Anti-Muslim hate speech on the rise in India, research group reveals

Anti-Muslim hate speech on the rise in India, research group reveals

India experienced an average of almost two instances of anti-Muslim hate speech every day in 2023, according to new figures from a US-based research group.

A large majority of these incidents occurred in states governed by the Hindu right-wing nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by prime minister Narendra Modi, according to a report published this week by the India Hate Lab (IHL), a research group based in Washington, DC.

The frequency of hate speech peaked from August to November last year – a period that coincided with political campaigning and voting phases in four key state elections. India is heading for a general election in the coming months, with Mr Modi seeking a rare third term in power.

In 2023, India Hate Lab documented 668 hate speech events targeting Muslims. IHL recorded 255 of the events in the first half of 2023, while the number rose to 413 events in the second half of the year, marking a 62 per cent increase.

The group said it used the United Nations’ definition of hate speech – prejudiced or discriminatory language towards an individual or group based on attributes including religion, ethnicity, nationality, race or gender.

The group noted that “despite comprehensive data generation, this dataset is not a complete account of hate speech events in India”.

“Hate speech has historically been understood to be an important causal factor in driving severe atrocities towards communities, including massacres and genocides,” the report said. “It plays a critical role in incubating hatred towards a group, effectively building in-group solidarity and demonising out-groups while also acting as a means of intimidation.”

“Collective hatred for the out-group by targeted dehumanisation may effectively legitimise violence towards them by portraying them as an aggressive threat,” the IHL report says.

Out of the 668 hate speech events, 498 – or 75 per cent – took place in BJP-ruled states, federal territories and the national capital territory of Delhi, IHL said.

“Maharashtra was the worst affected, with about 118 events – 18 per cent – taking place in the state, even though it only constitutes about 9.3 per cent of India’s population,” IHL said.

Some 104 hate speech events were organised in the state of Uttar Pradesh alone, where over 38 million Muslims reside. Madhya Pradesh in central India recorded 65 incidents. Other smaller states like Haryana and Uttarakhand also witnessed incidents of hate speech.

About 216 – or 32 per cent – of incidents were organised by the far-right Hindu religious group, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal, IHC said. Both groups belong to the Sangh Parivar, a collective name for various Hindu nationalist organisations under the leadership of the paramilitary Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The BJP operates as the political arm of this network.

Neither the BJP nor the Modi government have responded directly to the IHL report, but the group’s website and a related hate crime tracking site called Hindutva Watch were blocked last month by a government order under the controversial Information Technology Act 2000. The government has not explained what parts of the law IHL is accused of breaching.

The Independent reached out to VHP and the BJP for their reaction to the report, but did not receive a reply.

“The BJP itself was responsible for organising about 50 hate speech events, often in the context of election rallies,” IHL noted.

The report stated that there has been a “rapid growth of new Hindu nationalist groups and actors engaging in hate speech” in India.

The report highlighted that out of a total of 668 instances of hate speech, 63 per cent made reference to Islamophobic conspiracy theories.

These theories encompass a range of unfounded allegations including “love jihad” – an unfounded conspiracy theory where it is claimed Muslim men are enticing Hindu women to convert to Islam through marriage; “land jihad” – which accuses Muslims of encroaching on public lands through the construction of religious edifices or conducting prayers; “halal jihad” – viewing Islamic halal practices as a means of economically sidelining non-Muslim vendors; and “population jihad” – the claim that Muslims are intentionally increasing their birth rates with the aim of surpassing and eventually dominating the population of other communities.

It reveals that “just five speakers were responsible for 146 hate speech events or 22 per cent of all hate speech events documented by IHL”. Some 100 hate speech events prominently featured leaders affiliated with the BJP, the report said.

According to the analysis of the hate speech events in 2023, 169 events featured speeches calling for targeting Muslim places of worship.

Out of 193 events that took place between 7 October when Hamas attacked Israel and 31 December 2023, 41 mentioned the Israel-Gaza war to stoke hatred towards Indian Muslims, the report stated.