Mumbai: In 254 religious identity-based hate crimes reported in India between January 1, 2009, and October 29, 2018, at least 91 persons were killed and 579 were injured, according to a new FactChecker.in database, released on October 30, 2018. About 90% (229) of these attacks were reported after May 2014, when the current Bharatiya Janata Party-led government assumed power nationally.
The Citizen’s Religious Hate-Crime Watch (Hate Crime Watch, in short) records that Muslims, who comprise 14% of India’s population, were the victims in 62% of cases (158 of 254) and Christians, 2% of the population, in 14% (35) of cases.
Hindus, constituting the majority or 80% of the population, were victims in 10% (25) of the cases.
Sikhs (1.7% of population) were victims in 2% or four recorded cases.
In 20 cases, the crimes were communal clashes prima facie motivated by a religious bias, where the victims’ religious identity could not be clearly ascertained from the news reports.
Of the 172 cases in which the religion of the alleged perpetrator is known, 86% cases involved Hindus (148 cases), Hate Crime Watch shows. In 13% or 22 cases, the attackers were Muslim. In 82 cases, the religion of the attacker was not known.
Hate Crime Watch is a multi-organisation effort steered by FactChecker.in, in collaboration with Aman Biradari, a people’s campaign for secularism, justice and compassion based in New Delhi, and NewsClick.in, a public-interest journalism non-profit. On the advisory board of the project are Ajit Prakash Shah, chairperson of the 20th Law Commission of India and former chief justice of the Delhi High Court; Chaman Lal, Padma Shri, former director general of police and former special rapporteur of the National Human Rights Commission; Maja Daruwala, senior advisor to the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative; and Mrinal Satish, professor at the National Law University, Delhi, and executive director of the university’s Centre for Constitutional Law, Policy and Governance.
The data collection for Hate Crime Watch is modelled on other similar experiments across the world. In this first phase, we have collated and cross-verified reports of religious hate crime from English-language print and online media sources across India. We recognise that a large majority of hate crimes do not get reported, so these findings are based on information that we have been able to collect for this evolving database.
English language media tend to have the widest national coverage, are easily verifiable and hold up to scrutiny. We recognise that linguistic limitations may lead to some undercounting. However, Hate Crime Watch does not aspire to be an exhaustive record of all hate crimes committed in the country. It is an effort to document the rising incidence of hate crime and identify patterns in order to inform public understanding. We hope the state will take notice, take action, and also start recording and reporting such crime, which it does not at present.
“Currently, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), India, does not identify and record hate crimes or lynchings separately since there are no specific laws to deal with such crimes,” legal scholar Upendra Baxi, Padma Shri, professor of law at the University of Warwick and former vice chancellor of the Universities of South Gujarat and Delhi, told FactChecker.in.
“Hate crimes and lynchings are recorded using various sections of India’s criminal codes. But in recording them this way, they [law enforcement agencies] don’t see the pattern of violence, they only see it as ordinary crime,” Baxi said. “To identify the pattern, we have to do away with this deconstructed version, go back to the original log, and view it with a new understanding.”
“The database is not against the political class, rather it is an attempt for the rest of society to understand how a spurt in crime at one time has high visibility and another has low visibility–then you make your connections–which the NCRB should be doing since it is the best authority on such data,” Baxi said. “India has great potential for national planning using national statistics, especially since the 1990s with greater efforts dedicated to collecting more data.”
This is the third database related to hate crimes maintained by FactChecker.in, the other two being Hate Crime: Cow-related Violence in India and Mob Violence Based On Rumours Of Child Lifting, launched on December 8, 2017, and July 9, 2018, respectively. The remit of other two is restricted to particular kinds of violence: The former motivated by religious biases, the latter an outcome of mob hysteria. The new database, Hate Crime Watch, is wider and records all types of hate crimes based on the actual or perceived religious identity of the victim(s), including cow-related violence. In focusing on crime motivated specifically by religious bias, the database does not include hate crimes based on gender, sexuality, caste or other forms of identity-based discrimination.
Incidents where the number of people injured was unclear, and were described by words such as “several” or “unknown” were counted as one person injured.
In 55 fatal attacks, alleged perpetrators outnumbered victims
Excluding cases of vandalism in which newspapers tend not to report the number of perpetrators or their identity, in all fatal and non-fatal cases recorded in the database, the attackers outnumber victims.
