Hate crimes in India: What makes lynching special?

India has seen a rigorous rise in the hate crimes towards minority communities in the last five years. Muslims and Dalits constituted a significant share of the victims of religious hate crimes. Being a Secular, Democratic, Republic, the responses from the state administration and machinery are contradicting these constitutional safeguards. Apart from that, leaders of the ruling political party and their affiliated organisations have played a crucial role in polarizing the country and further accelerating the hatred and violence. Later on, the fairness and credibility of state apparatuses have been questioned due to its partial interventions in the hate crime cases. This article intends to analyse the religious hate crimes in India, further focusing on the mob lynchings in the last five years. The paper brings into limelight the discourse of hate and power in the context of communalism in India. 

Mob Lynching

Discourse on hate crimes has gained strength in India with the lynching of Mohammed Akhlaq on September 28, 2015 at Dadri, Uttar Pradesh. Mohammad Akhlaq, a 55-year-old farmworker, and his son Danish were dragged out of their house at night and brutally thrashed by a mob following an announcement at a temple that the family had consumed and stored beef. Akhlaqwas killed while Danish managed to survive. Later, urging unity, Prime Minister NarendraModi said,“Communal harmony and brotherhood will take the nation forward”. Akhlaq’s family then left their home for Delhi, have attempted through an arduous legal process to re-investigate the case, while also appealing the verdict in the high court. As of August 2019, all the seven accused of his death have acquitted by Alwar’s trial court. (Quint, n.d.)

Understanding Hate Crimes 

For a better understanding of hate crimes and its consequences, we must articulate the phenomenon as a theory. Hate Crime Watch, a database of religious-bias-motivated hate crime in India has definedthese crimes as ‘incidents that are prima facie crimes committed either partly or wholly motivated by the religious identity of the victim(s)’. Lynching describes as putting to death (as by hanging) by mob action without legal approval or permission (Merriam Webster). It stands for ‘extrajudicial punishment – such as public executions – by an informal group, such as mob, to punish an alleged transgressor. Lynching is one form of vigilantism, itself the act of law enforcement undertaken without legal authority by a self-appointed group of people’ (Cambridge English Dictionary).

History of Lynching

The history of mob lynching can be traced back to the racist confrontations at the United States of America. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, white people often used violence as a means of controlling African Americans. Lynching was a prevalent way of punishing African Americans who believed to have committed a crimeMark Twain has written an essay in late August 1901, in reaction to a newspaper account of the Missouri lynching in which, Pierce City’s White residents, engaged in a ruthless purge of the city’s 300 Black residents, driving them from their homes in pursuit of an alleged murderer of white women. However, he decided, not to publish it, and told his publisher that if he had decided to go on with the publication“I should not have even half a friend left down there [in the South] after it issued from the press.” (The United States of Lyncherdom, n.d.)

Lynching in India

Since 2014, exactly when the RashtriyaSwayamsevakSangh (RSS)-dominated NDA II Government came into power, India has seen anenormous rise in the number of various hate crimes, among which mob lynching is a significant crime. The extent of hate crimes is often unimaginable within a secular democratic nation. Hate Crime Watch project, launched in October 2018, that has been tracking religion-based hate crimes in India since 2009, has found that 64 per cent of cases of religious violence was against Muslims and the rest were Dalits (outcastes, untouchables) along with the Christians. (“Hate Crime Watch,” n.d.) India’s National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), the central organization that tracks crimes across the country, collates information on a wide range of crimes, does not count hate crimes–primarily because there are no specific laws to deal with such crimes. Majority of these attacks has been associated, with cow vigilante groups, accusing victims of smuggling livestock, slaughtering cows, keeping beef, or just being beef eaters (Citizens Against Hate, 2017). The other type is associated with rumours of the kidnapping of children to harvest their organs. Violence in the sake of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ is the new mantra of Indian politics; the focal point to trigger another wave of high profile contentious controversies; the magic wand that Prime Minister NarendraModi and the BharatiyaJanata Party’s adversaries believe will deliver them from the disgrace of a crushing defeat and infuse some life into what appears to be the terminality of their existence. The arguments against these hate crimes are being confronted with naive ‘nationalistic’ discourses overlaid by the extremist Hindutwaorganisations and espoused by hatred driven politicians. 

