31, Dec 2018 | CJP team
In a long tradition of fighting hate and its commitment to secular and peace enforcing values, right from the Bombay riots of 92-93, Gujarat massacre of 2012 and Ayodhya dispute, CJP kept its #JungJaari to combat hate, acrimony and online vitriol. Even as sane voices kept drowning in mainstream media’s high pitched supposedly nationalist and jingoistic rhetoric, human rights bodies such as the CJP have played the role of the conscience keeper and enforcers of love and peace between communities. Here is how we fought hate in 2018.
Despite differences, a common element, as highlighted in a recent paper titled “Extreme Speech Online: An Anthropological Critique of hate Speech Debates”, throughout the discourse of hate speech is the “disparagement of other groups based on their belonging to a particular collective identity.” As argued by Waldron in 2012, hate speech has chiefly two characteristics, “first is to dehumanize members who belong to another group, and the second is to reinforce the boundaries of the in-group against the out-group by attacking the members from the other group.”
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Such an understanding gives us clarity over the kind of hate speech, extreme speech and vitriolic speech that ensues before any possible conflict on the ground. Here it becomes important to act as a watch-dog and conscience keeper of the online space in order to preempt many probable conflicts that snowball into extreme situation after a trigger online.
India, digital space and hate
India is one of the fastest growing digital markets in the world today. With a population of 300 million Internet users, India is next only to China and the United States. It’s a well known fact that a large number of Internet users in India come from the middle class and the upper classes, however the spread of cheap and affordable smartphones in recent years had broadened the base and now the digital media space is also available to rural populations. The new media growth has been around multiples agendas namely development, governance, leisure and politics, however one interesting and somewhat threatening practice that has caught public attention is the growing invective language and abusive exchange on social media platforms. “Online vitriol has recharged public concerns over hate speech, ans century old legal provisions are hastily reworked to address the digital age,” note Matti Pohjonen and Sahana Udupa in their paper.
Far from being a unilateral play-field, hate speech has had a “chequered course of protection and restriction both within the domain of state sanctioned institutions and the broader social field.”
Proponents of right-wing ideology relying upon religious supremacism, and advocating the cause of a Hindu rashtra have figured prominently is a culture increasingly moving towards abuse and hate. Acrimonious and scathing messages against Muslims and Christians, laced with hyper-masculinist gendered rhetoric has been often used to insult, hurt and give calls for major violence in order to ‘protect and save’ the majoritarian community. Such people even have condemned the cause of secularism and have often resorted to accusing intellectuals and activists with liberal ideologies as “appeasing” the minority community.
However, all is not grim today. We, at CJP have learnt that when the state is lagging behind in being able to curb incidents of hate, citizens can actually do A LOT to reinforce ideals of peace.
Hate on Social Media
- In February 2018, CJP filed a complaintwith National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) over violence in central Uttar Pradesh’s Kasganj Kasbah town, where a Tiranga Yatra was held on January 26, Republic Day. CJP closely monitored the situation, and acquired videos and extracts of Facebook posts suggesting an agenda to inflame communal tensions. CJP also received detailed grievances from local members of the minority community in Kasganj, which it submitted to the NHRC and called on the commission to conduct a dispassionate and thorough investigation to re-establish people’s faith in the rule of law
- In February, CJP found that in western Uttar Pradesh’s Amroha, social media posts and local newspaper reports found an alleged conspiracy to change the name of the area from Gautam Nagar to Islam Nagar, an attempt at stoking tensions between Dalits and Muslims. Then, too, CJP approached the NHRC with a complaint, calling for an NHRC inquiry into the social media posts, and asking the commission to urge to Uttar Pradesh Cyber Cell to investigate them as well.
- In October, multiple Facebook profiles allegedly belonging to members of the Hindu Yuva Shakti Sangathan, have shared inflammatory content on Facebook, containing threats against the Christian community in Varanasi. It was members of this group that allegedly vandalised the 200-year-old St. Thomas Churchin Godaulia on October 2, 2018. CJP wrote to the NHRC and Facebook highlighting the grave situation, which led to inflammatory videos being taken offline.
