New Delhi: The first six months of 2023 alone have seen over 250 documented gatherings which saw anti-Muslim hate speech, most of which were delivered in states ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party and nearly 70% of which were reported in states with legislative elections either in 2023 or 2024, a study has found.
The ‘2023 Half-Yearly Report: Anti-Muslim Hate Speech Events in India’ is authored by Raqib Hameed Naik, Aarushi Srivastava and Abhyudaya Tyagi for the online hate tracking portal, Hindutva Watch.
The report finds that 205 or 80% of the 255 documented hate speech gatherings that targeted Muslims in the first half of 2023 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, the report found. It called Maharashtra “an illustrative case”, highlighting “how the BJP leverages state power to propagate anti-Muslim hate speech in regions with fragile electoral support.” The report notes the role of the BJP’s engineering of a split in the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi alliance in the state and then says that “with a state election scheduled for 2024, there appears to be a deliberate effort to disseminate anti-Muslim sentiments in the state.”
Seven out of the top eight states with the highest hate speech events are governed by the BJP and its coalition partners, it said.
BJP-ruled states such as Karnataka (under BJP rule for most of this period), Madhya Pradesh, and Gujarat witnessed 20 or more hate speech gatherings in the first half of 2023. The sole exception was Rajasthan, a Congress-ruled state, which is slated for elections at the year’s end, it noted.
The report called Uttarakhand’s situation “alarming,” and noted that 5% of hate events in the first half of 2023 in India occured in Uttarakhand, despite the state comprising less than 1% of India’s total population.
A third of such hate speech gatherings – 33% – explicitly called for violence against Muslims and 12% had a call to arms. About 11% of events included boycott calls against Muslims. As many as 4% of such gatherings had hate-filled and sexist speeches explicitly targeting Muslim women, the study notes.
The report also shed light on who were behind the gatherings in which hate speech was spewed.
In BJP-ruled states, it found, around 52% of the gatherings 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.”
The report also finds that 42% of all hate speech gatherings in 15 states and two Union Territories were organised by groups affiliated with the RSS.
Conspiracy theories found their way to a large chunk of hate speeches, more in BJP-ruled states than others.
Almost two-thirds or approximately 64% of the events in BJP-ruled states and Union Territories incorporated references to Hindutva-fuelled anti-Muslim conspiracy theories. Overall, 51% of all the hate speech gatherings in 15 states and two Union Territories featured anti-Muslim conspiracy theories.
The report also looked at the role of the elections in exacerbating hate speech, finding that 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,” it found.
But elections are not the only catalyst. A big one is Hindu festivals like Ram Navami, which the report notes saw a surge in hate incidents as well as hate speech.
“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…these efforts unfortunately succeeded, resulting in outbreaks of violence in at least six states.”