Hindu-Muslim conflict in India

In the case of India, the Hindu-Muslim conflicts are not only religious, rather historical. Hindus who have a majority share in the population (78.35 per cent) have been socially and politically dominating the nation, whereas Muslims have a share of 14.2 per cent and Christians a share of 2.34 per cent. The rule over the Indian subcontinent by “Muslim emperors” (Turks, Afghans, Mughals) has caused a perpetrated resentment among the Hindu majority region with arguments that with these rules came mass conversions into Islam. Later, the British followed divisive measures to colonialise India and to counter its freedom struggle. This policy continued till the division and Independence of India and Pakistan, which was later followed by the followingorganisations and Governments. The separation was the disastrous consequence of the age-old Hindu-Muslim split, of the two communities’ failure to settle on how and to whom power was to be transferred (Chandra, B., Mukherjee, M., Mukherjee, A., Mahajan, S., &Panikkar, K. N. 2016). Partition of India has been called the most massive mass migration in history and also led to intense violence. Since independence, there have been inter-community clashes and killings in massive figures.

The religious tension in India got worsened when the 16th-century Babri Masjid was demolished on December6, 1992, in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh.  Hundreds of right-wing volunteers or karsewaksof theVishwa Hindu Parishad (V.H.P.) and allied organizations, claiming it has built after demolishing a temple marking the birthplace of Lord Ram. The demolition took place after a political rally organised by Hindu nationalist organizations at the site turned violent. Ten years later, the burning of Sabarmati Express train on February 27 2002, which carried Hindu pilgrims from Ayodha to Godhra, Gujarat, killing 59 most of them Karsewaks, was alleged to have been the handiwork of Muslim extremists. This was followed by the post Fenriary 27, 2002 Gujarat violence. Gujarat witnessed the nastiest violence since the partition of India. Over 2000 individuals killed, 150,000 displaced and over 800 women and girls raped. These atrocities have been supplemented by widespread destruction, arson attacks, looting and vandalizing of businesses, homes, private property and the demolition of 132 mosques and religious tombs. Nearly all of the victims of the well-organisedriot were Muslim. The wounds remain raw, with thousands still deprived, living in relief camps, always in fear of their lives. The massacres initially described as a ‘spontaneous reaction’ by the then Chief Minister of Gujarat, NarendraModi (Gujarat Ongoing Genocide, 2002) Which later turned out to be the stringent headway to RashtriyaSwayamsevakSangh’s political endowment and NarendraModi’s Prime ministership. Allegations of religious intolerance had shadowed Modi’s career since 2002, when he, as the Chief Minister of Gujarat, was accused of deteriorating to do enough to stop Hindu-Muslim riots that killed more than 1,000. For this, he has been denied a visa to visit the United States on religious-freedom grounds, making the trip only after he became prime minister in 2014 (Washington Post n.d.)

Hate as a Cultural Phenomenon

To get a clear picture of hate crimes, we should also look into hate as a cultural phenomenon. Aristotle has differentiated anger from hatred in that ‘anger is customarily felted towards individuals only, whereas hatred may felt towards whole classes of people’ (Baird, R. M., & Rosenbaum, S. E. 1992). Hate works to align individual along with collective bodies through the very intensity of its attachments. Those alignments are unstableexactly given the fact that hate does not exist in a subject, object or body; the instability of hate is what makes it so powerful in generating the effects that it does. Likewise, even though hate does not exist positively in a subject, body or sign, this does not mean that hate does have effects that are structural and mediated. Hate becomes attached or ‘stuck’ to particular bodies, often through violence, force and harm. It also reflects the part of what hate is doing can precisely understand in terms of the effect it has on the bodies of those designated as the hated, an effective life that is crucial to the unfairness of hate crime (Ahmed, 2001).

