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Hate Speech & Conspiracy Theories: Targeting Muslims With 'Jihad' Claims

India Hate Lab recently documented 668 instances of hate speech against Muslims in India in 2023 alone.

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A recent report by India Hate Lab, a Washington DC-based group, documented 668 instances of hate speech against the Muslim community in India, all of which took place in 2023.

Averaging at two events per day, the report – titled 'Hate Speech Events in India' – said that 63 percent (420 instances) of all events mentioned conspiracy theories targeting Indian Muslims, which included warnings about various forms of 'jihad'.

According to the report, “Any kind of communication in speech, writing or behaviour, that attacks or uses pejorative or discriminatory language with reference to a person or a group on the basis of who they are, in other words, based on their religion, ethnicity, nationality, race, colour, descent, gender or other identity factor,” counts as hate speech.

Conspiracy theories, on the other hand, target and discriminate against individuals or certain groups of people, based on real and perceived threats.

The report also explores ‘dangerous speech’, which it defines as a “form of expression that can increase the risk that its audience will condone or participate in violence against members of another group.”

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Hate and the Various Kinds of ‘Jihad'

'Love jihad' – a term popularised by the Indian right-wing, which alleges Muslim men entrap Hindu women for forceful religious conversion – is often used to target young women.

Several right-wing outfits and leaders have used this term at public events, the former going as far as arming women with swords for demonstrations.

News organisations, too, have been responsible for broadcasting shows on these unfounded conspiracy theories.

In one case of violence, fueled by conspiracy theories, parents of a Muslim man were beaten to death in Uttar Pradesh's Sitapur, as their son was in an interfaith relationship.

Several BJP-led states have in legislative provisions to tackle this. However, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), helmed by BJP’s Amit Shah, has said that none of the country’s central agencies have reported any cases of ‘love jihad’.

India Hate Lab recently documented 668 instances of hate speech against Muslims in India in 2023 alone.

It mentioned that two cases of interfaith marriage were being investigated by the NIA.

(Source: MHA/Screenshot)

‘Land Jihad’ and Targeted Harassment

Maharashtra, which recorded the highest instances of hate speech, saw a massive rally against ‘land jihad’, organised by the Sakal Hindu Samaj, a collective of various pro-Hindutva groups.

The report by India Hate Lab identified the BJP’s T Raja Singh and far-right Hindu influencer Kajal Shingla, who goes by ‘Kajal Hindustani’ as the top three sources of dangerous speech. Both were present at rallies in Maharashtra, where 'love jihad' and 'land jihad' were brought up.

India Hate Lab recently documented 668 instances of hate speech against Muslims in India in 2023 alone.

Kajal Hindustani was the topmost source of hate speech.

(Photo: Namita Chauhan/The Quint)

Singh and Shingla also called for an economic boycott of the Muslim community, encouraging Hindus to shop only from fellow Hindus.

Starting off as "#ZameenJihad", the accusation that Muslims were waging a campaign to encroach Hindu-owned properties, or government land gave way to 'land jihad'.

This term made its way into public speeches by pro-Hindutva leaders, as well as politics, with Uttarakhand CM Pushkar Singh Dhami using it to talk about freeing up 5,000 acres of encroached land, claiming that it had been "grabbed through land jihad".

India Hate Lab recently documented 668 instances of hate speech against Muslims in India in 2023 alone.

This Times of India report, published on 30 December 2023, can be read here.

(Source: The Times of India/Screenshot)

Addressed at Dhami's level, conspiracy theories hold the power not only to drive belief in these hateful falsehoods, but also fuel violent extremism.

One such instance is a call to violence against Muslims which took place during a rally organised by right-wing group Bajrang Dal leader Monu Manesar and Gau Raksha Dal Haryana President Acharya Yogendra Maharaj.

The ‘land jihad’ theory took another form in Uttarakhand, where Radha Semwal Dhoni made it her personal mission to rid the state of mazars, or shrines, often put up by the Muslim community, but are visited by people of all faiths.

Dhoni, 45, does not restrict her ‘work’ to tearing down mazars, as seen in many of her Facebook posts. She has also targeted Christian NGO workers, Muslim vegetable sellers, going as far as pestering Hindu YouTubers who take secular stances on issues.

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'UPSC Jihad' and Misleading Statements

Among the many people who have targeted Muslims with ‘jihad’ is Sudarshan News’ editor-in-chief Suresh Chavhanke. The publication has previously been caught spreading mis- and disinformation, going as far as harassing shopkeepers over the language used on packaging material.

 Chavhanke’s channel has been pulled up by the courts for airing episodes about ‘UPSC jihad’, where he claimed that the civil services examinations system was set in a way which favoured candidates belonging to the Muslim community.

The episode, which aired as a part of Chavhanke’s show Bindas Bol, made several misleading statements, claiming that Muslims received a higher number of attempts, a higher upper age limit for appearing for exams, and ‘different treatment’. We dove into these claims and debunked each of them, which you can read here.

Sudarshan News has been a part of other conspiratorial (non-)issues as well.

In 2022, the channel’s reporter barged into a Haldirams’ outlet, accusing the popular food chain of attempting to ‘hide’ information by “giving Urdu text” in India, that too on a product which is widely consumed by the Hindu community while observing fasts.

