India’s hate speech trackers are being blocked

In January this year, when Raqib Hameed Naik received a notice from X (formerly Twitter) that Hindutva Watch was blocked on the platform by order of the country’s ruling Hindu–nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), he was not surprised. The government had submitted more than 28 legal requests to X in the past two years, seeking removal of Watch’s posts. As well as the X account being blocked in India, the Hindutva Watch website was, and is, also inaccessible in the country.

“While shocking, it’s not surprising, considering Prime Minister Modi regime’s history of suppressing free press & critical voices,” Naik wrote on X on 16 January in reaction to the ban.

Naik, a journalist reporting on conflict and marginalisation of minorities, founded and runs US-based independent research project Hindutva Watch, which tracks hate crimes by right–wing Hindus against Muslims, Christians and members of the historically oppressed castes in India. The website of India Hate Lab, another initiative by Naik that is exclusively dedicated to tracking hate speech in India, has also been rendered inaccessible in the country.

Various law enforcement agencies have frequently attempted to erase Hindutva Watch and India Hate Lab’s documentation of hate crime and speech towards minorities, primarily on the pretext of violating India’s controversial Information Technology (IT) Act 2000, though the government never clarified which specific laws were violated by the two websites. 

The IT Act grants authorities the power to block access to information under the guise of safeguarding India’s “sovereignty, integrity, and security”. In 2022, the country’s Supreme Court invalidated a provision of the Act which empowered the government to prosecute individuals for sharing “offensive” messages online. Various governments, irrespective of political affiliations, had misused the provision to detain ordinary civilians critical of the government.

Hailing from the conflict-ridden India-administered Jammu and Kashmir, Naik started working as a journalist in 2014. He said it was evident for him from the beginning of his career that the government was vindictive against journalists and media outlets who reported critically on them, especially from sensitive areas like Kashmir. The situation, he believes, is worse for journalists from minority communities.

“The assault on the pillars of free press, coupled with the anti–minority policies and generation of an atmosphere grounded in hate and violence towards minority communities, profoundly affected me, as a Kashmiri Muslim journalist,” he told Index.

Naik’s fears were not unfounded. Initially covering political conflict and human rights in Kashmir and later on religious minorities and Hindu nationalism in India, he was among the handful of journalists who was able to report on the revocation of Kashmir’s autonomy by the BJP in 2019 amidst a tight curfew and communication blockade, including internet shutdowns for several months in the Himalayan valley.

As Naik’s reporting on Kashmir’s unrest gained international recognition, it also landed him in trouble. He faced questioning from the country’s intelligence officers and frequent inquiries from the police about his whereabouts and work, putting pressure on his family.

“It’s pure harassment but also a debilitating feeling,” said Naik, who is currently in the USA, since fleeing India in 2020 as the death threats and harassment for his reporting ramped up.

“Four years have passed, and I haven’t been home since. The thought of being unable to go home indefinitely just breaks my heart,” he said. “But then, I have to gather strength because there are very few journalists left in the country to tell and humanise stories of the minorities.”

Initially running the two websites and their X accounts anonymously from Massachusetts in the USA, Naik created a unique and robust digital database of human rights abuses, which routinely occur from big cities to remote villages in what is considered the world’s largest democracy. Yet, such cases do not receive adequate mainstream press coverage in India. Interestingly, two news outlets from the country, Hindustan Times and IndiaSpend, made attempts to monitor hate crimes only to stop their operations in 2017 and 2019 respectively. 

Modi’s tenure so far has been marred with an increased suppression of dissent, targeting critics such as journalists, activists, academics, lawmakers and minority communities in India. Shortly before Hindutva Watch and India Hate Lab were blocked, Modi presided over the consecration of the new Ram temple, constructed on the ruins of a historic Mughal–era mosque which was demolished by a mob in 1992. The ensuing riots took over 2,000 lives while the site remained a point of contention for over three decades.

According to IndiaSpend’s Citizen’s Religious Hate Crime Watch, a data–driven news platform, around 90% of religiously-motivated hate crimes that have occurred since 2009 did so after the BJP took power on a national level in 2014.