Sara Ahmed asserts that many hate crimes are said and caused because we love, not because we hate. People are obsessed and love themselves with their beliefs so much that anything that goes against them is seen as a threat. She also explains that some bodies are already encountered as more hateful than other bodies by people in societies that centres on one culture. India, being a Caste Hindu majoritarian state, the hatred thus drives towards the Dalits, Muslims and other minority communities. Hate is not integral in a sign; its effect is a clustering effect, which involves attributing signs to histories that frame bodies but do not reside in them. In other words, emotions are in transmission; never quite residing in a sign or body, instead, they become attached to signs and bodies, an attachment that can and does involve violence and fixation for some and movement for others. (Ahmed, 2001).

‘Threat’ is another term we should consider while analysing hate. Hate is communicated in India through the narratives of threat. Hindus, who constitute the majority of the population, consider the minority communities as a rising threat. “What is so substantial in hate stories is exactly the way they envisage a subject that is under threat by imagined others, whose proximity threatens, not only to take something away from the subject (jobs, security, wealth and so on) but also, to take the place of the subject itself. In other words, the existence of this other is envisaged as a threat to the object of love. It is this perceived threat that makes the hate reasonable rather than prejudicial”(Ahmed, 2001). The SanghParivar and its allies are communicating the same concept of a threat to justify their hate towards minorities. There are numerous instances where Hindu extremist leaders are asserting Muslims as a threat to the nation. With the recognition of extremist leaders, the ground-level workers of these extremist organization indulge themselves in gruesome hate crimes which often breaks the lines of human rights and dignity. On 1 January 2018–the year eight states went to the polls–union minister of state Giriraj Singh said “a growing population,especially Muslims, is a threat to the social fabric, social harmony, and development of the country”, Likewise,BanwariLalSinghal, a B.J.P. legislator from Rajasthan, said “while Hindus have one or two children and focus on educating them, Muslims are worried about how to take over the nation by increasing their population” (Firstpostn.d.)These narratives are grasped by the local workers as a green flag to commit violence against the minorities. 

Power Relations and the Hate Crimes in India

India’s social and political power and dominance are very much associated with the hate crimes happening around the nation. Power is a property of relations between the social groups, institutions or organizations; social power is defined in relationsto the control exercised by one social group or organization (or its ‘members) above the actions and/or the minds of (the members of) another group, thus limiting the liberty of action of the others, or influencing their knowledge, attitudes or ideologies. Power is based on privileged access to highly valued social resources, such as wealth, jobs, status, or indeed, preferential access to public discourse and communication” (Van Dijk, T. A. 1992). Dominance is here understood as a form of social power abuse, as a legitimate or illegitimate exercise of control over others in one’s interests, often resulting in social inequality. Both the Social Power and dominance are often organised and institutionalised, to allow more effective control, and to enable routine forms of power reproduction. Dominance is seldom absolute; it is often gradual and may be met by more or less resistance or counter-power by dominated groups. (Van Dijk, T. A. 1992). 

 As mentioned before, in India,Power and dominance have played a crucial role in the access and construction of discourse. The discourse on hate crimesis structured according to the right-wing Hindu ideologies, including the RSS and other SanghParivar allies. RSS led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has not released any data on the hate crimes. The only official data available is that of Hate Crime Watch, which is cited by media organizations like Washington Post, Aljazeera, Economic and Political Weekly, and Human Rights Watch. But, the websites citing hate crime data are blocked in India, including, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Factchecker.in.

Along with the missing of data, there are attempts to whitewash the hate crimes in India by the same organizations. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, on 8 October 2019 asserted that “lynching is not the word from Indian culture, its origin is from a story in a different religious text. We Indians trust in brotherhood. Don’t enforce such terms on Indians” (The Telegraph n.d.) The speech was a handwashing approach to escape from the national and international criticism on the rising hate crimes in India. We should also take into account of the sedition case charged against 49 intellectuals who have written a letter demanding action to the Prime Minister NarendraModi regardingthe rising number of mob lynching. The case was closed later as the police could not find supporting evidence.