In at least 55 reported crimes, the attackers not only outnumbered but also fatally assaulted a single victim. Muslims formed 76% of those killed in such attacks (in 42 cases).
The first such case was recorded in 2013 when a Muslim religious leader, Maulana Ruhul Quddus, was killed by a group of people in Canning, West Bengal, where the All India Trinamool Congress was (and continues to be) in power. Quddus was murdered after an argument over the content of his speeches, delivered at different gatherings in the area in the days preceding the attack, The Indian Express reported on February 19, 2013.
Geographically, Uttar Pradesh (UP), India’s largest state, home to over 200 million people, recorded the highest number of hate crimes, with 57 cases. Karnataka followed with 23 cases and Rajasthan with 22.
The most fatalities were also recorded in UP (21), followed by Jharkhand (12) and Rajasthan (9).
Most non-fatal hate crimes were recorded in Bihar, UP and Madhya Pradesh, where at least 128, 104 and 70 persons had been reportedly injured, respectively.
Dakshina Kannada in Congress-run Karnataka, with 10 separate reported incidents, is the district with the highest reporting of hate crimes across the country. Four of these 10 hate crimes were reported in 2018 itself, ahead of the state elections held from May 7-12, 2018. The first was recorded on January 2, 2018, when two college-going girls, one Hindu and one Christian, were beaten up by a group of men who allegedly belonged to the Hindu Jagarana Vedike, a right-wing Hindutva-inspired organisation, for spending time with Muslim male friends at a zoo in Mangaluru. The attackers, all men, continued to assault one of the girls even after the intervention of a police constable, according to this Hindustan Times report.
The riot-torn western UP districts of Muzaffarnagar, and Meerut–under BJP state governments–follow after, with six separate religion-based hate crimes reported from the same district each.
In Muzaffarnagar earlier this year, a young Muslim man, Aqib Qazi (22), was assaulted and his motorcycle set on fire by the neighbours of a Hindu girl he had visited. Members of a right-wing outfit had joined the neighbours in attacking Qazi. When the girl’s family tried to stop the mob, they were beaten, too–including a minor girl who was present in the house at the time of the attack, the Times of India had reported on February 17, 2018. Muzaffarnagar had witnessed a wildfire of communal riots in 2013, which had displaced more than 50,000 Muslims.
66% attacks in states with a BJP govt
More than half of these hate crimes–66% or 167 cases–have been reported from states run by the BJP, which is in power in 19 of the 29 states in India as well as at the Centre, either on its own or in an alliance with a regional party. About 15% of crimes (39 cases) have been reported in Congress-run states.
In 148 or 58% cases, details of the attackers’ political affiliations were not known or reported. However, among the rest (106 cases), a significant 83% (88 cases) involved attackers allegedly affiliated with Hindutva-inspired right-wing groups including the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Shiv Sena, Bajrang Dal, Hindu Yuva Vahini and Vishwa Hindu Parishad, among others.
In eight specific cases, the attackers were reported to be part of or related to the BJP directly.
The Bajrang Dal, particularly, was alleged to be involved in 30 cases–the most among all right-wing groups, Hate Crime Watch shows. Except for one incident each in 2009 and 2010, all attacks involving Bajrang Dal members as alleged perpetrators took place after 2014.
In the latest case, Dipender Prakash, a Christian pastor, was beaten up by Bajrang Dal activists inside court premises in Sardhana town in Meerut district of UP, for allegedly trying to convert 11 people to Christianity. Sardhana police arrested the pastor under Section 151 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (which allows for preventive arrests without a warrant), the Times of India reported on June 19, 2018. The news report does not mention if the police also registered a case of assault against the activists.
In 23 cases recorded in Hate Crime Watch so far, the police had not filed a first information report (FIR, a written document prepared by the police when they receive information about the commission of a cognizable offence) against the perpetrator. In 46 cases, it was not known if the police had filed an FIR.
“Even after an FIR is registered, there is a delay in initiating an investigation into the crime and arrests are affected only after societal pressure is exerted,” Chaman Lal told FactChecker.in.
On the other hand, in at least 21% or 53 cases, FIRs have also been filed against the victim. This is similar to police practice in bovine-related hate crimes–in about a third (30%) of cases recorded in Hate Crime: Cow-related Violence in India, police arrested the victims too.
