Anti-Muslim hate speech reaches alarming levels in India ahead of 2024 elections

(Photo: Unsplash/Parth Savani)

A troubling rise in anti-Muslim hate speech has been documented across India by a new report from the India Hate Lab (IHL), a Washington D.C.-based research organisation. The report reveals that anti-Muslim rhetoric and conspiracy theories have penetrated mainstream Indian politics to an alarming degree as the country gears up for national elections in 2024.

The IHL tracked 668 hate speech events targeting Muslims in 2023 alone. Compared to 255 events in the first half of 2023, the number shot up 62% to 413 events in the last six months. An astounding 75% of these incidents occurred in states governed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The states of Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh together accounted for 43% of all documented hate speech events. However, the report notes that even smaller BJP-ruled states like Haryana and Uttarakhand saw a disproportionately high number of such events.

Two organisations closely linked to the BJP’s ideological mentor RSS, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal, were behind one-third of hate speech events recorded.

The report also uncovered a clear link between spikes in anti-Muslim rhetoric and recent state election campaigns between August-November 2023. The BJP made significant electoral gains in states like Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh during this period by aggressively pushing anti-minority narratives.

Of grave concern is the rampant proliferation of disproven conspiracy theories portraying Muslims as a threat to Hindus. 63% of all documented hate speech cited debunked claims like “love jihad,” “land jihad” and “population jihad” to vilify the minority community.

Since October 2023, the Israel-Gaza conflict has emerged as a new flashpoint used to stoke anti-Muslim hatred. 1 in 5 hate speech events recorded invoked the war to stereotype Indian Muslims as violent extremists.

Rights groups have long accused the BJP government of mistreating minorities and enabling a culture of impunity for violence against Muslims. They highlight laws like the controversial 2019 Citizenship Amendment Act, sweeping Kashmir autonomy repeal and the hijab ban in Karnataka as evidence of the government’s discriminatory agenda.

Prem Shukla, a national spokesperson for the BJP, dismissed the IHL report in an interview with Al Jazeera. He claimed the data presents a “biased picture” and that the BJP has only been opposing “Islamic fundamentalist forces.”

“The other so-called secular states are targeting the Hindu majority community by hate speeches, but no one will talk about it,” Shukla said over the phone to the media outlet.

He also alleged the IHL researchers “have sworn to destroy the BJP” and outright rejected the report’s findings and methodology as part of a politically motivated attempt to damage the party’s image.

The IHL report concludes that anti-Muslim hate speech has unfortunately become mainstream and normalised and expects such dangerous rhetoric to intensify as the BJP relies on religious polarisation as a key strategy to retain power in the 2024 elections.

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