The scale of these hate crimes remains obscured. After 2017, the country’s national crime bureau stopped keeping a separate record on hate crimes or lynching. Naik’s project keeps track of such incidents in absence of any documentation by authorities or media in the country. Run by a small group of 12 volunteers spread across five countries, Naik’s project documents two to four hate events daily using video and picture evidence submitted by a network of Indian activists and citizens.

“Since 2021, we have documented and archived thousands of videos and stories on hate crimes and hate speeches,” Naik said. “Our efforts have led to actionable outcomes in states where law agencies were willing to take a stand against right–wing members involved in such activities.”

“What we have collected serves as the evidence for facilitating judicial intervention, particularly in cases related to hate speech,” he added.

According to the latest report released by India Hate Lab before it was blocked in India, nearly two anti–Muslim hate speech events took place every day in 2023 and around 75% of those occurred in states ruled by the BJP. Collating a total of 668 hate speech events, the report observed that the cases peaked between August and November in 2023 – the period of political campaigning and polling in four major states in the country.

In India, press freedom also took a severe plunge under Modi’s leadership and with people now heading to the polls, Naik worries that blocking of his websites could tighten the government’s grip on the information ecosystem in the country.

Despite the suspension, he remains undeterred in continuing his work. He says: “There is extreme fear. And the climate of fear may continue to stifle reporting. But I know there are journalists who won’t succumb or surrender. I see hope in them.”

Read more about how authorities are silencing their critics across borders in the upcoming issue of Index. For a 50% discounted subscription to our digital edition, visit our page on Exact Editions and use the code Spring24 here

Modi’s India: The age of intolerance in the world’s biggest democracy

Recent estimates suggest that India has now overtaken China in population size, but where the world’s most populated country should be a beacon of democracy, the opposite may be true.

Under Narendra Modi, the press is being strangled; the judiciary is no longer independent; and protesters are thrown in jail. You can read more about this in our forthcoming Spring 2023 issue, where our Special Report focuses on the state of free expression in Modi’s India.

In the meantime, here is a quiz to get a flavour of what to expect.

Be prepared to have your eyes opened...

First off, in which year did Narendra Modi take office as Indian Prime Minister?
Which political party is Modi a member of?
In a grand show of vanity from the Prime Minister himself, which type of venue was named after Modi in February 2021?
Which international broadcaster's Delhi and Mumbai offices were searched as part of tax evasion allegations following a documentary it aired that was critical of Modi?
There were 182 internet shutdowns around the world in 2021. The Indian government was responsible for most of them. How many?
Which Indian city tops the list of the most surveilled cities in the world, with 1,826 cameras per square mile?
Where was India placed on RSF’s World Press Freedom Index in 2022 (out of 180 countries)?
As of February 2023, how many journalists were imprisoned in India?
Which streaming platform was forced to apologise and cut scenes from a television drama directed by a Muslim after BJP leaders alleged it was “deliberately mocking Hindu gods”?
In July 2021, it was reported that 17-year-old Neha Paswan was beaten to death by her uncles and grandfather in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh for wearing what?
Be prepared to have your eyes opened...
You got {{userScore}} out of {{maxScore}} correct

India: Man facing criminal investigation over anti-Modi Facebook comments

Gujarat Chief Minister and BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi filed his nomination papers from Vadodara Lok Sabha seat amid tight security on April 6. (Photo: Nisarg Lakhmani / Demotix)

Gujarat Chief Minister and BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi filed his nomination papers from Vadodara Lok Sabha seat amid tight security on April 6. (Photo: Nisarg Lakhmani/Demotix)

An Indian man has found himself in trouble for allegedly posting a Facebook comments against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The incident raises serious doubts over online freedom in the world’s biggest democracy

On March 23, shipbuilding professional Devu Chodankar posted in the popular Facebook group Goa+, that if Modi became prime minister, a holocaust “as it happened in Gujarat”, would follow. Modi was the Gujarat chief minister during the 2002 pogrom in which more than 1000 people — most of them Muslims — were killed in communal violence. Chodankar also wrote that it would lead to the Christian community in the state of Goa losing their identity. He later deleted the post. In another Facebook group he regretted his choice of words but stood by the substance of his argument, calling it his crusade against the “tyranny of fascists”.