Due to limited information available in another 22% of hate crimes (55 cases), it is unclear if action had been taken against the victims.
Pretexts for assault
Hate Crime Watch recorded at least 36 crimes committed over a bias against interfaith relationships. In 64% or 23 such cases, the victims involved were Muslim.
In 14 hate crimes, the pretext was a perceived “insult to religion”.
At least 23 hate crimes were committed over allegations of forced conversion. In at least 18 of these cases (78% or over three-fourths), the victims were Christian.
A significant 30% or 74 cases were related to cow protection, in which at least 87% of the victims were Muslim. In 72 cases (28%), the pretext for the attack was unclear–involving incidents such as vandalism of religious shrines and attacks with no apparent provocation, while some others listed reasons such as allegations of theft, and revenge. We listed the pretext for these incidents as ‘Other’.
In one of the latest fatal cow-related hate crimes, reported from Biswanath, Assam, early on the morning of August 16, 2018, an adivasi (tribal) man was lynched and three others injured after a mob, mistaking the victims to be Muslims, assaulted them on suspicion of cattle theft, The Indian Express reported on August 17, 2018. Police claimed they had recovered two cows along with a ‘tempo’ (pick-up vehicle) that the victims were travelling in. The survivors, however, said they had been trying to buy pigs when some 30 people attacked them.
In a video circulated after the crime, the mob asks the blood-soaked victims, “What are you all doing here so late in the night?” One of the victims replies, “We had come to buy pigs.” The mob then screams back at them saying, using a pejorative term to say Muslims do not deal in pigs. Upon this, one of the victims swears that he is not a Muslim as the mob proceeds to assault him and his group, The Indian Express reported on August 17, 2018.
It is not known if the police have taken action against the mob yet.
What this means for India
The pattern of rising crimes recorded in Hate Crime Watch indicates growing animosity between different religious groups, and a sense of impunity among Hindutva-inspired groups, human rights experts say.
“Let’s remember that when the Klu Klux Klan carried out attacks against the blacks in America ahead of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, they had the patronage of society, politicians, the legislature,” Maja Daruwala told FactChecker.in. “They were recognised as a deeply wounded or offended lot and let off by the state. Indeed in all such hate crimes, there appears to be an inherent sense of victimisation, a sense of revenge, and a sense of justification.”
The significant percentage of crimes where perpetrators may not be booked (27%), or where victims are booked as well (21%), draws an eerie parallel in India.
Supporters of rough justice, or extralegal punishment for perceived crimes, believe the power to dispense real justice–often administered in communal, ritualistic and performative ways–lies with the community, wrote Michael Pfeiffer in his 2004 book Rough Justice: Lynching and American Society, 1874-1947. Pfeiffer is a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in the City University of New York, whose research and teachings focus on the history of American and global collective violence and criminal justice. On studying the spate of lynchings in America between 1874 and 1947, Pfeiffer found that for many rural and working-class people, law only had value as far as it served to “preserve order”–that is, uphold the “hierarchical prerogatives of the dominant residents of the locality”.
“They came to believe that a “higher law” could be invoked to justify lethal violence that served the purposes that formal law would not,” Pfeiffer wrote.
Such spectacles of public anger, action and agency achieve a particular set of effects, wrote Nandanna Dutta of Gauhati University in a 2017 book Pfeiffer edited, Global Lynching and Collective Violence. She enumerated these effects as: “a tacit justification of mobocracy as a part of democratic processes; an image of collective agency that the legal system itself does not offer; a moral spectacle of the triumph of right (self-professed) over wrong”. A similar process is at work in India when people first witness these spectacles of violence and then make the crossover into perpetration, Dutta wrote.
If the first crime is suppressed immediately, it would have inhibited the second crime from happening and the third and the fourth, Daruwala said, adding, “The obvious impunity for the string of crimes that have taken place and their hugely shameful valorisation by some leaders is distinctly a strong factor in their continuation.”
Common people commit crimes
While a significant number of crimes were allegedly perpetrated by persons affiliated with hardline groups, in two-thirds of the cases (161 or 63%), the perpetrators were not reported to be linked to any group. Further, in more than a third (34% or 86) of the cases recorded by Hate Crime Watch, the pretexts for these crimes were minor disputes and attacks fuelled by no apparent provocation (listed in the database as ‘Other’, as we said).
