Hate crimes on the rise in India, says fact-checking group

India has seen a rise in hate crimes in recent times. According to a fact check initiative FactChecker, 99 people have lost their lives in 289 incidents over the past 10 years. This year alone, three people have died in 11 incidents. Most of the victims belonged to minority communities.

India mob lynching

Members of different Muslim Organization condemn the recent attacks against Muslims and mob lynching, in Bangalore, India, 29 June 2019. Source: AAP

In June this year, a video was circulated of a young Muslim man in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand, being brutally beaten by a mob before being handed over to police.

Tabrez Ansari, aged 24, was accused of stealing and was seen being forced to chant the phrase Jai Shree Ram (victory to Hindu God Ram).  He later died in hospital.

Tabrez was the 18th victim of mob violence in Jharkhand in the past three years.
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Protesters demand an end to violence after Tabrez Ansari was beaten to death in Kharsawan district in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand. Source: AAP

Just days later a teacher from West Bengal alleged that he was beaten and pushed off a moving train in West Bengal by a group of men after refusing to say the phrase Jai Shri Ram, and in Mumbai a Muslim taxi driver was beaten up by a group of men, again asking him to say the phrase.

Tabrez Ansari's case prompted first-time Member of Parliament, Mahua Moitra, to refer to it in her debut speech in the Indian parliament, in which she talked about seven "danger signs of early fascism" in India.

"There is a ten-fold increase in the number of hate crime from 2014 to 2019. It is like the valuation of an e-commerce startup. There are forces in this country who are sitting there, just pushing these numbers up," Mahua Moitra said, who gave examples of lynchings of citizens in broad daylight.

"The list is not stopping," she said.

South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, Meenakshi Ganguly, says all the concerns that Ms Moitra raised in her speech are legitimate and should be addressed.

"We are witnessing an unfortunate rise in incidents where groups, or even members of the public, believe that they can determine guilt and choose to punish. It suggests a breakdown in the rule of law. But in addition, in a number of cases, the authorities, have ignored and failed to punish those that engage in such violent attacks, thus fuelling further lawless behaviour," Ms Ganguly told SBS Hindi.

According to , India's first dedicated fact check initiative, between January 2009 and June 25 this year, 288 hate crimes were recorded. 

"Hate Crime Watch tracks religious-bias motivated hate crimes across the country, and the patterns show a rise in the number of such cases reported," Alison Saldanha, Associate Editor of FactChecker, told SBS Hindi.

"Religious minorities account for nearly 75 per cent of the victims, while the majority Hindus account for about a sixth of the victims. In about 23 per cent of the cases, cases are filed against the victims too." 

"In over 80 per cent of the cases, the perpetrators involve Hindus - a significant number of whom are affiliated with right-wing groups.

"Cow-protection features as one of the most common pretexts or causes for such violence - the others being interfaith relationships and communal clashes sparked over minor disputes," said Ms Saldanha.

"The trends indicate a rising polarization on religious lines that often spills out into violence."
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Protest by Muslim organisations and students against the wave of violence, June 2019. Source: AAP

Narendra Modi said the death of Tabrez Ansari pained him.

"I am pained, and those responsible will get stringent punishment, but it is wrong on the part of the Opposition to call Jharkhand a hub of lynching as that is akin to insulting all the people in the state," he said in parliament.

"We call on the Indian government to take concrete actions that will prevent this kind of violence. Lack of accountability will only encourage those who believe they can target religious minorities with impunity.” 

However, his BJP is often accused of defending the perpetrators of mob-lynching incidents.

Member of Indian Parliament and formerly a union minister, Jayant Sinha, was criticized last year after he met eight people convicted in a lynching case in Jharkhand. He went ahead and garlanded the convicts after they were released on bail by a higher court.

"Those were innocents, and I didn't do any wrong by garlanding them," Mr Sinha was quoted saying by NDTV.

Concern over religious freedom

In 2018 the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom found a continuing downward trend in religious freedom in India. 

Although India has a long history as a secular democracy where religious communities of every faith have thrived, the report stated, "this history of religious freedom has come under attack in recent years with the growth of exclusionary extremist narratives—including, at times, the government’s allowance and encouragement of mob violence against religious minorities—that have facilitated an egregious and ongoing campaign of violence, intimidation, and harassment against non-Hindu and lower-caste Hindu minorities."

Alison Saldanha points to a pattern.

"Over the last couple of years, especially, we have seen people in positions of power/political representatives use inflammatory language wantonly. This has served to further rouse sentiments. In some cases politicians have even brazenly defended perpetrators of such violence, sending out a clear message that there will be no consequences," she said.
FactChecker hate crimes in India
Source: FactChecker

Ms Ganguly adds that many political leaders have failed to condemn vigilante actions by their supporters.

"The authorities have misused laws to crack down on dissent, arresting activists, shutting down access to funding, accusing people in trumped-up cases ranging from conspiracy against the state, sedition, or financial impropriety," she said.

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5 min read
Published 4 July 2019 at 4:35pm
By Vivek Kumar