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Calls to ban 'divisive' Hindu activist Sadhvi Rithambara from UK speaking tour

Modi ally and Hindu nationalist has been accused of stoking communal tensions and violence towards India's minority groups
Sadhvi Rithambara meeting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2013 during a visit to the city of Gandhinagar in the Indian state of Gujarat, where Modi was previously state minister (Supplied)

Calls are mounting for the British government to ban a controversial Hindu activist accused in India of inciting anti-Muslim hatred from entering the United Kingdom for a speaking tour next week.

Sadhvi Nisha Rithambara is the leader of the Durga Vahini organisation, the woman's wing of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), a Hindu nationalist movement, and a close ally of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 

Rithambara was scheduled to visit Hindu temples in Birmingham, Bolton, Coventry, Nottingham and London from 20-24 September as part of a tour organised by Param Shakti Peeth UK, a UK-registered charity founded by Rithambara.

'Sadhvi Rithambara is a hugely divisive figure, known for her xenophobic speeches and rhetoric, in particular against the Muslim community in India'

- Sam Tarry MP


 

Param Shakti Peeth UK released a statement on Friday afternoon, saying that it will postpone Rithambara's UK tour due to her poor health. 

MEE understands that one scheduled event at a temple in east London at which Rithambara was due to speak has already been cancelled.

The VHP was designated by the CIA as a "religious militant organisation" in 2018 and forms part of an umbrella group of Hindu nationalist groups close to Modi's ruling BJP party. 

Known to her followers as Didi Maa, Rithambara has courted controversy with calls for a "Hindu Rashtra" or "Hindu nation" by inciting violence towards minority groups in India - particularly Christian and Muslim communities. 

Indian police arrested Rithambara over accusations that she had incited communal violence that led to the demolition of the historic Babri Masjid in 1992 and the death of 2,000 Muslims in India's northern Uttar Pradesh state.

In 2009, the Liberhan Commission, a 17-year investigation commissioned by the Indian government into the Babri mosque demolition and subsequent violence, concluded that Rithambhara was among several people guilty of leading the country "to the brink of communal discord".

But a special court in 2020 acquitted all those accused over the destruction of the mosque, citing a lack of evidence.

MPs call for ban on Rithambara

Those calling for Rithambara to be prevented from entering the UK include Sam Tarry, a Labour MP for Ilford Sorth in east London, who has called on Suella Braverman, the home secretary, to ban due to her previous rhetoric towards Muslims.

In a letter seen by Middle East Eye sent to Braverman and London Mayor Sadiq Khan, Tarry wrote: "Sadhvi Rithambara is a hugely divisive figure, known for her xenophobic speeches and rhetoric, in particular against the Muslim community in India. 

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"It is my constituents' and my belief that her Islamophobic rhetoric has no place within our multicultural and diverse community of Ilford, and I am deeply worried about the potential stoking of communal tensions, should her visit be allowed to progress." 

MEE understands that the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) Ilford Hindu Centre has since cancelled the event, though Rithambara could yet be rescheduled to speak at a different venue.

Labour's Yasmin Qureshi, MP for Bolton South East, called on Braverman to block Rithambara's visit and said academics had described her speeches as "the single most powerful instrument for whipping up anti-Muslim violence in India". 

Muslim advocacy group Muslim Engagement and Development (Mend) urged Muslims to write to their MPs and elected officials to demand that Rithambara be barred from entering the UK.

Mend spokesperson Aman Ali told Middle East Eye: "We are deeply concerned that Sadvhi Rithambara will jeopardise the present harmony in the UK between Hindu and Muslim populations and believe that her hateful and Islamophobic rhetoric has no place within our multicultural and diverse communities."

Since Modi came to power in 2014, India has witnessed an uptick in violence towards its Muslim population and other minority groups. 

Growing tensions

Last month, violence broke out between Hindu and Muslim groups in Leicester after a cricket match that saw India beat Pakistan in the Asia Cup. 

Images posted online showed groups of Hindu men shouting "death to Pakistan" and beating a 19-year-old Muslim man after the game. 

The violence led to concerns among community leaders, who called for urgent meetings with Leicester's police to address the spike in violence between Hindu and Muslim groups.  

A spokesperson for the Ilford Islamic Centre, close to where Rithambara had been scheduled to speak, told MEE that the speaker's presence in Britain set a dangerous precedent and could stoke violence between different groups in his community.

'We have seen worrying reports of rising tensions between Hindus and Muslims in Leicester, where Muslims have faced attacks by violent Hindu mobs'

-  Ilford Islamic Centre spokesperson

"The Muslim community has and always will stand up to violence against any minority. The Modi government has a track record of persecuting Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, and we will not tolerate that rhetoric taking place in diverse communities across Britain."

"We have seen worrying reports of rising tensions between Hindus and Muslims in Leicester, where Muslims have faced attacks by violent Hindu mobs," said the spokesperson.

"Extremist figures like Rithambara have emboldened these groups, and the last thing we need is similar incidents taking place in Redbridge and other parts of the country."

The UK Home Office said it did not comment on individual cases. 

Over the last two months, Rithambara has toured parts of the United States, where she is fundraising for her organisation by giving speeches in various Hindu temples across the US. 

Earlier this week, a church in New Jersey cancelled a scheduled event hosting Rithambara after learning about the speaker's violent rhetoric. 

The event, however, did take place in a nearby hotel. 

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