2023 Half-Yearly Report: Anti-Muslim Hate Speech Events in India

By Raqib Hameed Naik, Aarushi Srivastava and Abhyudaya Tyagi

This report aims to document all verified instances of hate speech events organized by Hindu far-right groups against India’s Muslim minorities in the first half of 2023. While India lacks an official definition of hate speech, we adopt the United Nations framework, which characterizes hate speech as “any form of communication, whether oral, written, or behavioral, that employs prejudiced or discriminatory language towards an individual or group based on attributes such as religion, ethnicity, nationality, race, color, descent, gender, or other identity factors.” This definition includes all forms of expression, including speech, writing or behavior, and specifically focuses on any language that is either discriminatory (biased, bigoted, or intolerant) or “pejorative” (prejudiced, contemptuous or demeaning) of an individual or group.

In the Indian context, this definition encompasses many forms of hate speech. It includes direct calls to violence and calls for a social and economic boycott of religious minorities. Hate speech can also often come in the form of encouragement, support and justification for violent cow vigilantism, where religious minorities, particularly Muslims, are targeted. It can include calls to exclude religious minorities from state institutions, such as the bureaucracy or the judiciary. It can encompass the propagation of various conspiracy theories like Love Jihad, the bigoted conspiracy theory that Muslim men target Hindu women for conversion to Islam. This report primarily focuses on hate speeches against Muslims delivered during in-person gatherings. 

Throughout the first half of 2023, India witnessed several instances where hate speech events, coupled with hate crimes, exacerbated the insecurity of its religious minorities. On March 30, on the occasion of the Hindu holiday of Ram Navami, Hindu far-right leader Kajal Shingla alias Kajal Hindustani made hateful remarks about Muslim women, helping ignite a riot in the western state of Gujarat. On the same day, in the eastern Indian state of Bihar, a procession filled with provocative and hateful slogans resulted in violence in the town of Biharsharif, leaving one dead and several injured. In June, rampant and repeated instances of hate speech events in Kolhapur, Maharashtra, culminated in clashes in the western state, while a month-long campaign in the northern state of Uttarakhand centered on the Hindu far-right conspiracy theories of “Love Jihad,” “Vyapar Jihad” and “Land Jihad,” resulted in the displacement of Muslims from several parts of the state. Muslim shops and homes were marked with a black ‘X’ symbol in an apparent attempt to intimidate the marginalized community. 

It is easy to think about hate speech abstractly: as an intellectual debate about the limits of free speech. But as the above examples demonstrate, hate speech has consequences. It can disrupt daily life, destabilize and displace communities, wreck homes, and ignite deadly riots and pogroms against marginalized groups.

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. According to the Delhi-based socio-cultural organization, Act Now for Harmony and Democracy (ANHAD), there has been a significant increase in hate speech and hate crimes against religious minorities since 2014, when the BJP came to power. A media report in 2018 found that there had been a 500% increase in the invocation of communal hatred in speeches by high-ranking officials, which subsequently led to anti-minority violence in India between 2014 and 2018. Even according to official data, cases registered under Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code rose by more than 500% between 2014 and 2020. While Section 153A cases do not directly correspond to our definition of hate speech, they do include events for which a police case has been registered for the promotion of enmity between different groups on the grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, or language. 

India Hate Lab’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.

Executive Summary

  • 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.

Methodology

India Hate Lab (IHL) seeks to document all possible hate speech events against Muslim minorities. To do this, we track the activity of Hindu far-right organizations and their members on social media, scraping data from X (formerly known as Twitter), Facebook, Instagram, Youtube and Telegram to find verifiable videos of hate speech events. We employ data scraping techniques to identify verifiable videos of hate speech events, followed by in-depth research conducted by a team of dedicated journalists and researchers. Additionally, we draw upon credible reporting from established news organizations to compile comprehensive data. To ensure the accuracy of our findings, we conduct verification processes, confirming the authenticity of the videos, their precise location, and the date on which they were recorded. This dataset isn’t a complete account of hate speech incidents in India. There are many incidents for which no footage exists or where the footage is unverifiable. The data discussed in this report is a preliminary attempt at providing a snapshot of the nature and geographic spread of hate speech events in India.  

To further understand the dynamics of hate speech against Muslims, we attempted to categorize different types of hate speech events. These categories are detailed below: 

Organization Involved: This category encompasses the organizations directly responsible for organizing the hate speech event, as well as groups affiliated with the individuals responsible for the hate speech.

BJP-Ruled State: A simple binary variable that evaluates if the hate speech gathering took place in a state ruled by India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) directly or in coalition. In India’s federal system, responsibility for law and order lies with the state government, which is responsible for enforcing legislation against communal incitement. There are separate categories for the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir and the National Capital Territory of Delhi, where police forces come under the direct command of the central government (ruled by the BJP). Academic evidence indicates that the election of BJP legislators in an area is associated with more communal riots, which primarily target Muslims. This variable allows us to analyze if the same is true for hate speech gathering. 