Coupled together, this reveals a significant number of hate crimes committed by everyday citizens across the country, who may otherwise hold a regular bias against certain religious communities but have now given it violent expression.
“Mobs do not come out of nowhere; they are the logical outgrowths of dominant assumptions and prevalent thinking,” wrote American sociologist Arthur F. Raper in the 1933 book, The Tragedy of Lynching, which analysed more than 20 lynchings that occurred in the U.S. during 1930. “Lynchings are not the work of men suddenly possessed of strange madness; they are the logical issue of prejudice and lack of respect for law and personality.”
This was also noted in criminologist Nathan Hall’s study of hate crimes in his 2005 book, Hate Crime (Crime and Society Series). Recognising that hate crimes are predominantly “low-level” offences, often committed by “ordinary” people rather than by “extremists”, Hall wrote, “There is a ‘normality’ to everyday hate crime that carries with it the rather uncomfortable reality that the majority of hate offenders are not hate-fuelled bigots who actively seek out their victims in a calculated and premeditated manner, but rather are ‘people like us’ who offend in the context of their everyday lives.”
This offers some explanation for the rise of various kinds of mob violence in India.
Since January 2017, India has reported at least 77 cases of mob violence over child-lifting rumours–69 cases were reported in 2018 alone. In these attacks, 38 persons have been killed and at least 123 injured, according to Mob Violence Based On Rumours Of Child Lifting, the FactChecker.in database that records such crimes. Prior to this, the only such case reported in the recent past was in 2012.
In all cases, the victims, purportedly outsiders to the community, were lynched on mere suspicion of kidnapping, even as the mob, comprising local residents of the village or town, had no proof.
Lynching is not a phenomenon of just one nation or one society, wrote Baxi in this blog post on constitutional and comparative law, from September 14, 2018. “In cases of xenophobic and communal lynching, one person’s body becomes a site of history. The person is not lynched for his or her own conduct, but for the past conduct of others. In allowing this to happen the administration and the law proceeds to become a programme of revenge.”
Taking cognizance of this growing spate of collective lethal violence, the Supreme Court, on July 17, 2018, urged parliament to enact a new law to deal with the offence of lynching. “Citizens cannot take the law into their hands or become the law unto themselves,” the court had said, emphasising that “horrendous acts of mobocracy” could not become the new norm.
Nearly a month later, on August 12, 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had finally addressed the issue of mob violence in the country, following months of silence which had been widely criticised as offering implicit inducement to perpetrators.
“I want to make it clear that mob lynching is a crime, no matter the motive. No person can, under any circumstances, take the law into his or her own hands and commit violence,” Modi had said in an email interview with the Times of India, adding that a high-level committee chaired by the union home secretary had been set up to deliberate upon the matter and make recommendations.
“Our government has issued very clear advisories to states on this issue,” the prime minister had said, adding, “I also expect that everyone–society, people at large, government and government functionaries and political parties–have a duty to fight this menace.”
“It [primer minister’s statement] is very parse, very vague and belated,” lawyer, constitutional law expert and political commentator A.G. Noorani told FactChecker.in. “Compare it to former U.S. President Barack Obama’s condemnation of racial hate crimes in America or Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s strong condemnation of communal violence–it is not enough.”
“I welcome the prime minister’s statement; now, everybody–all chief ministers, and political representatives too–must say they condemn this sort of violence,” said Baxi, who was part of the committee that drafted the Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill, 2011.
“Crimes based on ethnic identity are unacceptable in a society governed by the rule of law,” Baxi said. “Whatever be your politics, the law does not allow individuals to use violence of social exclusion–it is not permitted.”
He added that if the government truly wants to combat this ‘violence of social exclusion’, it must immediately enact a law against lynching. “We already have the bill in the lower house of Parliament–it has not been withdrawn. It just needs some tweaks and it can be passed in the winter session if they want to.”
Towards understanding religion-based hate crime
“Today, relationships between Hindus and other minority and marginalised groups, especially Muslims and Dalits, are in flux, with these communities now coming forward to assert their rights, unlike before when they resigned themselves to living in the shadows,” Lal said, pointing out that larger socio-economic and political changes are underfoot, which necessitate recognising the documenting hate crimes as a separate category.
