Maharashtra tops states in anti-Muslim hate speech, 80 % of hate in BJP ruled states: Hindutva Watch

A disturbingly high level of incidents all over the country but most especially in BJP-ruled states make lives of Indian minorities both fragile and vulnerable
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There has been an escalating trend of hate speech in India since 2014 when the ruling Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) assumed power. Rather than combating hate speech, government officials have frequently engaged in it themselves. As this report documents, some of the purveyors of anti-Muslim hate speech include chief ministers, legislators, and senior leaders from the ruling BJP. 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. A report released by the US-based non-profit Hindutva Watch documented 255 instances of hate speech in the first half of 2023.

In addition to the significant disparity in the frequency of hate events occurring in BJP-governed states, there is a notable contrast in the nature of these incidents when compared to non-BJP-ruled states. While approximately 80% of hate speech events took place in BJP-ruled states and territories, roughly 75% of events involving calls to violence occurred in these regions. Similarly, about 60% of events involving calls to arms took place in BJP-ruled states. Around 81% of the events involving conspiracy theories and 78% of the events including a call to boycott Muslims also took place in BJP-ruled states and territories. In contrast, when examining categories not explicitly related to violence or calls to arms, the proportion of events involving conspiracy theories, speeches by BJP leaders, and calls for boycotting were relatively similar in both BJP and non-BJP-ruled states.

The report states that, even according to official data, cases registered under Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code rose by more than 500% between 2014 and 2020. Hindutva Watch’s extensive research spanning several months reveals that in the first six months of 2023 (181 days), there were 255 recorded instances of hate speech gatherings or rallies targeting Muslims across 17 states in India, which includes the National Capital Territory of Delhi and the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. This alarming statistic highlights an average of over one anti-Muslim hate speech event occurring daily.

As detailed in the analysis below, most hate events occurred in states governed by the BJP. Furthermore, a significant proportion of these incidents occurred in states scheduled to hold legislative elections in 2023 and 2024, highlighting the potential use of anti-Muslim hate speech events for voter mobilization. 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.

Some learnings from the report that may be read here:

  • 255 documented incidents of hate speech gatherings targeting Muslims in the first half of 2023.
  • Overwhelmingly, 205 (80%) of these hate speech events occurred in BJP-ruled states and union territories.
  • Maharashtra, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Gujarat witnessed the highest number of hate speech gatherings, with Maharashtra alone accounting for 29% of such incidents.
  • Seven out of the top eight states with the highest hate speech events are governed by the BJP and its coalition partners.
  • Around 52% of hate speech gatherings in BJP-ruled states and union territories were orchestrated by entities affiliated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), including the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Bajrang Dal, the Sakal Hindu Samaj, and the Bharatiya Janata Party. Overall, 42% of all hate speech gatherings in 17 states which includes two centrally controlled territories were organized by groups affiliated with the RSS.
  • Approximately 64% of the events in BJP-ruled states and union territories incorporated references to popular Hindu far-right anti-Muslim conspiracy theories.  Overall, 51% of all the hate speech gatherings in 17 states which includes two centrally controlled territories featured anti-Muslim conspiracy theories.
  • A concerning 33% of all the gatherings explicitly called for violence against Muslims.
  • About 11% of events included explicit calls for Hindus to boycott Muslims.
  • Disturbingly, 4% of all the events featured hate-filled and sexist speeches explicitly targeting Muslim women.
  • Nearly 12% of events featured calls to arms.
  • Notably, 33% of hate speech events took place in states that have already conducted or are set to conduct state legislative elections in 2023. Furthermore, over 36% of these events occurred in states slated to hold legislative elections in 2024. In total, nearly 70% of these events were reported in states with legislative elections either in 2023 or 2024.

Geographical spread of hate speech events

In the first half of 2023, hate events took place across the country, from Gujarat in the West to Assam in the East. However, as the map below demonstrates, there are apparent geographical disparities in the number of hate speech events in each state.

The group monitored anti-Muslim hate speech events in 15 states and two territories where the police and law enforcement fall under the direct jurisdiction of the BJP-led central government. The states with limited or no such events were predominantly located in the southern and eastern regions of the country, where the BJP’s electoral influence is relatively lower. Conversely, hate speech incidents were predominantly concentrated in India’s northern, western, and central regions, where the BJP wields significant electoral and ideological influence.