“Power is not an institution, and not a structure; neither is it a certain strength we are endowed with; it is the name that one attributes to a complex strategical situation in a particular society.”

(Foucault 2012). Foucault’s argument is correlated in the case of India being a patriarchal, casteist, communalist and ethnocentric nation. These power structures have been insisting on passing on the fear of alienation on the minority communities for decades, among which Muslims being the prima faciecause. The mutual alienation of minority communities in India has thus maintained a Brahminical power structure. Power elites in India are keen on tackling the notice from the communal violence and atrocities. Foucault is relevant again when he says “the real political task in a society such as ours is to criticise the mechanisms of institutions that seem to be neutral and sovereign, to criticize and attack them in such a way that the political violence that has always exercised itself ambiguously through them will be unmasked so that one can fight against them” (Chomsky, Foucault, 2006). Analysing the current situation in India, it is clear that legislature and related institutions have failed in maintaining social order in society. In many of the cases, the interventions of these institutions have slightly intensified the fear among the minority communities. It is frightening that the concerns for the rising intolerances are addressed in an insensitive manner by the RSS-led Government and its SanghParivar allies. The recent incidents have been ‘normalised’ through the narration in the media. It has caused a reductive effect on the consumption of hate crimes by society. “There are forms of oppression and domination which become invisible – the new normal” (Hewett, Martin A., 2004).

The disappearance of JNU.studentNajeeb Ahmed should be analysed in this context. Najeeb went missing on October 15, 2016. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) filed a report without decisively investigating the case. It is alleged that some students allied to the AkhilBharatiyaVidhyartiParishad (ABVP), a student wing of the RSS, were said to have been involved in a brawl with Najeeb before his disappearance and the police. The CBI did not even question the suspects before closing the case calling allegations of saving them from the trial (Caravan Daily, n.d.)

Maintaining Islamophobia in India 

The victims of religious ultra-nationalism in India have been Muslim, Christian, Sikh and Dalits. Within the past decade, the scale of targeted violence against religious minorities has increased, with the rise of the BJP as the ruling party, facilitating its deployment through various mechanisms of the state against demonized and vulnerable social groups. This approach is familiar to the watchers of the political currents in the U.S and Europe against the setting of the rising tide of Islamophobia that has been fueled and organized by extreme right-wing groups to gain legitimacy. It has monetisedinto votes at the ballot box. Till date, there has been no trustworthy evidence, academic engagements or scholarly reports that documents this rising tide of Islamophobia in the Indian setting. This lack of documentation, both complicates and deters the fitness of those challengingIslamophobia. As a result, the activists and advocates are often left to speak of individual incidents of violence that undermine the scale of the issue as apparentlyremote cases or use of “communal violence” to lighten the seriousness of the problem. This case-by-case approach is highly problematic, limiting the ability of advocates to assign responsibility to political elites and point to the deployment of coercive state power utilized against structurally-created marginalized and invisible populations. Ultranationalist political elites strategically select their targets and assess their chances of holding or expanding power on its basis (Bazian, H., &Itaoui, R. 2019).

Hindutwa-centred nationalism has created a false binary of the ‘nationalist’ and the ‘terrorist’. Certain identities are recognised and others excluded. The social inclusive and exclusive policy in India has been Islamophobic since the beginning. Speaking of recognition, the recent updates of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam is critical. For inclusion in the NRC, 33,027,661 people have applied through 6,837,660 applications; a government statement said on August 31, 2019. After reviewing appeals and claims, 31,121,004 are found eligible for inclusion, leaving out 1,906,657, including those who did not submit claims. (IndiaSpendn.d.) The process of NRC has drawn various criticism on the grounds of its wrongful inclusion and exclusion, especially when the majority of the excluded belongs to minority communities. “If certain lives do not qualify as lives or are, from the start, not conceivable as lives within the certain epistemological frames, then these lives are never lived nor lost in the full sense (Butler, J. 2016). What is life? The “being” of life is itself established through selective means; as a result, we cannot refer to this “being” outside of the operations of power, and we must make more accurate, the specific instruments of power through which life is produced. We have decided that some precise notion of “personhood” will determine the scope and meaning of recognisability. Thus, we put in a normative ideal as a former condition of our analysis; we have, already “recognised” everything we need to know about recognition. There is no challenge that recognition poses to the form of the human that has traditionally served as the norm of recognizability since personhood is that very norm. The point will be to ask how such norms operate to form certain subjects as ‘recognisable’ persons and to make others decidedly more difficult to recognize (Butler, J. 2016).

