India and International Hate Speech Day

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Once it was furtive, but now hate is let loose across India with Hindutva brigades of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), are openly discharging their venom against Muslims.  BJP leaders like Nupur Sharma and Naveen Jindal went one step further in their animosity against Muslims, as they made disparaging comments about the Holy Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him).

As United Nations observed the first International Day for Countering Hate Speech on June 18, this hate campaign seems to be a clear cut ploy intended to bulldoze the secular, pluralistic and democratic fabric of the Indian society as apart from Muslims, who comprise almost 14. 23 per cent of the Indian population, Adivasis, Dalits and Christians are not immune from Hindutva brigades venom either.

BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma, on May 26, made blasphemous remarks about Holy Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) during a TV discussion about Gyanvapi Mosque dispute in Varanasi. Her hate speech against the Holy Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him), let loose a wave of protests across India as such derogatory remarks were reckoned unacceptable not only by Muslims but large sections of the Indian civil society as well.

As soon as her remarks went viral via on social media, condemnations started to pour in not only from Indians but also several international governments with Arab world openly called for a boycott of the Indian products. Fearing backlash, India’s ruling BJP, suspended Nupur Sharma. Later her rhetoric was repeated by Naveen Jindal, media head of the party’s Delhi unit, who had also posted a provocative tweet about Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him). He was later expelled from the party. In order to  tame down the consequences of these derogatory comments, Indian diplomats across the world particularly Arab world described Sharma and Jindal as “fringe  elements”. The state machinery claimed that their views do not reflect the Indian government’s views.

It merits to mention here that during the show of TimesNow TV, Sharma was on the debate as spokesperson of India’s ruling party and not in her personal capacity, so it is a clear cut indicator that whatever she was uttering was in line with BJP’s policy.

Several FIRs have been filed against Sharma across India and when on June 16, a team of Mumbai Police which travelled to Indian capital New Delhi to serve a summon to Nupur Sharma, they could not find her and they had to eventually serve summons to her through email.

Enjoying impunity for the rhetoric against Holy Prophet (peace be upon him), Nupur Sharma has gone underground and as expected,  Muslims protested against these derogatory remarks in several parts of India. The demonstrations in BJP ruled states particularly, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan resulted in violence with two youngsters  reportedly shot dead by Indian police in Ranchi. On the other hand in order to punish the protesters, homes of some of them on accusations of either organising or participating in the protests were demolished, but no punishment has been awarded to Sharma and Jindal who still enjoy impunity.

The destructive consequences of this hate speech by Sharma and Jindal are what the UN General Assembly intended to warn against when on July 2021 it highlighted global concerns about “the exponential spread and proliferation of hate speech” around the world and adopted a resolution on “promoting inter-religious and intercultural dialogue and tolerance in countering hate speech”.

The resolution recognises the need to counter discrimination, xenophobia and hate speech and calls on all relevant actors, including states, to increase their efforts to address this phenomenon, in line with international human rights law.

However, mere condemnations and words are not enough. The case of Nupur Sharma and Naveen Jinda is a clear indication, that those in the power echelons across India like Yogi Adityanath are free to indulge in hate speeches and go scotch free. All is because, they know that they are toeing the official line. It is quite obvious that Indian government particularly the Hindutva brigade does not want to stop the agenda of hate being mainstreamed across the country and  instead is making every effort to further instigate and stir up hate because they know it reaps good yield during elections.

Although the resolution passed by the United Nations General Assembly in 2021 year designated June 18 as the International Day for Countering Hate Speech, which was marked for the first time this year. Three years ago, in May 2019, the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres in a statement said: “Around the world, we are seeing a disturbing groundswell of xenophobia, racism and intolerance – including rising anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim hatred and persecution of Christians. Social media and other forms of communication are being exploited as platforms for bigotry.”  “Hate is moving into the mainstream – in liberal democracies and authoritarian systems alike. And with each broken norm, the pillars of our common humanity are weakened. Hate speech is a menace to democratic values, social stability and peace. As a matter of principle, the United Nations must confront hate speech at every turn.”

The situation across India is truly reflective of what Guterres said three  years ago. The question however, is to ponder how Narendra Modi led Indian government is going to mark this day.

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Disclaimer: India and International Hate Speech Day - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect point-of-view

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