‘Saving Christmas’ may neglect London’s multicultural community

Devotional songs and bells ring in the background as toddlers race through the halls, chasing the smell of curries in their shiny new outfits.

The scent of ghee leads one to the kitchen where mothers hurriedly prepare plates-full of traditional sweets called ‘mithai’ whilst fathers impatiently stare at their grand fireworks collection.

All the while, small clay lamps are lit up around the house and drawings of rangoli are laid out on the doorstep.

PATTERNS: Rangolis created during lockdown. Credit: Radha Patel

Such is the usual atmosphere at Diwali.

However, as with many other religious festivals, Diwali was rather mute this year due to lockdown.

London’s multi-faith community have had to celebrate festivals such as Eid, Diwali and Vaisakhi in lockdown in the absence of their families.

With increasing efforts being made to ensure what Prime Minister Boris Johnson calls “as normal a Christmas as possible,” there has been debate within minority religious communities in London on what ‘saving Christmas,’ means for them.

On 30 July Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced just two hours before Eid al-Adha that West Yorkshire, East Lancashire, and Greater Manchester were under new lockdown restrictions.

OFFERING: Food being placed in front of the shrine at Preston Temple.
Credit: Neelam Patel

Sahar Iqbal, 23, of East London, who is a practising Muslim, explained that whilst the restrictions were in the north of England, the neglection was felt throughout London’s Muslim community.

She said: “My community has become a bit numb to the way we are treated.

“We don’t expect them to understand what Eid means to us because they’ve never shown that they want to. Why would they randomly start now?

“From a Prime Minister who makes racist comments and calls women wearing hijabs letterboxes, we don’t expect him to understand or appreciate what Eid is to us.”

Iqbal further expressed that although Christians had also spent Easter in lockdown, this does not discredit that Christmas is being saved at the expense of other religions.

She said: “I don’t think it’s fair for any Christian to say we had to celebrate Easter in lockdown too because at that point the virus was so new, people were hysterical and everything was shut-down beyond question.

“Eid, Diwali and all other celebrations were cancelled because the virus would spread more, so where is the virus going now that it is Christmas?”

According to statistics released by the City of Bradford District Council, Bradford, Yorkshire, which was closed-off hours before Eid, has a Muslim population of 24.7%, one of the largest in the country.

Bradford East MP Imran Hussein also voiced his concern over what he termed a “last minute, knee jerk, panicked announcement” in a statement to the House of Commons.

Imperial College London Hindu Society’s former president Roshni Patel, 21, said that whilst she appreciates that Christmas is a national holiday, the government’s disregard for other religions seems unfair.

She said: “The biggest question mark in my opinion is the fact that they have announced so far in advance that Christmas is happening.

“I understand that they are doing the restrictions now so that they can open things up for Christmas but it’s a shame that they didn’t take into account that Diwali falls in this period.

“I definitely think that Eid was the height of the upset in the way that the whole situation was handled.”

TREAT: Homemade traditional sweets made for Diwali with a diya lit up.
Credit: Madhu Haval

The current secretary of the society, Shivam Patel, 19, said: “I don’t believe it was maliciously done to hurt specific faith groups.

“Everyone has made sacrifices during this time and people of other faiths including Hindus also celebrate Christmas as a cultural festival.

“However I do think it seems to be one standard for them and one standard for others because Hindus are a small minority and opening up for Diwali wouldn’t have led to as many COVID cases as Christmas probably will.”

RESTRICTED: Diwali being celebrated in lockdown. Credit: Radha Patel

London is home to one of the most religiously diverse populations in the country, with statistics published by the Trust for London in 2014 showing that 14.4% of London’s population identify as Muslim, whilst another 5.3% identify themselves as Hindu.

Shivani Shah, 24, a practising Hindu and front-line worker at Hammersmith Hospital, West London said: “It was quite frustrating considering the UK is such a diverse country.

“Diwali is almost like our Christmas and New Year and sometimes it’s the only time that you do get to see all of your family.

“I understand that they are opening up for Christmas because it is a national holiday but we can already see the cases rising in our hospitals.”

Featured image credit: Radha Patel

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