Conspiracy theories like love jihad and land jihad, along with anti-Muslim hate events in BJP-run states, hint at a calculated move by Hindu far-right groups to incite violence for electoral gain
Hate speech has consequences. It can disrupt daily life, destabilise and displace communities, wreck homes, and ignite deadly riots and pogroms against marginalised groups. Throughout the first half of 2023, India witnessed several instances where hate speech events, coupled with hate crimes, exacerbated the insecurity of its religious minorities.
On 30 March, on the occasion of Ram Navami, Hindu far-right leader Kajal Shingla alias Kajal Hindustani made hateful remarks about Muslim women, helping ignite a riot in the state of Gujarat. On the same day, in the eastern Indian state of Bihar, a procession filled with provocative and hateful slogans resulted in violence in the town of Bihar Sharif, leaving one dead and several injured.
In June, rampant and repeated instances of hate speech events in Kolhapur, Maharashtra, culminated in clashes in the western state, while a month-long campaign in the northern state of Uttarakhand centered on the Hindu far-right conspiracy theories of ‘love jihad’, ‘vyapar jihad’ and ‘land jihad’ resulted in the displacement of Muslims from several parts of the state. Muslim shops and homes were marked with a black ‘X’ symbol in an apparent attempt to intimidate the marginalised community.
As this report documents, some of the purveyors of anti-Muslim hate speech include chief ministers, legislators, and senior leaders from the ruling BJP. The rise of conspiracy theories like love jihad, land jihad, halal jihad, and vyapar jihad has been closely linked with the BJP’s efforts to mobilise Hindu nationalism (Hindutva) for electoral benefit.
According to the Delhi-based socio-cultural organisation, Act Now for Harmony and Democracy (ANHAD), there has been a significant increase in hate speech and hate crimes against religious minorities since 2014, when the BJP came to power. A media report in 2018 found that there had been a 500 per cent increase in the invocation of communal hatred in speeches by high-ranking officials, which subsequently led to anti-minority violence in India between 2014 and 2018.
Even according to official data, cases registered under Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code rose by more than 500 per cent between 2014 and 2020. While Section 153A cases do not directly correspond to our definition of hate speech, they do include events for which a police case has been registered for the promotion of enmity between different groups on the grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, or language.
Hindutva Watch’s extensive research spanning several months reveals that in the first six months of 2023 (181 days), there were 255 recorded instances of hate speech gatherings or rallies targeting Muslims across 17 states in India, which includes the National Capital Territory of Delhi and the Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir. This alarming statistic highlights an average of over one anti-Muslim hate speech event occurring daily.
As detailed in the analysis, most hate events occurred in states governed by the BJP. Furthermore, a significant proportion of these incidents occurred in states scheduled to hold legislative elections in 2023 and 2024, highlighting the potential use of anti-Muslim hate speech events for voter mobilisation. Disturbingly, the majority of these hate speech events also propagated dangerous conspiracy theories targeting Muslims, along with explicit calls for violence, calls to arms, and demands for socio-economic boycotts of the Muslim community.
This data set isn’t a complete account of hate speech incidents in India. There are many incidents for which no footage exists or where the footage is unverifiable. The data discussed in this report is a preliminary attempt at providing a snapshot of the nature and geographic spread of hate speech events in India.
We monitored anti-Muslim hate speech events in 15 states and two territories where the police and law enforcement fall under the direct jurisdiction of the BJP-led central government. The states with limited or no such events were predominantly located in the southern and eastern regions of the country, where the BJP’s electoral influence is relatively lower.
Approximately 29 per cent of hate speech incidents occurred in the state of Maharashtra, despite it constituting only about 9 per cent of India’s total population.
Maharashtra serves as an illustrative case, highlighting how the BJP leverages state power to propagate anti-Muslim hate speech in regions with fragile electoral support. In June 2022, the BJP managed to engineer a split in the ruling alliance, allowing it to assume power without a corresponding electoral mandate.
With a state election scheduled for 2024, there appears to be a deliberate effort to disseminate anti-Muslim sentiments in the state. Similarly, BJP-ruled states such as Karnataka (under BJP rule for most of this period), Madhya Pradesh, and Gujarat witnessed a high number of hate speech incidents, with each of these states hosting 20 or more hate speech gatherings. The sole exception was Rajasthan, a Congress-ruled state, which is slated for elections at the year’s end.
A particularly alarming trend emanated from the small state of Uttarakhand, which recorded 13 hate speech events in the first half of the year. This translates to 5 per cent of hate events in the first half of 2023 in India occurring in Uttarakhand, despite the state comprising less than 1 per cent of India’s total population.
About 131 events, or about 51.3 per cent of the dataset, included the propagation of prominent anti-Muslim conspiracy theories. Some of the most popular theories included love jihad, land jihad, and Hindutva adaptations of the Great Replacement Conspiracy.
Perhaps most alarmingly, 83 events (almost 33 per cent) included direct calls to violence by Hindutva groups. This includes calls for ethnic cleansing and genocide against Muslims and calls for the destruction of Muslim places of worship. Such violent rhetoric primarily went unpunished and instead regularly contributed to physical violence.
There were also 30 events (12 per cent) of calls to arms, where Hindutva leaders asked members of the majority community to buy and keep weapons. A particularly prominent form of this was through Trishul distribution events, where Hindutva leaders distributed weapons to Hindu youths. These events also often included hate speeches against Muslims, hence their inclusion in this list.
There were also 27 instances (11 per cent) of hate speech events which involved a direct call for the socio-economic boycott of Muslims. This included attempts to exclude Muslims from the state and calls for Hindus to stop purchasing goods and services from Muslims.