- More recently, in December CJP’s hate watch found out on social media about Deepak Sharma, a Hindutva activist who claims to be from Jaipur but, according to the police, lives in Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras district. Founder of Rashtriya Swabhimaan Dal (RSD), an organisation that ostensibly works to ‘protect’ the interests of the ‘Hindu dharma’’ and the nation’, Sharma gained notoriety when he “released a video where he beat up a young boy, and accused him of creating memes or ‘maymays’, as he called them, about his religion. The self-proclaimed protector of Hinduism (in fact a politicised version of the faith) beat on the defenceless boy, while threatening other such meme creators. Sharma is extensively involved in fomenting hate against minority communities and has given calls for violence on social media. CJP’s vigilant team has filed a complaint with NHRC, UP DGP and Facebook’s public policy director of India and South & Central Asia.
Hate on the Streets
- Earlier this year, CJP stood up against the communal Rath Yatra that was mounted by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its affiliates in February, even as the Supreme Court was hearing the Ayodhya dispute case. Recalling the last Rath Yatra of 1990, and its aftermath, in which the Babri Masjid was demolished, sparking communal riots, CJP appealed to the public for supportfor its petition against the 2018 Rath Yatra, and called for peaceful protests at each of its stops.
- Hate speech before Bhima Koregaon violence: CJP did an extensive research highlighting the hate speeches and a history of fomenting hate and violence on one of the two accused, Milind Ekbote named in the primary FIR filed in the case of violence at Bhima Koregaon memorial on January 31.
Hate on Popular/ Mainstream TV
In July 2018, CJP’s Hate Watch took note of a Zee News show, called ‘Kya Kehta Hai India’ that aired a poetry meet, or kavi sammelan, a staple for Hindi news channels. This particular segment featured poets discussing Kashmir, and engaging in divisive discourse, and calling for widespread violence against the population of Jammu and Kashmir, with no regard to the hatred they were propagating and no sensitivity regarding the potential impact of such propaganda.
CJP President Anil Dharker and CJP Secretary Teesta Setalvad have written to the Zee Media Corporation, calling on the company to issue an appropriate apology to the Indian public for carrying such violence-inducing content, and violating basic media ethics and standards. Unfortunately, this particular programme is not an isolated incident, but one in a long list of similar broadcasts that have featured unconscionable hate speech and propaganda.
Role of State
It is clear that state must play a regulatory role in curbing hate speech. However, in India we see an almost reverse trend. In April 2018, the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR) and National Election Watch (NEW), released a report listing the MPs and MLAs who had cases of hate speech filed against them. Notably, most of the lawmakers were from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP): 10 out of the 15 MPs the report highlighted were from the BJP, while this was the case for 27 out of the 43 MLAs that were singled out.
Combating hate speech
Despite the grim picture of rising incidents of hate speech, especially online vitriol metamorphosing into actual incidents of violence, there is still a lot that can be done.
Apart from activists and the media; ordinary citizens can and should take steps to fight it. Any citizen can take legal action against hate speech by filing an FIR under Section 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC). The first step towards acting on hate speech is to be alert in order to monitor/ tape/video–tape the entire text of such a speech. Sections 153A and 153B of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) oblige the state to prosecute those guilty of such violations. Section 295 of the CrPC is also a section that can be invoked whenever there are deliberate attempts to disrupt communal harmony. CJP urges you to take steps to fight hate speech, to ensure more peaceful dialogue. For more about registering a complaint over hate speech, and for a format for such a complaint, go here.
What can You do to combat hate speech in Mainstream media
Citizens themselves can take action against such instances by filing a complaint against news channels with the News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA), a separate and independent body established by the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) to consider such complaints. To learn more about how you can file a complaint, go here.
Write to the Social Media platforms
Social media platforms have taken cognisance of civil society concerns, governmental injunctions, and international conventions on hate speech.
One example is Facebook, which states that “Content that attacks people based on their actual or perceived race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or disease is not allowed” (Facebook, 2017).” Google YouTube’s terms of service admit similarly that there is a “fine line” between what is hate speech and what is not. So, it declares, “It is generally okay to criticize a nation, but not okay to post malicious hateful comments about a group solely based on their race” (YouTube, 2017). Twitter’s terms of service narrows down the definition to abuse that threatens safety (Wang, 2013).
Watchful citizens must write to the regulatory authorities if they come across such content.
We strongly believe that citizens’ initiatives will play a crucial role in actually curbing hate and hope for an year of more watchful reportage, conscientious dialogue building processes and an alert mind-set to control hate everywhere.