To understand why India is finding itself in the throes of religion-based hate violence at this juncture, we believe it is important to first document and analyse the scale and patterns of hate crimes.
For the purpose of this database, as we said, we collated data on crimes motivated partly or wholly by prejudice against the actual or perceived religion of the victim(s) that are recognised under the Indian Penal Code (IPC). While the National Crime Records Bureau and the Ministry of Home Affairs do collect data on caste violence, encounter killings and terror incidents, they do not recognise religious identity-based hate crimes as a distinct category of crime to be addressed in India. Currently, these hate crimes are lost under various sections such as rioting, arson and attempt to murder or murder, making it difficult to estimate the scale of violence motivated by religious bias.
“Hate crime is nothing new,” wrote Hall, adding that several reasons underpinning the emergence of hate crime as a contemporary social problem are in need of specific attention. Whilst ‘identity politics’ plays a significant role in the new focus on hate crimes, “much of this formal recognition is based on very real concerns about the long-standing and disproportionate victimisation of people based upon aspects of their core identity”, wrote Hall.
“We cannot speak of hate crimes, eyes closed, with conviction, if we do not have data,” said Baxi. “We have to understand the pattern of violence, the rise and fall, study the ebbs and flows and the surrounding circumstances. What do the data mean when perpetrators become victims? And when victims become perpetrators? This requires a movement against targeted violence that is led by the entire political class–unitedly–and by all major NGOs,” Baxi said. “In the future, the data should be there, we should not have to look for it in newspapers to compile it,” he added.
A NOTE FROM OUR ADVISORS
A.P. Shah: If we are to see an end to hate crime in our society, one necessary condition is for credible, evidence-based and impartial data about the extent and nature of hate crimes across the country. This is what this portal tries to accomplish.
Chaman Lal: A hate crime is not merely an attack on the body, property or liberty of an individual, but creates a climate of terror and hatred. It impinges on our freedom, and is a threat to our constitutional values, our democracy. It must therefore be recorded as a separate category of crime. By merely listing these crimes under generic sections of the IPC, the NCRB and the police fail to understand its implications. The increasing magnitude of the problem shows that the act of a hate crime is committed by an act of commission, omission, abetment, negligence and inaction.
Maja Daruwala: There is no question that hate crimes as well as other crimes need to be documented because a study of such data should tell us what kind of reaction the police, legislature and bureaucracy should have to prevent their recurrence. Hate crimes are a particular evil that must be quashed at the core, especially in a country that prides itself on diversity and syncretism, where religious beliefs have not been watertight but sponge-like, absorbing differences. The state’s failure in not taking action against people who openly valourise hate crimes amounts to encouragement. If trust is lost in the state, this democracy will weaken and die.
Mrinal Satish: Documenting instances of hate crime across the country is an essential task. Having data on instances of hate crime can help in making targeted interventions. This can be through legislative reform, improved policing, community-based efforts, and other interventions based on local needs. Most importantly, trends and data can also be used to educate and sensitise people in identified hot-spots. Hate Crime Watch can be used as a tool for positive citizen and state involvement in preventing hate crime, bigotry and vigilantism. It will help in dispelling the myth that these are one-off incidents, and create an imperative for urgent, sustained and systemic response.
Alison Saldanha, assistant editor, FactChecker.in.
Karthik Madhavapeddi, news editor, FactChecker.in
Madhur Singh, contributing editor, FactChecker.in
Samar Halarnkar, editor, FactChecker.in
Mohsin Alam Bhat, assistant professor at the Jindal Global Law School, and executive-director, the Centre for Public Interest Law.
Harsh Mander, author and human-rights organiser.
Prabir Purkayastha, founder-editor, Newsclick
Samar Halarnkar, Alison Saldanha & Karthik Madhavapeddi, FactChecker.in
Jay Hazare, Pranav Rajput, Angel Mohan, Devyani Chhetri, Sejal Singh: Interns with FactChecker.in
Tejasvini Puri, Anant Sangal, Rishabh Bajoria and Rohini Thyagarajan: Law students
DATA ANALYSIS & FORMULATION:
Alison Saldanha, assistant editor, FactChecker.in
Karthik Madhavapeddi, news editor, FactChecker.in
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