Regarding individual states, approximately 29% of hate speech incidents occurred in the state of Maharashtra, despite it constituting only about 9% of India’s total population. Maharashtra serves as an illustrative case, highlighting how the BJP leverages state power to propagate anti-Muslim hate speech in regions with fragile electoral support. In June 2022, the BJP managed to engineer a split in the ruling alliance, allowing it to assume power without a corresponding electoral mandate. With a state election scheduled for 2024, there appears to be a deliberate effort to disseminate anti-Muslim sentiments in the state. Similarly, BJP-ruled states such as Karnataka (under BJP rule for most of this period), Madhya Pradesh, and Gujarat witnessed a high number of hate speech incidents, with each of these states hosting 20 or more hate speech gatherings. The sole exception was Rajasthan, a Congress-ruled state, which is slated for elections at the year’s end. A particularly alarming trend emanated from the small state of Uttarakhand, which recorded 13 hate speech events in the first half of the year. This translates to 5% of hate events in the first half of 2023 in India occurring in Uttarakhand, despite the state comprising less than 1% of India’s total population. This disproportionate share of hate speech culminated in the widespread displacement of Muslims from Uttarakhand.

Categorising anti-Muslim hate speech events

Based on the categories discussed in the methodology section, one can see the sheer range and variety in the forms of anti-Muslim hate speech employed by Hindu far-right organisations and individual leaders. About 131 events, or about 51.3% of the dataset, included the propagation of prominent anti-Muslim conspiracy theories. Some of the most popular theories included Love Jihad, Land Jihad, and Hindutva adaptations of the Great Replacement Conspiracy. As is true of many xenophobic movements, Hindutva mobilization is highly dependent on spreading the fear of the “other,” primarily taking the form of Muslims.

Perhaps most alarmingly, 83 events (almost 33%) included direct calls to violence by Hindutva groups. This includes calls for ethnic cleansing and genocide against Muslims and calls for the destruction of Muslim places of worship. Such violent rhetoric primarily went unpunished and instead regularly contributed to physical violence. There were also 30 events (12%) of calls to arms, where Hindutva leaders asked members of the majority community to buy and keep weapons. A particularly prominent form of this was through “Trishul distribution” events, where Hindutva leaders distributed weapons to Hindu youths. These events also often included hate speeches against Muslims, hence their inclusion in this list.

There were also 27 instances (11%) of hate speech events which involved a direct call for the socio-economic boycott of Muslims. This included attempts to exclude Muslims from the state and calls for Hindus to stop purchasing goods and services from Muslims. Thirty-four events (13%) involved speeches by BJP leaders, including former Karnataka chief minister KS Eeshwarappa, Kapil Mishra, the Vice President of BJP Delhi, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma and Member of Parliament Pragya Thakur. Of the 255 incidents, 11 directly targeted Muslim women, which included sexist and misogynistic speeches.

The majority of these events (70%) unfolded in states scheduled for legislative elections in 2023 and 2024. Specifically, 85 (33%) incidents occurred in five states holding or slated to hold elections this year, including Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, and Telangana. Likewise, approximately 93 events transpired in states set to conduct legislative elections in 2024. This trend suggests early indications of Hindutva mobilization through hate speech events and gatherings. It raises the possibility of a strategic approach by Hindu far-right groups aimed at fomenting hatred and inciting violence, potentially with an eye on bolstering the BJP’s electoral prospects.

Note: One hate speech event can fall under multiple categories. For instance, some hate speech events featured conspiracy theories such as Love Jihad or Land Jihad, while also including explicit calls for violence or calls to arms.

Organisations behind hate speech events

As the above chart demonstrates, many hate speech events were organized by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal. They organized 62 anti-Muslim hate speech events in the first half of 2023. These are clubbed as one organisation because the Bajrang Dal is the youth wing of the VHP, and lately, they have been organizing most of their public events jointly. Both entities have a notorious history of spreading anti-Muslim hate speech and helping engineer anti-Muslim violence across India. The organisations are part of the broader Sangh Parivar or the Sangh Family. The Sangh Parivar, an umbrella term for several Hindu nationalist organisations led by the paramilitary group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), consists of the RSS, the BJP, the VHP, the Bajrang Dal and dozens of other organisations. While the RSS is at the heart of the Sangh, the VHP and the Bajrang Dal are part of its muscular wing. The existence of these independent organisations helps ensure that BJP leaders can maintain plausible deniability about their actions, even though the organisations remain deeply connected.  Prime Minister Modi fiercely defended the organisation when the Congress proposed a ban on the Bajrang Dal as part of its election campaign in Karnataka. As the BJP has been further entrenched within the Indian state, evidence suggests that the Bajrang Dal and the VHP have even worked with the police to break up interfaith couples and help spread the anti-Muslim conspiracy of love jihad.

