BY ANDY STREET, Mayor of the West Midlands
WHEN I went to the Shree Ram Mandir in Walsall, West Midlands, on Saturday (6), I was met with a slightly different reception than I am used to. The Hindu community in the West Midlands are extremely welcoming, happy and engaging. The Mandir itself is a rock of the local community, opening its doors more than 50 years go and acting as a home and hub for generations of Hindus in Walsall.
I am always being told about the Bhagavad Gita classes in the Mandir, the numerous and important festivals which regularly bring the community together, Gujarati classes and of course the Mandir’s worry that enough young Hindus aren’t engaging with the Mandir’s programmes and in positions of responsibility. These are all normal conversations to have and are shared across the West Midlands.
When I visited this time, however, there was a different scenario where the statues at the front of the Mandir had been smashed in the middle of the night by an individual with what seems to be a baseball bat. The CCTV footage is grainy but clear: this was an intentional and planned attack on a Hindu place of worship in the West Midlands.
Shameful act of hate crime in Walsall at the Shree Ram Mandir but we must now all come together as a community to condemn the attacks and give support to the Hindu community. pic.twitter.com/w9zxnJslQa
— Andy Street (@andy4wm) July 11, 2019
I shouldn’t comment on the incident too much as it is a live police investigation, but the figures that made up the front of the Mandir had been damaged, quite intentionally. This time when I visited the Mandir I was met with fear and a sense of disbelief that the Mandir had been attacked in this way.
To me, this was an attack on the multicultural and tolerant society I love to call home and represent as the Mayor. To me this was an attack on our values of tolerance, acceptance and understanding.
The Mandir is rightly trying to figure out why this happened and also trying to reassure the devotees that they are safe to attend the Mandir as normal. That to stay at home would be like letting the intolerant attacker win.
There should be the same response to this as other acts of intolerance. I know other religious places have been similarly attacked to national outcry. In the West Midlands our diversity of faith is so important and it needs collective action which is equal for every faith.
To me, the Hindu community have been stalwarts of the West Midlands, a peaceful group who are so spiritual, hardworking and duty-oriented. I understand how the community is feeling let down. I will support the Mandir in their application to the Home Office for security funding and I will work with the Council to see what they can do to make sure this doesn’t happen again, in any place of worship.
There is a solidarity meeting on Thursday evening (11) at the Mandir and I have been encouraging people to attend, to come together and send a message to the intolerant attacker –
you cannot win here, nor anywhere else in the West Midlands.
Andy Street is the elected Mayor of the West Midlands