Representation of Hate Crime Rate in India

Various statistics are showing concern over the rising figures of hate crimes. As of April 2, 2019, Hate Crime Watch has verified 282 attacks which resulted in 100 deaths and at least 704 injuries. Muslims–who cover 14% of India’s population–were victims in 57% of the incidents, Christians–2% of the population–were victims in 15% cases. Hindus, constituting the majority, i.e., 80% of the people, were victims in 13% cases. In 12% or 30 of the incidents, the religion of the victim is not stated. Considering that, only in the 252 cases where the religion of the victims was identified, Muslims were identified victims in 64% attacks, Christians in 16% cases and Hindus in 16% cases. Overall, of the 282 cases, Hindus aresuspected perpetrators in 56% of the cases and Muslims in 12% of the cases. In 85 cases, the religious identity of the perpetrator isunknown. Of the 196 cases for which religion of the alleged perpetrator has reported, 81% of cases involved Hindus, 18% Muslims, and 1% Sikhs. (“Hate Crime Watch,” n.d.) It is at this context we should listen to the United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet’s warning to India that its “divisive policies” could destabilise economic growth, stating the narrow political agendas were marginalising vulnerable groups in an already unequal society. “We are receiving accounts that indicate increasing harassment and targeting of minorities – in particular, Muslims and people from historically underprivileged and marginalized groups, such as Dalits and Adivasis,” she said in her report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, The ongoing atrocities against minority communities in India

Figure 3. According to the Hate Crime Watch statistics. *The Hindus mentioned here represents the Caste Hindus, not to be confused with the dalit Hindus

Officials in the government of Prime Minister NarendraModi had tracked various crimes. Still, they selectively released results, picking to share figures about attacks perpetrated by left-wing extremists but not religious-based crimes oratrocities against journalists, this comes at a time when there has been anescalation of caste-oriented and religious-based hate crimes. Hindu vigilantes continue to beat up and kill members of India’s minority Muslims and its lower castes, and human rights activists accuse Prime MinisterModi and his political allies of fueling an atmosphere of Hindu extremist nationalism that has backed to the violence. Most often, the attackers go unpunished and acquitted of the trial. (The New York Times (n.d.). The construction and maintenance of discourse on hate crimes in India is thus protected by the power structures which are emphasising on hatred. Along with that, the published data on the Internet either goes missing or is blocked. Text and talk appear to play a crucial role in the exercise of power. Thus discourse may directly and coercively enact power, through directive speech acts, and through text types such as laws, regulations, or instructions. Power may also be manifest more indirectly in the discourse, as represented in the form of expression, description, or legitimisation of powerful actors or their actions and ideologies. Text and talks appear to play a crucial role in the exercise of power. Thus discourse may directly and coercively enact power, through directive speech acts, and through text types such as laws, regulations, or instructions. Power may also be manifested more indirectly in the discourse, as represented in the form of expression, description, or legitimation of powerful actors or their actions and ideologies (Van Dijk, T. A. 1994). The national and International English media organizations –The Times of India, The Hindu, The Indian Express, FirstPost, The Wire, New York Times, The Huffington Post (in association with The Times of India), British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC India), Scroll, and The Quint– are amenable to coverage of communal atrocities in India. The mainstream media also believes that these so-called cow-vigilantes and lynch-mobs have the backing of the SanghParivar, the ideological parent of the BJP government as well as direct B.J.P. backing.

