmony and cohesion between South Asian communities in the UK, and in particular, in Leicester.
As highlighted by Dr. Fatima Rajina, a sociologist at De Montfort University in Leicester: “You will not understand the events of Leicester if you do not pay attention to what’s been happening in India and how Hindutva has been playing out across the diaspora.” A century-old ideology developed by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar in 1922 is now shaping the politics of the world’s largest democracy, but also having a reverberating impact in countries like the UK and the United States. In the absence of any formal review of the Leicester unrest being completed as yet, this report will offer the opportunity to understand Hindu nationalism and its manifestations on the streets of Leicester.
To read the full report, please click here.
This report was produced in collaboration with the Community Policy Forum, an independent think-tank that seeks to promote evidence-based and community-centered approaches to policymaking surrounding the structural inequalities that face Muslim communities in the UK.