Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Hatred and Hate Speeches: Achilles Heel of India in 2019

Hatred and Hate Speeches: Achilles Heel of India in 2019

Irfan Engineer, Neha Dabhade, Suraj Nair

(Secular Perspective January 16-31, 2020)

Centre for Study of Society and Secularism annually brings out a report on communal violence in India. This report on communal violence in 2019 is divided in three parts. The last article discussed the first part on structural violence which manifests itself in state policy. As discussed in the previous part, communal violence must be understood in a broader framework. Though communal riots are more easily discernable as a part of communal violence, communal violence constitutes structural, attitudinal and physical violence. This article will explore attitudinal violence in 2019. Structural violence as dealt with previously and attitudinal violence have been prominent and with far reaching effects. Thus a detailed analysis of attitudinal violence gains significance.

Attitudinal violence can be understood as attitudes a person or collective may have about another primordial social group, including, one based on religion, language, caste, ethnicity, race or gender, and attributing inferior status or behavioral traits which leads to discrimination against them and prevents the targeted group from realizing its full potential. Thus the key to understand attitudinal violence in the context of communal violence is that a community is perceived as inferior based on its religious identity and this leads to discriminatory behavior towards the targeted community. Attitudinal violence can take different forms like hate speeches, hate crimes or any other behavior which is discriminatory. Attitudinal violence is used as a justification to subject even innocent members of the community to physical violence like communal riots or mob lynching. Hate crimes, including hate speeches falls within the gambit of attitudinal violence. Though there are different definitions of hate speeches and hate crimes internationally, in the Indian context, article 153A of the Indian Penal Code offers a comprehensive range of actions that can be termed as attitudinal violence.

153A. Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony.—

(1) Whoever—

(a) by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise, promotes or attempts to promote, on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste or community or any other ground whatsoever, disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different reli­gious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communi­ties, or

(b) commits any act which is prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities, and which disturbs or is likely to disturb the public tranquillity,

(c) organizes any exercise, movement, drill or other similar activity intending that the participants in such activity shall use or be trained to use criminal force or violence or knowing it to be likely that the participants in such activity will use or be trained to use criminal force or violence, or participates in such activity intending to use or be trained to use criminal force or violence or knowing it to be likely that the partici­pants in such activity will use or be trained to use criminal force or violence, against any religious, racial, language or regional group or caste or community and such activity for any reason whatsoever causes or is likely to cause fear or alarm or a feeling of insecurity amongst members of such religious, racial, language or regional group or caste or community,…”

Instrumental Use of Hate Speeches:

There are rampant hate speeches in India which targets particular communities. 37 percent of hate speeches and disinformation on Facebook India is linked to Islamophobia, according to the report by the US-based Equality Labs titled ‘Facebook India: Towards The Tipping Point of Violence Caste and Religious Hate Speech(Nair & Mehrotra, 2019) . The incidences of hate speeches are on rise in India due to a number of factors.  Hate speeches in politically conducive environment coupled with impunity is often used as a tool to prove one’s outspokenness, or even one’s courage and prowess and helps rising up the political ladder. However, hate speech at times may even emanate from one’s misinformed or lazy opinion of the targeted community. Hate speeches are used to create fear of the ‘other’ and the hate monger seeks stronger bonds with members of one’s own community. Sort of construct or strengthen boundaries between communities.

State officials wield political power and constitutional authority; therefore their vilification legitimizes opinions attributing inferior status to the targeted community and often provokes violence against them. Such hate speeches normalize hatred and encourages others to fearlessly and openly indulge in further spreading hatred with impunity. In 2019, there were denigrating hate speeches by state officials including high ranking ministers. These speeches were aimed at strengthening discriminating and derogatory narratives against the Muslim and Christian community. Apart from the very violent vocabulary that is used by these officials to vilify those who don’t subscribe to their ideology (tukde-tukde gang, urban naxals, pressitudes etc), the speeches build their vitriol around the stereotypes that Muslims are anti-national, disloyal to India, Islam is threatening and Christians are on a mission in India to convert people by fraud, inducement or force.

Below we have reproduced some of the hate speeches and hate crimes from our monitoring of the Mumbai edition of three newspapers, The Hindu, The Indian Express and Times of India. There may be more than the ones cited but here we reproduce a few of them.

Hate Speeches building on religious practices:

Giriraj Singh, Union Minister for Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairy had said: “Jo Vande Mataram nahin keh sakta, jo Bharat ki matrabhumi ko naman nahin kar sakta, arre Giriraj ke to baap-dada Simaria ghat me Ganga ke kinare hi mare, usi bhoomi par kabr bhi nahin banaya, tumhe toh teen haath ka jagah bhi chahiye, agar tum nahin kar paoge to desh kabhi maaf nahin karegi.”

