A number of UK lawmakers and Islamic bodies have called on the British government to ban Sadhvi Nisha Rithambara, a Hindu nationalist figure, from entering the country on a speaking tour due to her Islamophobic rhetoric.
Rithambara heads the Durga Vahini organization which is the woman’s wing of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). A Hindu nationalist movement, VHP is among the close allies of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), under whose rule India has witnessed a sharp increase in anti-Muslim violence and hatred.
According to reports, Rithambara is set to pay visits to temples in Birmingham, Bolton, Coventry, Nottingham, and London from September 20 to 24.
International rights groups have warned that anti-Muslim air in India could even escalate further.
They have accused Modi’s governing party of looking the other way and sometimes enabling hate speech against Muslims, who comprise a 14% minority in India’s 1.4 billion population but are still numerous enough to be the second-largest Muslim population of any nation.
UK MPs urge ban on Rithambara
Two labor lawmaker Sam Tarry and Yasmin Qureshi have voiced their opposition to Rithambara’s tour in the UK.
“Sadhvi Rithambara is a hugely divisive figure, known for her xenophobic speeches and rhetoric, in particular against the Muslim community in India,” Tarry wrote in a letter cited by the Middle East Eye.
Noting that Islamophobic rhetoric has no place in Ilford, one of the planned destinations of the Hindu figure, Terry said he was “deeply worried about the potential stoking of communal tensions, should her visit be allowed to progress.”
A report suggests that her visit to Ilford Hindu Centre has been already canceled but she could still plan to speak at a different venue.
Qureshi also cited academics as describing Rithambara as “the single most powerful instrument for whipping up anti-Muslim violence in India.”
Muslim Engagement and Development (MEND), a Muslim advocacy group, expressed concern over the Hindu figure’s imminent visit.
“We are deeply concerned that Sadvhi Rithambara will jeopardize 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,” said Aman Ali, a spokesperson with MEND.
History of inciting violence against Muslims
Rithambara was arrested by Indian police 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.
According to a 17-year investigation commissioned by the Indian government into the Babri Mosque demolition, Rithambhara had been named in 2009 among several people guilty of leading the country “to the brink of communal discord.”
However, a special court in 2020 acquitted all those accused of the destruction of the mosque, citing a lack of evidence.