Two weeks ago, I visited the Jamia Millia Islamia University in Delhi which has been one of the focal points in the nationwide protest against the new Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
At the University, I met a young 20-year-old student who is among those leading the protests. This young student has been living in fear of his life ever since PM Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) released videos on social media where this student has been portrayed as a “gaddar” (traitor) and a terrorist.
“I can’t step out of my house or take public transport in the fear that someone might just lynch me after these videos were released,” said the student.
His fears are not baseless. On January 27, Union Minister of State (Finance) Anurag Thakur held a rally where he repeatedly led the audience to chant the slogan “Desh ke gaddaron ko, goli maaro saalon ko” (shoot the traitors in the country). As a result of this dog whistle, there have been three incidents so far of Hindu extremists going out with weapons to protest venues at Shaheen Bagh and Jamia University in Delhi and firing bullets.
A campaign of toxicity
On January 14, the Election Commission of India notified the dates for the Delhi Assembly Elections which are to be held on February 8. The entire campaign of the BJP for these Assembly Elections has been characterised by hate speech by numerous leaders starting with Union Home Minister Amit Shah. A large part of this hate speech has been directed towards the anti-CAA protests at Shaheen Bagh and Jamia Milia University and towards Opposition parties which the BJP accuses of leading these protests.
On December 26, Amit Shah conducted a rally in Delhi where he said “the tukde-tukde gang must be taught a lesson in Delhi.” This term “tukde-tukde gang” has been used
by numerous BJP leaders and TV news anchors repeatedly when referring to protesting students.
Immediately after Amit Shah’s speech, I filed a Right to Information (RTI) request asking the Home Ministry to provide information on the ‘tukde-tukde gang’, its leaders, and the laws under which the Home Minister intends to “punish this gang”.
On January 20, the Union Home Ministry replied to my RTI stating that it has “no information concerning the tukde tukde gang”.
Therefore, this “gang” seems to be a figment of Mr. Shah’s imagination or a lie that has been conveniently peddled as a part of the discourse of hate by the BJP. Sadly, even after this RTI response, the Union Home Minister continues to use this term in his rallies.
On January 27, Amit Shah again made a speech where he told the audience to “press the button of the voting machine with such force that protestors sitting at Shaheen Bagh feel the current.” This was, incidentally, the same day when Union Minister Anurag Thakur exhorted crowds to chant “desh ke gaddaron ko, goli maaro saalon ko”.
The next day, BJP MP Parvesh Verma addressed a rally where he told the audience that the Shaheen Bagh protestors will “enter your homes and rape your sisters and daughters” if the BJP wasn’t elected. In the same speech, the BJP MP also promised to demolish all mosques built on government land if his party was voted to power.
In a classic case of treating BJP violators with kid gloves, the Election Commission of India ordered the removal of Anurag Thakur, Parvesh Verma from BJP star campaigners list. It then imposed a ban on campaigning for a period of 72 hours (for Anurag Thakur) and 96 hours (for Parvesh Verma). No FIR has
been registered by the Delhi Police against either of these two individuals for
In the four following days, there were three incidents of gunmen opening fire at the protest sites at Jamia Milia Islamia and Shaheen Bagh. It isn’t rocket science to conclude that these incidents weren’t “lone wolf attacks” but were motivated by the slogans raised by the BJP leaders.
This pattern of virulent hate speech followed by actual violent hate crimes demonstrates an escalation of the BJP’s already-toxic campaign of hate and
othering. When leaders as senior as the Union Home Minister openly incite hate against minorities, it isn’t really shocking to see extremists taking a signal and acting upon it.
What remains shocking, however, is the incompetence and the bias of the Delhi Police. A police force which had no qualms about firing tear gas shells and bullets at protesting students has surprisingly remained a mute spectator while BJP leaders continue to incite hatred and egg on people to be violent.
Law of the land
The inaction of the Delhi Police is surprising considering that the Indian Penal Code (IPC) has sections exclusively dedicated to punishment for hate speech.
Section 153A of the IPC criminalises any act promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony.
Similarly, section 295A of the IPC criminalises deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.