As the above pie chart indicates, the BJP itself was responsible for numerous hate speech events, with a notable upsurge during the Karnataka elections. During this period, several BJP leaders played a crucial role in stoking anti-Muslim hate sentiments.

Another organisation prominently involved in organizing hate speech events in Maharashtra was the Sakal Hindu Samaj. The organisation, primarily based in Maharashtra, is a coalition of several Hindu nationalist outfits in the state. Its leaders claim to be part of the wider Sangh umbrella and are affiliated with organisations like the RSS, the VHP, and the Bajrang Dal. The Samaj has played a major role in spreading the conspiracy theory of Love Jihad and Land Jihad. A frequent speaker at its events is Suresh Chavhanke, a notorious hate monger and the chairman of a TV news channel Sudarshan News. Chavhanke is responsible for several hate speech events in our database.

Another frequent speaker at gatherings organized by the Sakal Hindu Samaj is T Raja Singh. Singh, initially elected as a BJP legislator in the state of Telangana, faced suspension from the party due to his objectionable remarks against Prophet Muhammad. Singh has been actively involved in numerous hate speech events, promoting the conspiracy theory of love jihad and threatening violence against Muslims. Despite his suspension, Singh remains closely affiliated with the BJP, and Union Minister G Kishan Reddy has indicated that the suspension will likely be revoked soon. Recent news reports have even suggested that Singh has held meetings with top BJP leaders, indicating that he may stand as a nominee or proxy for the party in the upcoming Telangana legislative elections.

Other organisations involved in organizing hate events included the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS) and the Antarrashtriya Hindu Parishad (AHP). The HJS was responsible for helping organize an “All India Hindu Rashtra Convention” in Goa, where multiple speakers called for violence against Muslims, helped propagate dangerous conspiracy theories, and demanded the repeal of the Right of Equality in the Indian constitution. The AHP is led by Praveen Togadia, the former international working president of the VHP. Togadia, who had a falling-out with the Sangh Parivar, was particularly hateful for the first half of 2023, focusing on the propagation and spread of an Indian version of the “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory, with misinformation about the growth in the Muslim population of India.

High level of hate speech through early 2023

Hate speech targeting Muslims remained a persistent issue in Indian politics throughout the first half of 2023, with every month witnessing over one hate speech incident daily. Notably, there was a surge in hate incidents during March, coinciding with the Hindu festival of Ram Navami on March 30th. In the final week of March, both leading up to and during the festival, there were 18 hate speech events nationwide, suggesting a possible coordinated effort to incite violence on this specific day. As previously discussed, these efforts unfortunately succeeded, resulting in outbreaks of violence in at least six states. Tragically, this violence led to the loss of two lives and injured many others, a direct result of attempts by Hindu far-right organisations to orchestrate violence on Ram Navami.

Hate speech events concentrated in BJP-ruled states

The above graph illustrates that hate events are predominantly concentrated in states governed by the BJP. This report documents approximately 205 events in BJP-ruled states, including an additional 15 events in NCT of Delhi and the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, where the police and law and order fall under the control of the BJP-led central government. Nearly 80% of the hate speech events were held in BJP-ruled states or territories controlled by the BJP-led central government. This statistic is particularly striking, considering that only 45% of India’s population falls under BJP rule. Notably, among the eight states with the highest number of hate speech events, seven are governed by the BJP. Taken together, this evidence suggests that hate events are significantly less likely to occur in non-BJP-ruled states. This disparity could be attributed to the willingness of non-BJP states to take proactive measures against hate speech, in contrast to the BJP’s utilization of state power to organize and endorse events in states under their governance. The sole exception to this trend is the state of Rajasthan, governed by the Congress party, which recorded 25 hate speech events and is scheduled to hold legislative elections at the end of 2023.

 (Raqib Hameed Naik is a Kashmiri-American journalist and founder of Hindutva Watch. Aarushi Srivastava is an early career journalist based in Paris. Abhyudaya Tyagi is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Political Science at Columbia University.)



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