Teen ‘facing online hate threats after speaking out about Smethwick Hindu temple protest’

Priya, an 18-year-old, who goes to school in Handsworth, said she feels unsafe after speaking up against the Hindu temple protest in Smethwick

A teen, who spoke up against the protest that took place outside a Hindu temple in Smethwick, has told how she is facing online threats and abuse. Calls for the protest - outside Durga Bhawan in Smethwick in September were published online. Around 200 protesters turned up on and there was minor disorder, with police present in large numbers.

Priya, an 18-year-old, who goes to school in Handsworth, spoke out about the protest and said she’s been receiving messages and calls from unknown people after criticising those who took part. She has lodged a complaint with police after receiving sexually inappropriate messages and calls, on which the caller described her in detail. The 18-year-old woman was left shaken but still chose to speak up against those threatening her.

West Midlands Police are investigating her allegations. Speaking to BirminghamWorld, Priya told how she has been forced to stay home and attend lessons online for her safety, but she said: “I want to go back to school but I don’t feel safe at all.”

Priya said: “A temple was attacked. 200 people were at the temple for no reason at all. It was disgusting. I was upset that nobody was speaking up for it. When Palestine and Israel happened, everyone spoke up for it. The Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims and Christians - the children spoke up for it. We sympathised. It was upsetting that my Muslim and Sikh friends didn’t even care for this incident.

“When I reposted it and said, ‘Look this is horrible... these actions are against Islam. This shouldn’t be tolerated,’ a girl from my school texted and said, ‘What about India and the concentration camps for Muslims?’ I said; ‘I don’t think that’s true and even if it is how did it invalidate what I’m saying, what have these innocent people done?’”

They went back and forth when the name-calling started. The girl from her school then described her in detail without revealing her identity. A few days later, she received messages from an anonymous account accusing her of Islamophobia.

“I was sent messages of boys saying ‘He’ll beat you up’,” said Priya. The messages continued to mention details about her life and taunt her. She was sent vulgar pictures, and she continued to get calls through the night.

Priya said false accusations were made on the account and that some comments were very vulgar. She said: “A message said there’s a group chat about you and there are eight people on it and we are planning something for you. ‘We can come to your school,’ he said.” “If anything happens to me, I want people to know because the police are doing nothing,” she said.

“I have been harassed on social media, this person knows my personal information. The messenger said: “I can find out when you have free lessons and timetable.’”

Priya - who is Sikh - said she’s not received support from her community since people accused her of being Hindu and faking her identity. She said: “I tried to make a Twitter account to tell people I am not a Hindu pretending to be a Sikh and nobody believes me. I have been harassed on social media not just by the Muslim community but by the Sikh community too. They’re calling me a liar. Some are saying, ‘You deserve it.’”

She said that West Midlands Police told her it will take several weeks for the investigation and has received help from the Victim Support charity.

Durga Bhawan

What has West Midlands Police said about Priya’s allegations

A spokesperson told BirminghamWorld: “We’ve received a report of a woman being abused online which we’re treating as a hate crime. Any crime motivated by hostility or prejudice towards people because of their race, sexual orientation, disability, faith, or gender identity is a hate crime.

“And, like all hate crimes, we will investigate and pursue the offenders with vigour.”

What Victim Support said?

Alex Mayes, External Affairs Manager at charity Victim Support said: “Bullying and harassment can have a seriously damaging effect on the mental and emotional welfare of victims – and can drive them into a state of depression, anxiety and social exclusion. But when that abuse occurs online, it can transform from isolated incidents of harassment, to a non-stop barrage of abuse.

“Victim Support offers round the clock support for victims of any crime, including online harassment and abuse. Our expertly trained caseworkers provide practical and emotional support for as long as you need them. Call our free 24/7 Supportline on 0808 16 89 111.”

How many hate crimes have there been in the West Midlands?

A West Midlands Police (WMP) report said that racially and religiously aggravated offences in the region increased by 57% in 2021. There were 5,117 racially and religiously aggravated hate crimes in 2020 in the region and it grew to 8,010 in 2021.

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