The incident was reported to the police in March by former chairman of the Confederation of Indian Industries in Goa Atul Pai Kane, who was close to Modi’s party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). He filed a First Information Report (FIR) to the police, under sections 153(A), 295(A) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and section 125 of the People’s Representation Act and 66-A of the Information Technology Act. Under the former, it is a crime to promote enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., as do acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony. Meanwhile, the latter makes it a punishable offence to send messages that are offensive, false or created for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience.

In his complaint, Kane said that Chodankar had threatened the group members not to vote in favour of the BJP, as it would virtually make Narendra Modi the prime minister of India. “I made this complaint as Chodankar issued inflammatory statements and tried to create communal hatred. He even refused to withdraw those comments. You cannot make such comments on a public forum. There has to be a limit.”

Police summoned Chodankar for the first time on May 12, and a trial court on 22 May rejected anticipatory bail. Chodankar has left Goa to evade possible arrest. Police want to interrogate him to find out whether he had any broader intentions with his comments, and whether he had plans to “promote communal and social disharmony”.

Social activists and opposition political parties feel that lodging a police complaint over a Facebook comment is an attempt to curb individual freedom, and that such cases would become the order of the day under Hindu nationalist BJP rule. Activists also believe that this type of police action is tantamount to curbing freedom of expression, ultimately meaning that you should either stay away from social media or stop speaking your mind on such platforms.

Amitabh Pandey, a media freedom activist, said: “The message is very clear. You should know how to behave in the cyber world. If you dare to write against Narendra Modi on any social media platform then you should be ready to face the consequences.”

Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) alumnus Dr. Samir Kelekar has been actively working for the case against Chodankar to be dropped. “I feel arresting a person for making a comment against someone is too much. We don’t agree with his comments but we don’t agree with police action either. His comment is not going to affect the society in any way,” he said.

This isn’t the only such case in recent times in India. On 15 May, author Amaresh Mishra was arrested in Gurgaon, in the northern Indian state of Haryana, for posting content on Facebook and Twitter against Modi and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a radical Hindu organisation associated with BJP. Charges alleged he had incited violence against Modi.

Along with social activists, many netizens are opposing the police action against Chodankar. “In a way we are living in a country which claims that we have freedom of expression, but in reality it doesn’t exist,” said Facebook user Animesh Upadhyay, adding that people don’t know which comment will be treated as an offence and might get them arrested.

However, some feel that there has to be a limit. Ashutosh Jaiswal, convener of hardliner Hindu organisation Bajrang Dal said: “The police should deal sternly with such public comments.”

Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar has refused to interfere in the case. In a written statement he said: “As per Supreme Court directives, it is compulsory to register all complaints. A prominent citizen has filed a complaint and judiciary has refused to grant anticipatory bail to the accused person, which proves that there is substance in the complaint.”

He has also stated that there was “no intention” to arrest Chodankar. “He was issued two summons after which he did not appear before police, and his lawyer went for anticipatory bail…Police opposed the bail as a regular process.”

This article was posted on May 30, 2014 at 

India obsessed with social media role in elections

(Photo illustration: Shutterstock)

(Photo illustration: Shutterstock)

Indians, ever a chatty lot, are obsessed with the idea of being obsessed with social media. That is why, as the BJP’s stunning victory in the Indian general elections was declared, the news media immediately began to examine the impact of social media campaigning in the elections. Numbers aside, the victory over social media has revealed the fault lines of Indian society as it stands today.

India’s online population is small as compared to its offline population – about 213 million users to 1.2 billion people – but it is growing. Though these figures expand and contract depending on whom you ask, we do know that 33 million are on Twitter and Facebook has hit the 100 million-user mark. Given these statistics, it is indeed impressive that India’s newest Prime Minister, Narendra Modi has 4.2 million followers on Twitter already. The would-be leader of opposition, Rahul Gandhi, whose party did not win enough seats to actually assume the seat as leader of the opposition in parliament, isn’t on Twitter. However, his party has an account, with about 181,000 followers. There are other political stars on social media, including individual members of various parties, and notably, members of the newly formed Aam Aadmi Party.

However, when asked the question: “who won the social media war” – because, to be sure, there was one – the answer can only really be Narendra Modi. In fact, his own campaign machinery was so well oiled that his personal profile overshadowed his party.  “Ab ki baar, Modi Sarkar” (this time, a Modi government) was arguably the catchiest slogan on the campaign and it inspired many a joke, including a takeover of the nursery rhyme – “twinkle, twinkle, little star, ab ki baar, Modi sarkar!”  And according to reports, the BJP was mentioned on Twitter, on average, about 30,000 times a day, with the Congress trailing behind at between 15,000-20,000. Modi’s victory tweet promising a better India after election results were declared was retweeted 69,872 times.

