News raises fears in a divided city: Jonathan Chapman looks at relations between Birmingham's Hindus and Muslims as India is rocked by riots

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The Independent Online
INDIANS in restaurants and shops in Birmingham have the television and radio on all day for news of developments in the land that was home to them or their forebears. The more extreme have been provoked into seeking vengeance on communities they see as rivals, even in Britain.

'That mosque was there for 400 years and the Hindus have just found out their god was born there,' said Yassar Zaman, a street vendor in Handsworth.

'We want a mosque rebuilt on that exact spot,' he added, thrusting his finger downwards. But he did not believe that setting fire to Hindu temples in Britain could solve anything.

Across the city in Sparkbrook, Mohammed Ishtiaq said that all Muslims felt so passionately about events in Ayodhya because their religion was under attack. 'We should protest about it, but in a peaceful manner,' he said. At the back of their grocery store, his brother Mohammed Ishaq explained that the land on which a mosque was built was holy and nothing else could be put there.

Both Muslims and Hindus in Birmingham agreed that the fanatics who attacked the mosque in Ayodhya were completely unrepresentative. However, one Hindu jeweller in Handsworth said he considered Islam to be a fanatical religion as it held no respect for the beliefs of others.

His main concern, and that of the wider Hindu business community, was the impact that events in India would have on their lives here. He feared it could only fuel right-wing hatred of immigrants.

Danny Chauhan expected his sari shop to begin to lose business. Some of his best customers were Muslim Bengalis, he said.

Concern about events in India was widespread in the community. Mr Chauhan said this was because religious traditions and values were passed down by each generation.

Another Hindu told how a Muslim boy at his nephew's school had stayed up all night with his family to watch the events unfolding in Ayodhya.

Hindus and Muslims spoke of how the brotherhood of Asians living in Britain had concealed differences between the communities. One Muslim, Rafi from Sutton Coldfield, said the pace of life in the West was so fast that there was no time for falling out.

Nash Yadav, from Rugby, a believer in Hinduism, compared the depth of feelings to those in Northern Ireland. 'It's just fanaticism. When you see a Hindu being killed by a Muslim, some see it as their duty to take revenge.'