Not a single BJP leader inciting hate has been booked under either of these sections by the Delhi Police.
The Model Code of Conduct of the ECI also has provisions for punishing such incidents of hate speech.
Section 1(1) of the Model Code of Conduct states that “No party or candidate shall include in any activity which may aggravate existing differences or create mutual hatred or cause tension between different castes and communities, religious or linguistic.”
Alas, the ECI has also been happy to go easy on these leaders whose words and actions have led to concrete incidents of violence.
To test out whether the same yardstick is applied to other people, I filed a request for permission with the Delhi Police to hold a protest rally at Jantar Mantar on February 9 chanting the slogan “desh ke gaddaron ko goli maaro.”
My permission was, however, rejected by the Delhi Police which cited security/law & order as the reason behind denying me permission. Incidentally, on the same day as I applied for this permission, a mob of right-wing cadres tried to enter Jamia Millia Islamia University chanting the exact same slogan.
What is kosher for BJP leaders and its cadres is evidently not kosher for other citizens of India, according to the Delhi Police.
As shocking as statements from BJP leaders are, what’s even more deplorable is the tacit complicity of the police force which seems to act as an instrument of the ruling party instead of doing its job of safeguarding law and order.
Desperate need for accountability
This caravan of hate speech will continue unabated unless concrete steps are taken by ordinary citizens and Opposition parties to counter this narrative.
Mere condemnation doesn’t help — the BJP and its leaders have gone far too ahead in the deepest recesses of hate speech for condemnation to have any effect on them. What is, therefore, needed is a concerted effort to hold them accountable through laws, existing transparency procedures, and through forums like Parliament.
The RTI is a fantastic tool which allows citizens to do exactly that for a sum of merely 10 Rupees. Filing RTI requests with ministries asking for information corroborating the statements of ministers made at rallies is the first step. There is a dire need to expose
the rhetoric of BJP leaders and publicly embarass them by showing the discrepancy between their words and the records kept by their ministries.
Also, what must be realised is that hate-speech flows top down. This holds true not only for public statements but also for campaigns on social media. Trolls of the ruling party are a whack-a-mole. Therefore, even if you manage to take action against one, about 20 others will spring up to replace that person. What is important, therefore, is to hold the cheerleaders of hate speech accountable.
Numerous “influencers” aligned with the BJP along with party leaders routinely indulge in hate speech on social media against minorities. It is important to ensure that FIRs are filed against these hate mongers under the relevant sections of the IPC.
I’ve personally done that on several occassions and feel that more such cases need to be filed across the country. When the cheerleaders face the legal consequences for their hate speech, they will temper down and the fear of the law will trickle down to their supporters and other trolls.
The third important aspect is the need to counter major media networks and journalists who have become a tool of dissemination for hatred and misinformation. Many large broadcasters have journalists and anchors who are openly partisan and routinely incite hate through noisy “debates” in their TV studios. These anchors are unconcerned about the laws and do not even fear regulatory authorities like the National Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA). Some channels such as Sudarshan TV, Zee News and Republic have often been called out by independent fact-checkers for misreporting news or twisting facts and doctoring videos to peddle a very specific agenda of hate.
The urgent need of the hour, therefore, is ensuring that legal action is taken against these news networks which have become instruments of hate.
The laws that apply to common citizens are the same laws that apply to political leaders as well as celebrity journalists. Enforcing them (especially when the police are
complicit) is an arduous task which requires every right-minded citizen to speak up and approach the judiciary in every such case of hate speech. It is only with sustained
efforts that we’ll be able to make a dent in this factory of hate.
It hasn’t even been a year since the Modi government got re-elected for a second term. Sadly, this period has seen an immense escalation of hate speech and intimidation even by the already toxic standards of the BJP. There’s 4.5 years more to go in the current term of this government. It is a scary prospect to imagine how much stronger this campaign of hate speech shall become in this period.
That makes it even more pressing to get together as citizens and combat this hate speech with all our might. The fire of hate consumes everything in its wake. We must not wait for more extremist elements to roam around the streets with guns looking for who they believe are “gaddars” before we stand together and put an end to this campaign of hate and othering.