Hate speech in India (since 2017)
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|Suspected actor||The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), including elected officials at the national and local levels, and Hindu nationalist groups|
|Victims||Muslims in India, and ethnic and religious minorities in the northeastern Assam state|
|Method||Social media, especially Facebook, are reportedly used to vilify Muslim minorities as “criminals”, “rapists”, “terrorists” and “dogs”. Some posts called for people to ‘poison’ daughters and for female foeticide to be made legal in order to protect Hindu women from being later assaulted by “rape-obsessed foreigners”. ‘Troll Assamese Media’, a page with over 15,000 followers, spread anti-Muslim hate speech memes and other images. Since 2017, WhatsApp has also been reportedly used to spread fake stories about child abductions and organ harvesting, which have been partly blamed on Muslims. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, officials from the ruling BJP have condemned ‘corona terrorism’ and called for Muslims attending mosques amid the pandemic to be “punished like terrorists”. From late March to early April 2020, tweets with the hashtag #CoronaJihad, which suggest that Muslims weaponise the coronavirus to target Hindus, have appeared nearly 300,000 times on Twitter and might have been seen by up to 165 million users.|
|Purpose||According to reports by human rights organizations, the purpose of such messaging has been to “publicly promote Hindu supremacy and ultra-nationalism” and to stir religious tensions and violence against the racial, ethnic and religious minorities in India.|
|Result||The spread of hate speech has reportedly contributed to discrimination, stigmatisation and violence, including mob violence and killings, against racial, ethnic and religious minorities in India. The UN Special Rapporteurs on freedom of religion or belief, on minority issues, and on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance warned of the rise of hate speech directed against these minorities on social media, noting that “[t]his process may exacerbate the xenophobic climate while fuelling religious intolerance and discrimination in the country”.|
|Aftermath||Several UN human rights Special Procedures requested the Indian government to investigate and take effective measures against the spread of hate speech on social media. Facebook has taken down several accounts that violated its Community Standards, partly only after being prompted by civil society. Due to a global criticism of its failure to regulate provocative content, Facebook announced that it would increase its scrutiny of inflammatory posts, including those by politicians, which could potentially limit the spread of hate speech in India.|
|Analysed in||Scenario 19: Hate speech|
Collected by: Christiane Ahlborn
- Shadab Nazmi, Dhruv Nenwani and Gagan Narhe ‘Social media rumours in India: counting the dead’ BBC (13 November 2018).
- Meghnad Bose, ‘Senior BJP Leaders Are Giving India a Free Tutorial in Hate Speech’ The quint (14 January 2020).
- AVAAZ, Megaphone for Hate: Disinformation and Hate Speech on Facebook during Assam’s Citizenship Count (October 2019) 8.
- Human Rights Watch, World Report 2018 - Events of 2017: India (HRW 2017).
- Minority Rights Group International, Peoples under Threat 2020 (25 June 2020) 3, speaking of “widespread demonization of Muslims”.
- UN India, ‘UN experts: Risk of statelessness for millions and instability in Assam, India’ (5 July 2019).
- Roli Srivastava, ‘Facebook a ‘megaphone for hate’ against Indian minorities’ Reuters (30 October 2019).
- AVAAZ, Megaphone for Hate: Disinformation and Hate Speech on Facebook during Assam’s Citizenship Count (October 2019) 37.
- Alexis C Madrigal, ‘India’s Lynching Epidemic and the Problem With Blaming Tech’ The Atlantic (25 September 2018).
- Minority Rights Group International, Peoples under Threat 2020 (25 June 2020) 3.
- Billy Perrigo, ‘It Was Already Dangerous to Be Muslim in India. Then Came the Coronavirus‘ TIME (3 April 2020).
- AVAAZ, Megaphone for Hate: Disinformation and Hate Speech on Facebook during Assam’s Citizenship Count (October 2019) 7.
- Maya Mirchandani, ‘Digital Hatred, Real Violence: Majoritarian Radicalisation and Social Media in India’, Observer Research Foundation (ORF) Occasional Papers (August 2018); Thenmozhi Soundararajan, Abishek Kumar, Priya Nair and Josh Greely, ‘Facebook India: Towards the Tipping Point of Violence: Caste and Religious Hate Speech’, Equality Labs (June 2019), and Vindu Goel, Suhasini Raj and Priyadarshini Ravichandran, ‘How WhatsApp Leads Mobs to Murder in India’ New York Times (18 July 2018).
- United Nations India, ‘UN experts: Risk of statelessness for millions and instability in Assam, India’ (5 July 2019).
- Communication by UN Human Rights Special Procedures to the Government of India, UN Doc OL IND 11/2019 (27 May 2019).
- Facebook, Community Standards: Hate Speech (as of 1 July 2020).
- Mike Isaac and Sheera Frenkel, ‘Facebook Adds Labels for Some Posts as Advertisers Pull Back’ The New York Times (26 June 2020).