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India: Muslims targeted in over 250 hate speech 'gatherings' in first half of 2023

A report by Hindutva Watch suggests that in India more than one anti-Muslim event occurs every day
Bharatiya Janata Party supporters await arrival of India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, along a street in Chennai, India, on 8 April 2023 (AFP)

There were over 250 documented gatherings promoting hate speech against Muslims across 17 Indian states in the first half of 2023, a new report by Hindutva Watch says, suggesting that on average more than one such event occurs every day. 

The report, titled 2023 Half-Yearly Report: Anti-Muslim Hate Speech Events in India, was published on 24 September by Hindutva Watch and used real-time data to identify human rights abuses in India. The aim was to document hate speech events organised by Hindu far-right groups targeting Muslims in the first half of 2023.

"Disturbingly, the majority of these hate speech events also propagated dangerous conspiracy theories targeting Muslims, along with explicit calls for violence, calls to arms, and demands for socio-economic boycotts of the Muslim community."

This report highlights a rising pattern of anti-Muslim sentiment in India from 2014 onwards, which coincides with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) - known for its Hindu-nationalist views - coming to power. According to the report, instead of addressing this issue, many government representatives have often participated in such rhetoric.

"Some of the purveyors of hate speech include chief ministers, legislators, and senior leaders from the ruling BJP," the report says.

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According to the report, a spike in hate incidents was observed in March, aligning with the Hindu celebration of Ram Navami on 30 March. The violence left at least one person dead, with shops and mosques reportedly desecrated.

Across the last week of March, both before and during the festival, 18 hate speech gatherings were reported across the country, hinting at a potential organised push to provoke unrest on this particular date.

After Narendra Modi took office as India's prime minister in 2014, various human rights organisations have noted a rise in violations targeting minority groups, including Muslims and Christians. Since 2020, the US Commission of International Religious Freedoms has called for India to be called a “country of particular concern” or CPC, over its "systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom in the country".

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According to the report, nearly 80 percent of the hate speech events occurred in BJP-ruled states and union territories. Maharashtra, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Gujarat experienced the most significant occurrences of hate speech events. Maharashtra, in particular, was responsible for nearly 29 percent of these incidents.

Around 51 percent of these gatherings included mentions of well-known anti-Muslim conspiracy theories embraced by the Hindu far-right.

"The rise of conspiracy theories like Love Jihad, Land Jihad, Halal Jihad, and Vyapar Jihad has been closely linked with the BJP’s efforts to mobilize Hindu nationalism (Hindutva) for electoral benefit," the report says.

Additionally, in four percent of the gatherings, derogatory and gender-biased rhetoric was specifically directed at Muslim women.

In 33 percent of the total number of hate speech incidents, there was a direct incitement of violence towards Muslims. This includes calls for ethnic cleansing and genocide of Muslims, as well as advocating the demolition of their places of worship. This discourse often went unchecked, frequently leading to actual physical confrontations.

Roughly 11 percent of the events directly advocated for Hindus to boycott Muslims. This included efforts to ostracise Muslims from their communities and appeals to Hindus to refrain from buying goods and services provided by Muslims.

According to the report, a significant number of hate speech gatherings were orchestrated by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal. Together, they held 62 events promoting anti-Muslim sentiments in the initial six months of 2023. 

Since the Bajrang Dal functions as the youth division of the VHP and the two have been collaborating closely on public events recently, they're often grouped together. 

“It is easy to think about hate speech abstractly: as an intellectual debate about the limits of free speech,” the report says.

“But… hate speech has consequences. It can disrupt daily life, destabilise and displace communities, wreck homes, and ignite deadly riots and pogroms against marginalised groups.”

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