Muslims express their love for their motherland in a different language and ways. Some of them believe that chanting Vande Mataram goes against their faith as it amounts to worship of motherland which is not permitted in Islam. He clearly insinuated that Muslims are dependent on the mercy of the Hindus to observe their basic rituals like burial. Also the identification of a Union Minister with one particular religion and othering the Muslims gives legitimacy to this “othering”. In another speech, Singh was heard favoring Navratri, a Hindu festival over Iftaar, associated with Ramadaan observed by Muslims. He not only favors Navratri but also urges others to follow “our” duties, making Muslim festivals as “others”. He said, “Kitni khubsurat tasveer hoti jab itni hi chahat se navratri pe phalahar ka aayojan karte aur sundar sundar photo aate? Apne karma dharma mein hum pichhad kyon jaate hain aur dikhawa mein aage rehte hain? 

Polarization on the basis of religious festivals and deities

Polarization on the basis of religious festivals and deities is an alarming trend in Indian politics. Certain deities associated with Hindu religion are used to give the impression that the ruling party privileges and identifies itself with one religion alone. This is especially stark when this deity is juxtaposed against another in the public discourse. Yogi Adityanath, Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh made no qualms about which deity he holds supreme and thus will be favored by the state. He said, “Tumhe agar Ali par vishwas hai to hamey Bajrang Bali par vishwas hai (If you have faith in Ali, we have faith in Bajrang Bali).” He urged the voters of UP to “completely destroy this green virus from western UP(Sharma, 2019) . He also feels very strongly that conversions should not be allowed. In Odisha where there is a sizeable number of Christians and Adivasis, he said that if BJP was in power in Odisha, it wouldn’t allow conversions, terming them as “anti-national activity” hinting that the Christian missionaries carry out conversions by force or inducement. This understanding of the Chief Minister on conversions is notwithstanding that the Constitution mentions freedom of religion to every citizen. Similarly, before the verdict of the Babri Masjid case, BJP leader Gajraj Rana asked Hindus to buy swords to be prepared for the Ayodhya verdict. “People have kept Lord Ram in their hearts and everyone in the country wants the construction of a grand Ram temple. On the upcoming Dhanteras, I want to suggest to my Hindu friends especially to not buy silver utensils, but iron swords. This will help in maintaining safety, he said (The Indian Express, 2019) ”. He incites the citizens to ensure the construction of the temple through violence and also intimidates the targeted community.

Muslims as terrorists and should go to Pakistan:
In the dominant discourse encouraged by the right, Muslims have always been termed as “anti-nationals”, “terrorists” and often the refrain “go to Pakistan” is used against then. While every citizen of India irrespective of his/her religion has a right to stay with dignity and equality, there are officials who have time and again repeated that Muslims are secondary citizens in India who deserve no rights and are in fact a threat to India, therefore making a case for their exclusion from the country. For instance, BJP Minister, Mangal Prabhat Lodha during an election rally in Mumbai, claimed that bullets and bombs for riots and terror attacks in the past were made in lanes within 5 kilometers of the place of the meeting which was located in an area of sizeable Muslim population. He wanted to suggest that Muslims have been the perpetrators of riots and terror attacks than victims (Modak, 2019) . Ironically its well known that Muslims are the worst sufferers in communal riots in terms of number of deaths, displacement and other loss.

BJP MLA from Khatauli, UP, Vikram Saini called the famous seminary, Darul Uloom Deoband a “terror making factory” that needs to be closed down (Dilshad, 2019) . This is the narrative that the right has carefully constructed over the years and still exploiting to demonize the Muslims in the country. This narrative has created an impression that Muslims have no place in India. Prasanta Phukan, the MLA representing Dibrugah, made the comments while talking about the voting pattern among Muslims in the Lok Sabha polls. He likened Muslims who according to him don’t vote for Muslims to cows who don’t give milk, arguing that they shouldn’t be looked after as equal citizens. He said, “Ninety per cent Hindus voted for the BJP, and 90 per cent people from the Muslim community did not vote for us. If a cow is not giving milk, what is the point of feeding it fodder? (Saha, 2019) ”.