Watch Quint Hindi’s video regarding the controversy, what was actually written behind the pack, and why it is mandated by law, here.

This accusation is part of a bigger conspiracy theory dubbed ‘halal jihad’, where some pro-Hindutva people and organisations call the existence of halal food and certifications a form of ‘economic jihad’.

These organisations, one of which is Hindu Jagruti Organisation (they have a whole book on ‘jihad’), call it an “attack on Indian economy,” claiming that the amount collected by halal certification boards and halal businesses “fund terrorism.”

BJP leader Tajinder Singh Bagga, who launched a 'jhatka' food chain in response to the demand for 'halal' food, suggested another form of '-jihad' in response to post on X.

A post by a user '@erbmjha', which has been called peddling misinformation in the past, showed a QR code for a vendor, mentioning how the displayed code showed a Hindu God, but reflected 'Saleem' after scanning, accusing the person of knowingly "hiding identity."

To this, Bagga asked, "Vyapar Jihad?" (Business jihad).

Muslim vendors have been harassed for their identities at shops, where customers have gone as far as vandalising stores after finding out that the vendor belonged to the Muslim community.

Dhoni, whose crusade against mazars has been lauded by the right-wing, has also followed suit in this matter, hounding a person at a juice shop, claiming that the man lied to her about his Hindu identity.

“We drank the juice and paid him via Google Pay and his mohemmadan (Muslim) name showed up – Ali. We don’t drink from a Mullah (Muslim). We have our Hindu brothers’ shops, we could just go to them,” Dhoni said, claiming that the man had initially said his name was 'Kamal'.

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Hindutva’s Version of India’s Population Replacement Theory

On 11 December 2024, in Madhya Pradesh’s Ujjain, Hindu religious leader Yati Narsinghanand Saraswati – who was sent to judicial custody over calls for genocide against Muslims at a ‘Dharam Sansad’ and his remarks against women in 2022 – claimed that Muslims were rapidly growing in number. In the same vein, a resurfacing claim on social media states that Muslim women are more fertile, because of which the Muslim population keeps steadily increasing in number.

 This population imbalance theory claim was also made by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat.

Both statements seek to spread fear among Hindus, with Narsinghanand asserting that Hindus would be forced to convert to Islam or leave India altogether.

The fertility claim, which has been previously debunked by Team WebQoof, is misleading. Data sourced from the government’s National Family Health Survey (NFHS) shows that while Muslim women still have the highest Total Fertility Rate (TFR) in India, it has declined over time.

This is furthered by the ‘population jihad’ conspiracy theory, which makes the same kinds of claims to spread false narratives.

Here, we see a post by X (formerly Twitter) user ‘Trunicle’, which shared a video of a man violating traffic laws by having three adults and three children on a two-wheeler.

Sharing the post, the user makes far-fetched claims of ‘population jihad’, claiming that the Muslim man is aware “that the policeman who will try to stop him will himself face suspension,” accusing him of “shamelessly mocking the law.”

These hate speech events which spread conspiracy theories are bolstered by legislation, and Union Ministers in Parliament.

After banning Halal certification in 2020, the Yogi Adityanath-led Uttar Pradesh government banned the sale of halal-certified products in his state in November 2023, making an exemption only for exports.

This came after a case was filed against halal certification of products, and the state’s BJP spokesperson calling it “an attempt to stoke communal tensions.”

Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, who has a history of making controversial statements regarding Muslims in his state, spread the idea of ‘Fertilizer jihad’, insinuating that Assam’s extensively use fertilizers to harm others in the state.

In an older report on conspiracy theories, The Quint had explored the reasons behind why people fell for, or shared conspiracy theories.

A research paper explored the impact of three different motives for people to share conspiracy theories, which were:

  • Bolstering their or their group’s beliefs (motivated sharing)

  • Generating collective action against their political outgroup after losing (sounding the alarm)

  • And mobilising people against a political system (need for chaos)

Trending hashtags on different kinds of 'jihad', people using gruesome instances as examples to warn Hindu girls, and the ever-increasing support for people like T Raja Singh, Dhoni, and Kajal Hindustani are all examples of how these motives work on the ground.

In an attempt to fight disinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic, the European Union shared a document about conspiracy theories. It highlighted the potential damage caused by unfounded theories.

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India Hate Lab recently documented 668 instances of hate speech against Muslims in India in 2023 alone.
  • These theories "identify an enemy and a secret plot," it said, which could spark a defence mechanism and lead to people justifying hate crimes.

  • Conspiracy theories can also be "exploited by violent extremist groups," which India has seen in the form of several mob lynchings after suspicions of cow slaughter.

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It added that conspiracy theories also made way to mistrust in public institutions and scientific information, potentially leading to "political apathy or radicalisation."

Conspiracy theories have found their way into literature as well, in the form books rife with misinformation, communal claims, and these theories.

The Quint dove into several claims made in a book titled 'Delhi Riots 2020: The Untold Story', which explored some parts of the 2020 communal riots which rocked Delhi.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

Read Latest News and Breaking News at The Quint, browse for more from news and webqoof

Topics:  Muslims   Jihad   Hate Speech 

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