By Girish Linganna
A recent report by Bloomberg indicates that the ruling party in India, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and associated organizations were responsible for a significant portion of hate speech incidents targeting Muslims in the first half of the year.
The report, released by Hindutva Watch, a Washington-based research group specializing in monitoring hate crimes and inflammatory speech against Muslims and other minorities in India, reveals that approximately 80% of the 255 documented instances of “hate speech gatherings targeting Muslims” took place in states and union territories governed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
According to researchers, there has been a concerning increase in anti-Muslim speech in India since Narendra Modi assumed power in 2014. The report highlights that over half of the documented incidents this year were attributed to the ruling BJP and its affiliated groups, including the Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, and Sakal Hindu Samaj. These organizations have connections to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which is the ideological precursor to the BJP.
Abhay Verma, a prominent BJP member in New Delhi, dismissed the report as “completely unfounded” in an interview with Bloomberg. He stated over the phone, “We do not categorize the nation or its people based on their religious beliefs. The BJP does not endorse hate speech in any way.”
This report marks a significant milestone as it is the first of its kind to record incidents of hate speech against Muslims, especially since India’s crime bureau ceased collecting data on hate crimes back in 2017. Hindutva Watch relied on sources such as social media and news outlets to compile this data.
The methodology involved the utilization of data-scraping techniques to identify credible videos depicting hate speech incidents. Subsequently, the researchers carried out a comprehensive investigation of these incidents by collaborating with journalists and other researchers.
While India lacks an official definition of hate speech, the research group adopted language from the United Nations, which defines hate speech as any form of communication that utilizes prejudiced or discriminatory language directed at a specific group, taking into account attributes such as religion, ethnicity, nationality, and race.
According to the report, the states of Maharashtra, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Gujarat experienced the highest frequency of gatherings featuring hate speech. Notably, one-third of the documented incidents took place in states slated to conduct legislative elections this year.
Hindutva Watch, which conducted surveillance in 15 states and two union territories, additionally noted that approximately 64% of these events promoted anti-Muslim conspiracy theories. This included allegations such as Muslims enticing Hindu women into marriage with the intent of converting them.
The report stated that incitement of violence against Muslims was a central theme in 33% of these events, while 11% included calls for Hindus to boycott Muslims. The remaining gatherings featured speech characterized by hatred and sexism, particularly targeting Muslim women.
The report highlights that instead of taking measures to combat hate speech, government officials have often been found actively participating in it. This includes chief ministers, legislators, and senior leaders from the ruling BJP, as documented in the report.
Human rights organizations reference several controversial actions, including the 2019 citizenship law criticized by the UN human rights office for its perceived discrimination against Muslim migrants, legislation against religious conversion that challenges the constitutionally protected freedom of belief, and the revocation of the special status of Muslim-majority Kashmir in 2019.
Additionally, there have been instances of demolishing Muslim properties under the pretext of eliminating illegal constructions, as well as a ban on wearing the hijab in classrooms in Karnataka when the BJP held power in that particular state. (IPA Service)