These derogatory attitudes have translated into discrimination and similar hate speeches by police as well common citizens. During a protest in Meerut in UP against the Citizenship Amendment Act, SP of police told the protestors to go to Pakistan. The state and its organs which are entrusted to protect all its citizens equally, discriminate against a community based on their religious identity and in a way de-citizenize them. Meerut Superintendent of Police, Akhilesh Narayan Singh said, “Tell the protesters who have tied black and yellow bands to go to Pakistan. You will eat here but praise some other place,” Mr. Singh said. He also told them that he would remember the lane and could even “reach their grandmothers(Rashid, 2019) .

Hate Crimes by common citizens:

It’s no surprise then in Mumbai, youth assaulted an autorickshaw driver who was sporting a beard and skull cap and asked him to go to Pakistan. The youth said to Azhruddin Qureshi ‘tum Pakistani idhar nahin rehneka, Pakistan jao’ and ‘Kashmir hamne le liya hain’  (Mohamad, 2019) . Muslims are often targets of attacks under the pretext that they are involved in terrorism and are against India’s interests and integrity. In Yavatmal District of Maharashtra after the Pulwama attacks, Umar Rashid and Majid Owaisi, both Kashmiri students were assaulted by a mob in their college which demanded that they say ‘Vande Mataram’ and ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai. One of the accused identified was district Yuva Sena vice president Ajinkya Motke. The duo was repeatedly slapped. You kill our soldiers there, don’t you? How many of your relatives there are terrorists? And what’s that thing you call as jihad, ah,” Motke kept asking even as he continued to assault the two students. “You shouldn’t be seen here again. Your relatives kill our soldiers. You get jannat by killing them, ah?” Motke said. (Deshpande, 2019) .  In the aftermath of the abrogation of the article 370 in Kashmir, there were attacks on Kashmiris in some part of the country to signify their inferior position in the country and also in demonstration of brute domination and power of the state and its outlook towards Kashmir.

The process of “othering” results into exclusion, further widening fault lines especially where the economic ecosystem has been instrumental in keeping the communities together despite communal identities. Prachi Thakur urged economic exclusion of the Muslims when she asked Hindus to boycott kanwar made by Muslims. She said, “Around 99 per cent of kanwars you people use… are prepared by Muslims. My advice to you is to boycott the kanwars made by them, and encourage your Hindu brothers to make the same so that they can earn their livelihood during the holy month of Shravan,” she said. Prachi’s remarks came days after Samajwadi Party leader and Kairana MLA Nahid Hasan urged Muslims to not purchase items sold by shops owned by BJP supporters (The Indian Express, 2019) . Such remarks have emboldened similar unconstitutional actions on the ground level. In Ramgarh district of Madhya Pradesh, following communal tensions, some of the residents of the villages in the district have warned that there should be a ban on the Muslim vendors in the villages or their safety will be affected (Ghatwai, 2019) .

Such incidents calling for economic ban on Muslims not only adversely affect the communal harmony and peaceful co-existence of the communities but are also a vicious attempt to disempower the Muslim community by denying them equal opportunity in livelihood. By impoverishing the community, it is pushed further towards second class citizen status. Such incidents are increasingly coming to fore. For instance, a man in Hyderabad declined his food offer on the food app, swiggy since the delivery boy was Muslim (The Indian Express, 2019) . Similarly, another client cancelled his food order on Zomato app because the delivery rider was a Muslim (The Indian Express, 2019) . Akshay Lahoti, one the staff at HDFC wrote on facebook that “Brexit style referendum to decide if India should remain a secular country and Muslims should be allowed to stay in India, especially when Pakistan was created for Muslim (Ajmal, 2019) . In another unfortunate incident, Feroze Khan, a Professor of Sanskrit who was appointed to teach Sanskrit in Sanskrit Vidya Dharma Vigyan Department at BHU, was forced to resign after the ABVP students protested arguing that only a Hindu can teach Sanskrit at the University (New Indian Express, 2019) . This is an affront to the composite culture in India and right to equality enshrined in the Constitution.

As seen above the discriminatory attitudes of the powerful state actors reflect deep seated hatred against the Muslim and Christian community. It appears that one religion is given legitimacy and projected as “national” religion while other religions are not national. The followers of other religions have to be assimilated using any means including discrimination and violence. These attitudes in themselves are violent but become more so violent when they embolden common citizens of the country to actively discriminate against individuals and particular community on the basis of religion. The deepening of existing fault lines in such a brazen manner makes one really anxious about the diversity and secular democracy in India. The visceral hatred and exclusion against the Muslims and other groups is a betrayal of the Indian Constitution and the idea of India itself which inspired so many around the world with its promise of equality and dignity. This attitudinal violence and structural violence contributes immensely to physical violence in the forms of communal riots and mob lynching.
Centre for Study of Society and Secularism