Thirty-four events (13 per cent) involved speeches by BJP leaders, including former Karnataka chief minister KS Eeshwarappa, Delhi BJP vice-president Kapil Mishra, Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma and Lok Sabha MP Pragya Singh Thakur. Of the 255 incidents, 11 directly targeted Muslim women, which included sexist and misogynistic speeches.
The majority of these events (70 per cent) unfolded in states scheduled for legislative elections in 2023 and 2024. Specifically, 85 (33 per cent) incidents occurred in five states holding or slated to hold elections this year, including Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, and Telangana. Likewise, approximately 93 events transpired in states set to conduct legislative elections in 2024.
This trend raises the possibility of a strategic approach by Hindu far-right groups aimed at fomenting hatred and inciting violence, potentially with an eye on bolstering the BJP’s electoral prospects.
Many hate speech events were organised by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal. They organised 62 anti-Muslim hate speech events in the first half of 2023. These are clubbed as one organisation because the Bajrang Dal is the youth wing of the VHP, and lately, they have been organizing most of their public events jointly.
Both entities have a notorious history of spreading anti-Muslim hate speech and helping engineer anti-Muslim violence across India. The organisations are part of the broader Sangh Parivar or the Sangh Family.
Prime Minister Modi fiercely defended the organisation when the Congress proposed a ban on the Bajrang Dal as part of its election campaign in Karnataka. As the BJP has been further entrenched within the Indian state, evidence suggests that the Bajrang Dal and the VHP have even worked with the police to break up interfaith couples and help spread the anti-Muslim conspiracy of love jihad.
The BJP itself was responsible for numerous hate speech events, with a notable upsurge during the Karnataka elections. During this period, several BJP leaders played a crucial role in stoking anti-Muslim hate sentiments.
Another organisation prominently involved in organising hate speech events in Maharashtra was the Sakal Hindu Samaj. The organisation, primarily based in Maharashtra, is a coalition of several Hindu nationalist outfits in the state. A frequent speaker at its events is Suresh Chavhanke, a notorious hate monger and the chairman of TV news channel Sudarshan News. Chavhanke is responsible for several hate speech events in our database.
Another frequent speaker at gatherings organised by the Sakal Hindu Samaj is T Raja Singh. Singh, initially elected as a BJP legislator in the state of Telangana, faced suspension from the party due to his objectionable remarks against Prophet Muhammad. Singh has been actively involved in numerous hate speech events, promoting the conspiracy theory of love jihad and threatening violence against Muslims. Despite his suspension, Singh remains closely affiliated with the BJP, and Union minister G. Kishan Reddy has indicated that the suspension will likely be revoked soon.
Recent news reports have even suggested that Singh has held meetings with top BJP leaders, indicating that he may stand as a nominee or proxy for the party in the upcoming Telangana legislative elections
Hate events are predominantly concentrated in states governed by the BJP. This report documents approximately 205 events in BJP-ruled states, including an additional 15 events in NCT of Delhi and the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, where the police and law and order fall under the control of the BJP-led central government. Nearly 80 per cent of the hate speech events were held in BJP-ruled states or territories controlled by the BJP-led central government.
This statistic is particularly striking, considering that only 45 per cent of India’s population falls under BJP rule. Notably, among the eight states with the highest number of hate speech events, seven are governed by the BJP. Taken together, this evidence suggests that hate events are significantly less likely to occur in non BJP-ruled states. This disparity could be attributed to the willingness of non-BJP states to take proactive measures against hate speech, in contrast to the BJP’s utilization of state power to organize and endorse events in states under their governance.
The sole exception to this trend is the state of Rajasthan, governed by the Congress party, which recorded 25 hate speech events and is scheduled to hold legislative elections at the end of 2023.
Conspiracy theories have often helped fuel violence against Muslims. Below is a list and explanation.
Love Jihad - Conspiracy theory that claims that Muslim men are luring Hindu women into marriage on false pretences, in an attempt to convert them to Islam and help bring about Muslim dominance over Hindus in India.
Land Jihad - The notion that Muslims are intentionally occupying public or government land by building religious structures or holding mass prayers on them. This conspiracy theory has been spread by several news channels and ruling-party politicians.
Economic Jihad - The false and bigoted conspiracy theory that ordinary Muslim businesses and individuals are engaged in a coordinated effort to cause economic harm to Hindus.
Halal Jihad - The conspiracy theory that halal certifications are an attempt to harm Hindus and reflect a coordinated attempt to threaten the Indian economy and raise money for terrorism.
Mazaar Jihad - The conspiracy theory that Muslims intentionally build shrines (mazaars) on government and forest land to claim the territory.
Thook Jihad - The conspiracy theory suggests that Muslims ‘spit’ on Hindus to spread infectious diseases, such as Covid-19 and contaminate the food they cook.
Population Jihad - The bigoted conspiracy theory claims that there is some coordinated attempt by Muslims to become the majority community in India, overtaking Hindus. Based on the last census, Muslims only comprise 14 per cent of India’s population. This includes Hindutva adaptations of the white-nationalist Great Replacement Theory, based on the false premise that the Muslim population in India will overtake the Hindu population.
UPSC Jihad - This theory asserts that Muslims are ‘infiltrating’ the Indian bureaucracy by gaming and manipulating the rules of national civil service exams organised by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC). In truth, Muslims have consistently been and continue to be underrepresented in the Indian bureaucracy.
Fertiliser Jihad - The false notion that Muslim farmers are primarily responsible for the overuse of fertilisers in agriculture. Initially spread by the BJP chief minister of Assam, Himanta Biswa Sarma.
- conspiracy theorists
- Love Jihad campaign
- discrimination against minorities
- Hindutva Propaganda
- violence against muslims