AjoyMahaprashasta of The Wire says, “It is common knowledge that these gaurakshak dals do not function independently, and are aided and abetted, both monetarily and socially, by various wings of the SanghParivar. Militant groups like the Hindu Sena and Bajrang Dal have become foot soldiers for the cow protection campaign. In most places across North India – where the menace of this hooliganism has been acutely felting – members of the BharatiyaJanata Party (B.J.P.) double up as ‘gaurakshaks.’ (Mahaprashasta, 2016). B.B.C. in almost all India related article in recent years refers to Prime Minister NarendraModi as a “Hindu nationalist”. At the time, the regional media are misrepresenting the issue of mob violence with justification to cow slaughtering. Among which Hindi television news channels are in the first row. The reportage on hate crimes by media organizations like Republic T.V and Zee news has drawn fierce criticism regarding their double standards in reporting on the perpetrators. 


The Prime Ministers’ High-Level Committee on the Social, Economic and Educational Status of the Muslim Community in India,” commonly known as Sachar Committee Report, found nation-wide and long-term marginalisation and socio-economic deterioration of India’s Muslims, near the bottom of the national ladder, since thestate’s independence in 1947 (Rajindar Sachar, 2006). Recently, the post-Sachar Evaluation Committee in 2014, found that Muslims continued to suffer excessively from lack of access to the health care, low educational achievement, and economic deprivation, particularly in urban areas, which can be attributed to the rise of Hindu religious parties such as the B.J.P. (Post-Sachar Evaluation Committee Report, 2014). In the cases documented from 2017 onwards, it has beendemonstrated that the BJP’s electoraltriumph and following implementation of ultra-right-wing nationalist policies, accompanies by legitimisation of an aggressive discourse, have intensified such attacks against Muslim sites, neighbourhoods and spaces of worship. Most concerning is the direct impact of such violence on the patterns of discrimination and theghettoisation of Muslims. The decreased social and spatial mobility further limits the ability of Muslims to access the socio-economic opportunities vital to participate in national economic growth. It does also causes increased housing insecurity and an intensified geographical division of Muslims from the Hindu majority in an increasingly Islamophobic space. According to the 2015 statisticsfrom the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), more than 67%  accusedin India’s jails are defendants under trials, and 55% of this population is made up of Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis – together constituting only a combined 39% of the country’s total population (Bazian, H., &Itaoui, R. 2019). Being a ‘Sovereign’ ‘Secular’, ‘Socialist’ ‘Democratic’, ‘Republic’, it’s time for India to take necessary actions to prevent the rising religious bias and intolerance. We should be able to maintain a holistic view of the social inclusion policy of the nation. Rather than engaging in an ethnocentric (Aryanism), we as a nation should be able to bring forth, unite and make sure equity among the very individuals of the country. Instead of alienating identities, we should be able to reach to the vulnerable sections of society. To that, Hate crimes, including mob lynching, should be taken seriously and must be dealt with, with exactitude. Muslims and other minority communities were living in India even before the birth of India. Still, the current polarisation on the grounds of xenophobia and casteism is dangerously affecting the minorities, often leading to complex communal tensions. In the words of Judith Butler, “The problem is not just how to include more people within the prevailing norms, but to consider how existing norms assign recognition differentially. What new norms are conceivable, and how are they formed? What might be done to form a more egalitarian set of conditions for ‘recognizability’? What might be done, in other words, to change the very terms of recognizability to produce more radically democratic results? Let us acknowledge that these are all organisms that are living in one sense or another; to say this, however, is not yet to furnish any considerable arguments for one policy or another. After all, plants are living things, but vegetarians do not usually object to eating them. More generally, it can be argued that courses of life themselves require destruction and degeneration, but this does not in any way tell us which sorts of destruction are ethically salient and which are not. To determine the ontological the specificity of life in such instances would lead us more generally into a discussion of biopolitics, concerning ways of apprehending, controlling, and administering life, and how these modes of power enter into the very definition of life itself” (Butler, J. 2016).


(The author is a student at the deparment of Mass Communications, Pondicherry University)



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