By Mohd. Ziyaullah Khan, Nagpur
In recent years, India has witnessed a concerning surge in hate speech and Islamophobia, particularly within states governed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). This unsettling trend, highlighted In a report by Hindutva Watch based in Washington, sheds light on the distressing reality that a staggering 80% of recorded hate speech incidents in the country occurred in BJP-ruled states. The report attributes many of these incidents to groups affiliated with the ruling BJP, such as the Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, and Sakal Hindu Samaj, all of which have ties to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a prominent right-wing Hindu nationalist organization.
The Hindutva Watch Report
A report by Hindutva Watch, a Washington-based group monitoring attacks on minorities, has unveiled a disturbing trend of escalating anti-Muslim hate speech incidents in India during the first half of 2023. The report, which documented 255 instances of hate speech gatherings targeting Muslims, revealed an average of more than one incident per day during this period. Regrettably, there was no comparative data available for previous years. The report employed the United Nations’ definition of hate speech, characterizing it as “any form of communication… that employs prejudiced or discriminatory language towards an individual or group based on attributes such as religion, ethnicity, nationality, race, color, descent, gender, or other identity factors.”
Notably, around 70% of these hate speeches were delivered in states slated to conduct elections in 2023 and 2024, underscoring a disturbing correlation between political events and the rise of hate speech targeting the Muslim community. Maharashtra, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Gujarat were identified as the states with the highest number of hate speech gatherings, with Maharashtra alone accounting for 29% of the incidents. These hate speech events predominantly featured conspiracy theories, calls for violence, and socio-economic boycotts against Muslims.
Alarmingly, approximately 80% of these events transpired in states governed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is widely anticipated to secure victory in the general elections of 2024. This concerning trend necessitates immediate attention and action to curb the propagation of hate speech and foster a more inclusive and harmonious society.
Hindutva Watch monitored online engagements of Hindu nationalist organizations, authenticated hate speech videos circulated on social media, and collated data on individual incidents as reported by various media outlets. However, the Indian government, under Prime Minister Modi’s leadership, refutes allegations of minority abuse. Requests for comments from the Indian embassy in Washington remain unanswered
Beyond the The Hindutva Watch Report
Rather than relying on official data, the Hindutva Watch report sourced information from verifiable social media and news outlets, revealing a deeply concerning pattern of orchestrated hate speech and bigotry against minority communities, particularly Muslims. Senior political figures associated with the BJP have openly expressed prejudiced views, further fueling this divisive narrative.
The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, for instance, once singled out individuals protesting against the government based on their attire, specifically targeting those wearing traditional Muslim clothing. Prior to the 2019 general election, Amit Shah, the BJP President at the time, derogatorily referred to Bangladeshi Muslim immigrants as “termites” and pledged to forcibly expel them. Islamophobic sentiment is further propagated through social media, often within BJP-curated WhatsApp groups, where the past actions of Muslim rulers are wrongly blamed on the entire Muslim community.
This trend marks a stark departure from previous governments, which aimed to foster communal harmony, support India’s pluralism and diversity, and temper communal passions. The BJP, on the other hand, openly aligns itself with an intolerant majoritarian Hindutva ideology. Leaders within the party and close to the ruling establishment regularly denounce the Muslim minority, branding them a threat to India’s Hindu identity and accusing past governments of appeasement.
Under BJP rule, campaigns have been initiated against interfaith relationships, accusing Muslim men of pursuing “love jihad” to allegedly entrap Hindu women. Additionally, restrictions have been imposed on religious conversions, Muslim marriage practices, and family planning efforts. Discrimination against Muslims is evident in the controversial citizenship law, offering fast-track citizenship to refugees from neighboring Muslim-majority countries, excluding Muslims.
These developments dismay liberals and individuals advocating for secularism in India, revealing the erosion of the country’s constitutional secularism. In just nine years of BJP rule, the cultural pluralism and Hindu-Muslim amity that India once proudly touted have been severely compromised. Muslims, who once held prominent positions as a symbol of India’s unity, now find themselves marginalized in various sectors. Moreover, the rise of Islamophobia has deeply infiltrated north Indian society, while the south has managed to resist to a certain extent. The free press, once a beacon of democracy and inclusivity, has also played a role in erasing the syncretic cultural traditions that India has celebrated for decades.
In this climate, the segregation and disempowerment of Muslims are becoming normalized, with Indian society increasingly divided into ‘us’ and ‘them.’ Anti-Muslim bigotry is now publicly expressed and practiced with alarming frequency, desensitizing the populace to this alarming trend. Those who decry these actions are met with derogatory responses, further polarizing the nation. In the face of these challenges, it is vital to address this growing discord and work towards promoting a more inclusive and harmonious society.
(“Mohd Ziyauallah Khan is based in Nagpur. He is an activist, social entrepreneur, co-founder of the group TruthScape, a team of digital activists fighting disinformation on social media.)