Truthfully, there is no way that social media could have supplanted the traditional route. Modi’s tireless campaigning – 437 rallies, 5,827 public interface events across 25 states that is a distance of 300,000km – is impressive. But, equally impressive was the BJP’s entire digital campaign effort; a “social media war room” that reportedly cost Rs 35 lakh (35,000 GBP), with 30 computers and about 50 volunteers, tracking activities across India’s 92,000 villages. And accounts from insiders, young professionals, many whom took sabbaticals from their jobs to participate in this campaign, talks of a breathless environment, where Facebook was used to crowdsource ideas for speeches, and ‘Mission 272’ (in terms of how many seats they were aiming to win) became a reality. In fact, many creative contributions from BJP’s supporters – videos, jingles, songs and poems – can be found on the website.

At the same time, social media has been very revealing about the state of the Indian majority. The tonality of political discourse over the internet, which was very polarized between the Hindu rightwingers and secularists saw vicious language, trolling and hate speech dotting the landscape. However, the Hindu right, abused as communal in the time of the Congress government have emerged victorious and unapologetic about their political leanings. In public groups on Google Plus, cyber Hindus declare that a “pro Hindu lobby is not an option, but a sheer necessity.” In fact, the ‘liberal’ discourse that sweeps much of the mainstream English media was taken aback at the sweeping victory that the BJP has earned in this election. There is nervousness that the BJP, supported and guided by the RSS – Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh—a right-wing, nationalist group espousing strict discipline, martial training and self sacrifice in defence of the Motherland, often derided for being extremist – will work towards a majoritarian agenda where minorities will find less space to exist. These fears are compounded by the RSS’s beliefs – formalized in annual reports – that seek to impose a strict moral code that frowns upon live-in relations, homosexuality and also keeping an eye on minority communities. The RSS has being heartened by educated Indians joining their cause via social media, thereby signaling that their views might no longer be frowned upon as extreme or communal. They do not want to apologize for representing the view of the Hindu right.

And on cue, Narendra Modi, in a rousing speech formally accepting his role as the leader of the majority party in Parliament, promised his fellow BJP MPs that by the birth anniversary of Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya in 2016, co-founder of the Bharitiya Jan Sangh that later became the BJP as known today, India shall rise to its promise of being a great nation. Tying down his campaign promises to his deep association with the RSS, the signal is clear. Indeed, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the former Prime Minister, had affirmed proudly that “the Sangh is my soul”. The Hindu is back in Hindustan (another name for India).

An analysis in India Today magazine has declared the Indian cybersphere ‘saffron’ (the color associated with the Hindu right) writing, “But their agenda is a mix of post-modern and traditional. They oppose dynasty politics, particularly the Nehru-Gandhi clan and its allies such as Shiv Sena. They call minority appeasement ‘pseudo-secularism’ with such fervour that their sentiment could easily be interpreted as Hindu supremacist or anti-Muslim. They are against lower-caste reservation, particularly because it is poorly implemented. They are concerned about internal security. But above all, they are against corruption.” In deconstructing the ways of the Hindu saffron social media user, the article offers certain clues, such as the words “proud”, “patriot” and “Hindu” appearing in their bios, and often uploading images of Hindu gods as their display picture.

The people have spoken. The media is filled with analysis that people have either embraced Modi for his Hindu leanings, or ignored them in order realize the dream of “development” that is has promised to deliver. The number of Muslim MPs in parliament is down to 21 from 30 in the last session, the lowest number since India’s first elections.  The Congress and its allies, who built careers on carefully constructed platforms of secularism – in their first term, they had a Muslim President, Sikh Prime Minister and Christian leader of the party – have been set aside in favour of a openly religious and Hindu BJP. Whatever be the reasons for the vote, for the everyday people tweeting and Facebooking, it appears that being pro-Hindu is slowly being disassociated with being communal. For many, this is a relief.

It seems it might finally be hip to be Hindu.

This article was posted on May 21, 2014 at