Hamas to halal: How anti-Muslim hate speech is spreading in India

Ahead of national elections, a new report tracks how hate speech events map geographically across India, those behind them, and the conspiracy theories used to stoke anti-Muslim hate.

The report notes that 498 hate-speech events, or 75 percent of all those in India, took place in the states ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or in territories that it effectively governs through the central government [File: Saurabh Das/AP Photo]

New Delhi, India – India averaged nearly two anti-Muslim hate speech events per day in 2023 and three in every four of those events – or 75 percent – took place in states ruled by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), revealed a report released Monday.

In 2023, the hate speech events peaked between August and November, the period of political campaigning and polling in four major states, according to a report released by India Hate Lab (IHL), a Washington, DC-based research group.

As India heads for a national vote in the upcoming months, a first-of-its-kind report by the IHL maps the spread of anti-Muslim hate speech across the country. The group documented a total of 668 hate speech events.

Last month, the website of India Hate Lab was rendered inaccessible in India after the government blocked it under the controversial Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000. The government also blocked the website of Hindutva Watch, an independent hate-crime tracker also run by the IHL’s founder.

The new report – the first time a research group has tracked hate speech events in India over a year – tracks how these events spread geographically across India, the triggers behind these events, and when they occur.


Which are India’s hate speech hotbeds?

The group documented a total of 668 hate speech events across 18 states and three federally governed territories. The top-ranking Indian states for these events were: Maharashtra in the west with 118 incidents, Uttar Pradesh in the north with 104 incidents, and Madhya Pradesh in central India with 65 incidents.

These three states are among the biggest voter bases, are currently ruled by the BJP, and collectively account for 43 percent of the total hate speech events recorded in 2023.

But relatively smaller states, like Haryana and Uttarakhand in northern India, weren’t immune either.

While Haryana witnessed 48 hate speech events, or about 7.2 percent, events in Uttarakhand made up 6 percent – both states are among the emerging hotbeds for anti-Muslim violence as well. Seven people died and over 70 were injured in violence in the Nuh region of Haryana in August 2023; earlier this month, five Muslims were killed in Haldwani, Uttarakhand, while protesting against the demolition of a mosque and a religious school in the town.

Prem Shukla, a national spokesperson of the BJP, told Al Jazeera that the party has been opposing the “Islamic fundamentalist forces” and alleged that the IHL data represented a “biased picture of the situation”.

“The other so-called secular states are targeting the Hindu majority community by hate speeches, but no one will talk about it,” Shukla said in a phone interview. He also dismissed the IHL report, alleging that those behind it “have sworn to destroy the BJP”.

Who rules states with the most hate speech?

As per the report, 498 hate speech events, which make up 75 percent, took place in the states ruled by the BJP or in territories that it effectively governs through the central government. Among the 10 states with the most hate speech events, six were ruled by the BJP throughout the year. The other three states, Rajasthan, Karnataka, and Chhattisgarh had legislative elections in 2023, in which power changed hands: Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh moved from the opposition Congress party to the BJP, and Karnataka from the BJP to the Congress. Bihar, the last of the 10 states with the most hate-speech events, was ruled by an opposition coalition until last month, when its chief minister switched sides to join a BJP-led alliance.

More than 77 percent of speeches that included a direct call of violence against Muslims were also delivered in states and territories governed by the BJP.

A third of all hate speech events documented by the IHL were organised by two far-right organisations, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal, which are associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological mentor of the BJP. In 2018, the United States Central Intelligence Agency tagged the VHP and Bajrang Dal as “religious militant organisations”.

“Our analysis shows that anti-Muslim hate speech has been normalised and become part of India’s socio-political sphere,” said Raqib Hameed Naik, founder of the IHL. “We foresee rampant use of anti-Muslim hate during the upcoming general elections to polarise voters.”


What are the provocations used for hate speech events?

The report documented that 63 percent of the total 668 hate speech events referenced Islamophobic conspiracy theories.

The theories included “love jihad”, an alleged phenomenon where Muslim men lure Hindu women into marrying them and converting to Islam; “land jihad”, which alleges Muslims are occupying public lands by building religious structures or holding prayers; “halal jihad”, which views Islamic practices as the economic exclusion of non-Muslim traders; and “population jihad”, which alleges that Muslims reproduce with the intention of eventually outnumbering and dominating other populations.

All of these conspiracy theories have been debunked: The government’s own data, for instance, shows that Muslim fertility rates are dropping faster than those of any other major community in India.

Over 48 percent of the events occurred between August and November, a period that saw state elections in four major states.

Reacting to the IHL report, Amnesty International called on Indian authorities to put an end to the rise in speeches calling for violence and hatred against religious minorities.

“[The authorities] must take concrete measures to counter stereotypes, eradicate discrimination, and foster greater equality,” Aakar Patel, chair of the board at Amnesty International India, told Al Jazeera.

Activists of various left organizations shout slogans during a protest against hate speech in New Delhi
Activists from various leftist organisations shout slogans during a protest against hate speech in New Delhi on December 27, 2021. [Manish Swarup/AP Photo]

What’s the latest hate weapon being used against Indian Muslims?

Since October 7, Indian far-right groups have been weaponising the Hamas attack on southern Israel, and Israel’s ongoing war on Gaza to stoke anti-Indian Muslim fears and hate.

From October 7 to December 31, 2023, one in every five hate-speech events invoked Israel’s war, a phenomenon that peaked in November, according to the IHL report.

Pravin Togadia, founder and current president of the Antarrashtriya Hindu Parishad, said in an event in Haryana on November 20: “Today it is Israel’s turn. That same Palestine is rising in our villages and our streets. Saving our prosperity, our women, from them is a big challenge for us.”

In the same month, Kapil Mishra, a BJP leader, said: “What Israel faced is what we have been facing for 1,400 years.”

Other analysts have found that India has also emerged as an epicentre of disinformation on Israel’s war on Gaza, spreading through the internet.

Source: Al Jazeera