India Hate Lab (IHL)

Harvesting Hate: The Impact of Hate Speech in Rural India

By Deeksha Udupa

Parth M.N. is an award-winning journalist who reports on marginalized communities and social inequality in rural India for various Indian and international publications. In light of the surge in hate speech incidents, communal tensions, and violence, Parth M.N. shares insights into the ground realities of communal disharmony and the proliferation of hate speech in rural India. 

The conversation, edited for length and clarity, is as below.

Deeksha Udupa: You have reported extensively on anti-minority hate in rural India. How would you describe the nature and climate of hate in rural India? 

Parth MN: It is widespread, it is quite consistent, and it is concerted. One of the biggest things that I have noticed while traveling through rural India and particularly Maharashtra in the last one and a half years is that the smaller groups have made a concerted effort to keep the pot boiling (so the communal tensions are bubbling) in smaller villages. Since this remains within smaller villages and does not always lead to riots, it doesn’t make headlines. But at the end of the day, these issues continue, and few even culminate into riots. There is no doubt that regular rallies and speeches are being delivered to keep the communal tensions bubbling and polarize the atmosphere. 

DU: How would you describe the link between hate speech, hate crimes, and communal violence?

PMN: It is quite clear. There is hate speech, and within the next few days, the riot unfolds in that area. So, you can clearly see the modus operandi of right-wing groups. They worsen tensions through these Whatsapp forwards; more often than not, whenever there is a communal assault, you will find a communally charged hate speech being delivered by some right-wing leader in that village preceding that communal instance. You can clearly link the two. There is no doubt that hate speech is culminating in hate crimes. 

DU: Who are the purveyors of hate, especially when it comes to stoking anti-minority sentiments in rural India? What benefit do they drive out of it? 

PMN: These are all groups, particularly the right-wing groups that have existed for the longest time. They all enjoy political patronage. They are close to local BJP leaders and even state-level BJP leaders. They have existed for the longest time, but now because of the patronage that they enjoy and the support from the law enforcement that they benefit from, they’ve become louder and more active. In Maharashtra, for example, organizations like Shiv Pratishthan Hindustan, Hindu Ekta, Hindu Rashtra Sena, Sanatan Sanstha, of course, there is Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad — all of these groups have been active. In fact, Sanatan Sanstha has been accused of the murder of four rationalists. In the last ten years, many of their activities have increased multifold. 

DU: As significant part of rural India has access to the internet, what role does social media play in spreading this hate, especially platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram?

PMN: Everything is happening because of social media. Without social media, I don’t think the right-wing would be so intense and so effective. They’ve kept a parallel surveillance system of Muslim social media handles, so whenever they upload a photo of Aurangzeb or Tipu Sultan, for example,  someone is always keeping an eye on what they upload and what they don’t upload. So, on one side, there is a parallel surveillance system, and on the other side, you will find Hindus pretending to be Muslims on social media to land them in trouble. And of course, there are screenshots—most of the time, they are morphed—that are widely circulated across WhatsApp groups.This is used for polarization and to create a conducive atmosphere for rallies and protests where they deliver hate speeches, calls for economic boycotts, and extermination of Muslims.  This eventually leads to deadly attacks.

So, there is a definite connection between social media outrage, hate crimes, and riots. I am using the word ‘riot’, but more often than not, that’s not the case. It is one community assaulting the other. It is not even a riot because both communities have to be involved in a riot, but largely the right-wing Hindus plan attacks and target minorities. There is a clear-cut connection between social media and hate speech and hate crimes.DU: What role do you think law enforcement plays in that? 

PMN: Law enforcement very brazenly turns a blind eye. There have been instances where Muslims have approached law enforcement to take preventative measures in fear that something untoward might happen, but law enforcement has not done anything about it. There are many instances in which hate speech has gone completely unchecked: many instances where, even when there is a communal incident and facts show that one group has attacked the other, regardless, the law enforcement has filed FIRs against both groups. So, the conduct is extremely biased, and there is no longer faith in the rule of law, considering how the police operate. Muslims especially do not feel safe because of law enforcement. They do not trust that the police will protect them at all. Law enforcement is like an extension of the ruling government. 

DU: What impact are you seeing on the ground, especially when general elections are around the corner?

PMN: The Muslim community is always on edge; they don’t know what might happen next. I have also noticed that many people driving these communal and social tensions are young, aged between 20 and 30. The Hindu right-wing groups have tapped into these youngsters, who are mostly unemployed. They are the ones driving their entire narrative, whereas the older generation doesn’t approve of much of it. However, not many have the audacity or the courage to speak out against it either because they know that these groups have political patronage and power.

Consequently, the villages have become completely segregated. Muslims mind their own business; Hindus mind their own business. There used to be a time when both groups used to participate in each other’s festivals and weddings, but that has completely gone out of the window. Those who dined at each other’s homes now are limited to exchanging formal glances. Old friendships have been lost. The way people used to celebrate festivals and religion has completely changed.

It is a very sad state of affairs: in the last few years, a few people have managed to change the face of villages across most parts of India. Many Muslims have told me that their businesses have suffered losses because many of their Hindu customers no longer buy from them or come to their shops. In several cases, especially after the Supreme Court judgment on Ayodhya (In 2019, the Supreme Court of India awarded Hindus control over the historic Babri mosque, demolished by far-right Hindus in 1992), smaller mosques in rural Maharashtra have been attacked. They don’t get reported as it’s happening within a small village. The lack of faith in authorities and law enforcement is extremely evident.

DU: Considering that it is also an election year, do you see a difference in the social media content that is being put out? 

PMN: I don’t think there will be a difference in the content, but I think there will be a difference in content quantity. It will just get worse in the next three months. It will be far more polarized. I feel that it is going to get scarier. 

(Deeksha Udupa is a Research Fellow at India Hate Lab)

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