UK: Leicestershire police face backlash for presenting award to Hindu preacher
The United Kingdom's Leicestershire police force is facing calls to revoke an award it presented to a Hindu preacher who has advocated for India to be a Hindu-only state.
Leicestershire police presented the award to Dhirendra Krishna Shastri, also known as Bageshwar Dham Baba, on 22 July, after he spoke at an event in a Hindu community centre in the English city of Leicester.
While hundreds of locals gathered outside the venue, Shastri, a self-proclaimed spiritual healer, referred to India as a "Hindu Rashtra" or a pure Hindu state - a common rallying cry among Hindutva activists who advocate for a state without any Christians or Muslims.
"Victory to India's Hindu nation," he told the crowd.
"You all stay awake. Hinduism is something we need to raise across the world," he added.
Shastri would later post a picture on social media where he was holding a framed award from Leicestershire police showing an "NPA Commanders Award for Recognition of Service."
The decision to grant Shastri the award garnered criticism from politicians and members of the Muslim community, and comes as the Indian government continues its crackdown on religious minorities, particularly members of the minority Muslim population.
'Shastri's presence and influence in the city, along with a commendation, will undoubtedly fuel further tensions between Hindus and Muslims'
Claudia Webb, a member of parliament for Leicester East, called the decision to present Shastri the award "divisive and questionable", and also criticised the police's handling of the event which was marred by scuffles.
"[The] framed award certificate, was widely circulated both across the UK and India," Webbe told Rob Nixon, the chief constable of Leicestershire police.
"This is viewed amongst many in the community and internationally as an endorsement of Mr Shasti’s views. This causing additional and significant disquiet, unrest and tension," she added.
Leicestershire police told Middle East Eye that they gave Shastri and the event organisers the award after they faced "logistical problems".
"This should not be confused with any more formal awards or commendations that are issued by Leicestershire police, but rather as it was intended, a thank you to those who helped keep the public safe," a spokesperson for the police said.
But the Muslim Engagement and Development (Mend) advocacy group also questioned the police's actions and said Shastri's presence would fuel tensions between Muslims and Hindus.
"Shastri's reprehensible calls for violence against Muslims, advocating for bulldozing in reference to Muslim homes, & his vision of a Muslim-free Indo-Pak region reveal the extent of his dangerous beliefs," the organisation said.
"Allowing Shastri's presence and influence in the city, along with a commendation, will undoubtedly fuel further tensions between Hindus and Muslims, undoing any progress towards restoring cohesiveness."
Leicester was gripped by violence last year when large groups of Hindu youth marched through the city's Highfield area, leading to confrontations with the Muslim community.
The youth could be seen chanting "Jai-Shri-Ram", a chant appropriated by Hindu nationalists and frequently used to intimidate the country’s minority Muslim population.
Leicester is one of the most diverse cities in the UK, with both Hindus and Muslims making up more than a quarter of the total population of 329,000, according to figures from the 2011 UK census.
MEE reached out to Shastri for comment but did not receive a response by the time of publication.