Monday, January 20, 2020

The Iranian Woman In The Viral Video Was A Lobbyist

A viral video titled “Truth From an Iranian,” which has amassed more than 10 million views across Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, was created by a registered lobbyist who previously worked for a militia group fighting in a bitter civil war in Libya.
At no point during the five-minute video, in which she praised the US drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, did Saghar Erica Kasraie mention that she had worked in 2019 for Linden Government Solutions, a Texas-based lobbying firm hired to represent the Libyan National Army, a militia in the north African country led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, a former officer in Muammar al-Qaddafi’s government who spent much of the last two decades living in Virginia, during which time he worked with the CIA.
In the first six days following the death of Soleimani, the head of the country’s Quds Force, Kasraie’s video was the single most popular piece of content about Iran on Facebook, aside from posts from President Donald Trump’s own page.
In the video, Kasraie, who describes herself as an Iranian activist, says Iranians were celebrating Soleimani’s death, thanking Trump, and giving out cakes on the street as a symbol of their joy. “I feel like we’re living in the Twilight Zone, guys. I’m completely outraged at this notion that the propaganda machine that is the media is glorifying Qassem Soleimani,” she says in the video.
The YouTube version of Kasraie’s video has been viewed 5.5 million times, going viral as a link on Facebook after it was posted to a right-leaning lifestyle page called Bakersfield Tuff and a slew of pro-Trump sites and pages. Another copy of the video, shared on Kasraie’s Facebook page, has been viewed another 3.7 million times.
Kasraie does not list her time with Linden on her LinkedIn profile and said in a conversation with BuzzFeed News that her work for the firm in Washington, DC, was strictly logistical. “It was short project as a consultant,” she said.
"I worked directly for Linden and helped with logistics for meetings in Washington," Kasraie said. “Just facilitated and coordinated meetings for Linden.”
However, public documents filed through the Foreign Agent Registration Act show she worked as a part-time lobbyist last year. Her lobbying activity was previously reported on by Al-Monitor.
According to her registration, Kasraie’s job entailed “Planning, coordinating meetings with Government, Business representatives, and think tanks, and other government relations services in support of Client's diplomatic goals” on behalf of the “Decision Support Center of Libya (on behalf of the Libyan National Army).”
When asked if the Libyan National Army was the firm’s only client, a representative for Linden Government Solutions told BuzzFeed News, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, but I’d say no and I’d prefer not to continue.”
Kasraie denied her work for Linden had anything to do with the Iran video, telling BuzzFeed News that she decided to record the video because her American friends were asking for her opinion about the aftermath of the Soleimani killing. “I thought, Oh my gosh, the media is crazy. They're not reporting about what's going on,” she said.
The video first went viral when it was posted on the Bakersfield Tuff Facebook page, which describes itself as a community for “Racing, rodeo, drinking, trucks, country music, hunting, fishing, drags, choppers, guns, fabrication, country girls.” The Bakersfield Tuff post was shared 17,000 times.
“An inside look from an Iranian. She's very well spoken and clear on what's really going on. All sides should watch this. Her point is logical and calming,” the Bakersfield Tuff page wrote.
The video was also boosted by large right-leaning Facebook pages, like the American Preppers Network and Chicks on the Right.
In addition to its organic engagement, Kasraie’s YouTube video was boosted by being tagged #IraniansDetestSoleimani, a hashtag that was amplified by inauthentic Twitter accounts several minutes after the video was posted.
Kasraie denied that the inauthentic activity surrounding the video was linked to her lobbying firm, saying that her video had been successful because people agreed with what she had to say. “I think there was a certain pulse in response to that video,” she said.
Asked why she chose that hashtag, she said it “was spinning around” online.
The huge views on her video earned Kasraie several TV appearances, including on the Christian Broadcasting Network, The Ingraham Angle, and Fox News, which described her as an adviser to the National Iranian Congress, a dissident group with a headquarters in Washington, DC. There’s no indication that Linden was involved in setting up the interviews.
Kasraie is now the vice president of human rights policy for the Middle East at the Victor Marx Group, a Christian organization that provides humanitarian aid. Kasraie’s employee page for the Victor Marx Group embeds her Iran video but does not disclose her work for Linden.
Libya has been in a civil war for nine years, primarily between the Government of National Accord, a UN-backed government that sits in Tripoli, and Haftar’s forces, which control the eastern part of the country, including Benghazi.
“What they’re vying for beyond just control of the capital in Libya, Tripoli, and the country at large — they're also vying for international legitimacy,” Anas El Gomati, the director of the Sadeq Institute, Libya’s first think tank based in Tripoli, told BuzzFeed News.
El Gomati said Haftar hopes to gain the support of the US government.
“They need lobbying efforts to do that, but also to promote this narrative of a war on terror in Libya, which is deeply divisive and massively contested in terms of the kind of opponents and targets that they have claimed are terrorist targets and legitimate targets,” El Gomati said.
The International Criminal Court has investigated Haftar’s attacks in Libya and issued two arrest warrants for one of his lieutenants. However, Trump has praised Haftar, and even placed a phone call to him in April 2019 without the knowledge of the State and Defense Departments, before reversing his support in June.
“I'm grateful for President Trump and the groups that support him,” Kasraie said of the support her video has received from pro-Trump internet communities. “I think I represent Iranians that support Trump.”