Note: There was a change of government in the state of Karnataka in May 2023, with the new Chief Minister from the Congress party being sworn in on the 20th of May 2023. All incidents that occurred in Karnataka before this date are categorized under BJP rule, while all incidents that transpired after this date are not categorized as such.

Conspiracy Theories: This pertains to any incident of hate speech gathering that involved the propagation of prominent Hindu far-right conspiracy theories. As discussed above, such conspiracy theories have often helped fuel violence against Muslims. Below is a list and explanation of conspiracy theories that were included within this category:  

Love Jihad: Conspiracy theory which claims that Muslim men are luring Hindu women into marriage on false pretenses, in an attempt to convert them to Islam and help bring about Muslim dominance over Hindus in India. 

Land Jihad: The notion that Muslims are intentionally occupying public or government land by building religious structures or holding mass prayers on them. This conspiracy theory has been spread by several news channels and ruling-party politicians. 

Economic Jihad: The false and bigoted conspiracy theory that ordinary Muslim businesses and individuals are engaged in a coordinated effort to cause economic harm to Hindus. 

Halal Jihad: The conspiracy theory that Halal certifications are an attempt to harm Hindus and reflect a coordinated attempt to threaten the Indian economy and raise money for terrorism. 

Mazar Jihad: The conspiracy theory that Muslims intentionally build shrines (mazars) on government and forest land to claim the territory.

Thook Jihad: The conspiracy theory suggests that Muslims “spit” on Hindus to spread infectious diseases, such as Covid-19 and contaminate the food they cook.

Population Jihad: The bigoted conspiracy theory claims that there is some coordinated attempt by Muslims to become the majority community in India, overtaking Hindus. Based on the last census, Muslims only comprise 14% of India’s population. This includes Hindutva adaptations of the white-nationalist Great Replacement Theory, based on the false premise that the Muslim population in India will overtake the Hindu population. 

UPSC Jihad: This theory asserts that Muslims are “infiltrating” the Indian bureaucracy by gaming and manipulating the rules of national civil service exams organized by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC). In truth, Muslims have consistently been and continue to be underrepresented in the Indian bureaucracy. 

Fertilizer Jihad: The false notion that Muslim farmers are primarily responsible for the overuse of fertilizers in agriculture. Initially spread by the BJP chief minister of Assam, Himanta Biswa Sarma. 

Direct Call for Violence: Any incident involving a direct call to violence against Muslims. This includes any hate speech gathering which calls for inflicting physical harm against Muslims, vandalizing Muslim property, or attacking Muslim places of worship, such as mosques and shrines. 

Call for Boycott: Any incident which directly calls for the boycott and socio-economic ostracization of the Muslim community.  This includes calls to exclude Muslims from certain organizations and to economically shun Muslims, including through the boycott of Halal food products. 

Election-State: This category encompasses any hate speech event occurring in a state that conducted or is scheduled to conduct state legislative elections in the respective year. Research has indicated that the BJP receives significant electoral rewards for communal rioting, with such incidents being associated with an increase in the vote share for the party. Scholars of Hindutva have thus pointed to the tendency of the party to increase communal tensions through hate speech before key elections. This variable has been applied separately to state elections held or slated for both 2023 and 2024.

Speech by BJP Leaders: This codes for whether a leader from the BJP is the individual responsible for propagating hate speech. While many individuals in question are unofficially affiliated with the BJP, this category only includes cases in which a politician holds an official position within the BJP’s party structure or is a legislator (both state and national level) who represents the party. 

Speech Targeting Muslim Women: This category codes for hate and sexist speeches explicitly targeting Muslim women. 

Calls to Arms: This category indicates whether a hate speech event encourages Hindus to take up arms. It encompasses events where leaders advocate for Hindus to keep weapons in their homes or involve the direct distribution of such weapons. This is distinguished from calls for direct violence, which involve explicit calls to use these weapons and arms against Muslims.

These categories encompass different forms of Hindu nationalist rhetoric and the targeting of Muslims. Importantly, it should be noted that these categories are not mutually exclusive. Some incidents of hate speech can involve both the propagation of anti-Muslim conspiracy theories and also include a direct call for violence. 

Analysis

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. 

We 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.  

Categorizing 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 organizations 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.

Hate Speech Events are Primarily Organized by the RSS Affiliated Groups

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 organization 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 organizations are part of the broader Sangh Parivar or the Sangh Family. The Sangh Parivar, an umbrella term for several Hindu nationalist organizations led by the paramilitary group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), consists of the RSS, the BJP, the VHP, the Bajrang Dal and dozens of other organizations. 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 organizations helps ensure that BJP leaders can maintain plausible deniability about their actions, even though the organizations remain deeply connected.  Prime Minister Modi fiercely defended the organization 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 organization prominently involved in organizing hate speech events in Maharashtra was the Sakal Hindu Samaj. The organization, 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 organizations 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 organizations 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 Levels of Hate Speech Throughout 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 organizations to orchestrate violence on Ram Navami.

Hate Speech Events are 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.

Differences in Hate Speech in BJP vs Non-BJP Ruled States

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.

Note: This report was released in collaboration with India Hate Lab.

Authors: 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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