Trump voters motivated by racism may be violating the Constitution. Can they be stopped?

By Noah Berlatsky
If the Trump era has taught us anything, it's that large numbers of white people in the United States are motivated at least in part by racism in the voting booth. Donald Trump ran an openly racist campaign for president, calling Mexicans rapists and criminals, regularly retweeting white supremacists and at least initially balking at repudiating former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. Trump made it clear in his campaign that "Make America Great Again" meant that America was greater when white people's power was more sweeping and more secure. White voters approved of that message by a whopping 58 percent to 37 percent.
Some politicians deny the evidence, no doubt because they don't want to alienate white voters, including prejudiced ones. Other commentators try to parse whether Trump's racism will be a winning strategy in 2020. Terry Smith, a visiting professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law, offers a different response in his new book, "Whitelash: Unmasking White Grievance at the Ballot Box." Rather than excuse racist voters or try to figure out how to live with their choices, he argues that racist voting is not just immoral, but illegal. The government, Smith says, has the ability, and the responsibility, to address it.
This sounds radical. But Smith argues that it's in line with the Constitution and with years of court rulings. For example, Smith points out that racist appeals in union elections are illegal and that an election in which one side uses racist appeals can be invalidated by the National Labor Relations Board. Similarly, in the 2016 case Peña v. Rodriguez, the Supreme Court ruled that when a juror expresses overt bigotry, the jury's verdict should be invalidated.
"When voters go to the booth, they're not expressing a mere personal preference," Smith told me. According to Smith, voters who pull the levers to harm black people are violating the Constitution. If the Constitution means that overt racist appeals undermine the legality of union elections, it stands to reason that they undermine the legality of other elections, as well.
So how can you tell when voters are acting out of prejudice? Again, Smith says, employment discrimination law provides a useful analogy. In discrimination cases, courts look for pretexts. If someone gives a reason for a hiring decision that is obviously false or makes little sense in context, the court has good reason to believe that prejudice or bias may have influenced the hiring decision.
Trump's unprecedented, compulsive, easily documented lying during the 2016 campaign made him an irrational choice. It's reasonable to conclude that voters were willing to swallow the falsehoods because they liked what they heard: overt racist appeals and incessant lies about rising crime rates. Research has since suggested that plenty of Trump voters were indeed strongly motivated by racist resentment and anti-immigrant animus.
The usual remedy for racial discrimination is censure or fines — as Trump was subjected to when the Justice Department found that his housing developments were discriminating against black tenants in the 1970s. It's more difficult to censure voters who have violated their constitutional duties. Nullifying elections would be essentially impossible. But Smith argues that there are other options.
"I think we can dismantle some of the features of the electoral system that encourage racialized decision-making," he says. "For instance, you only get a partisan gerrymander by moving people in and out of districts on the basis of their race." Ending this practice at the state and federal levels would be a big step toward reducing the power of racism at the ballot box, as would ending the use of Voter IDs intended to disenfranchise black voters.
Even more ambitiously, Smith suggests expanding the Voting Rights Act to address the racist patterns of voting in Senate elections in the South. Because the majority of white voters in the South vote Republican, and because they outnumber black voters, there isn't a single Democratic senator from the Deep South other than Doug Jones in Alabama, who may well lose his seat in 2020. Smith argues that we could remedy these disparate, racially motivated outcomes by creating Senate districts. Presumably, that would make it at least possible for black voters to elect a senator who would support their interests.
This is clearly a very controversial proposal, and its constitutionality has been debated in the past. But given obvious disparities in representation in the South, it seems worth considering again.
Over the last decade, an increasingly conservative Supreme Court has gutted the Voting Rights Act and upheld racist gerrymandering. Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., are stacking both the Supreme Court and the federal courts more broadly with conservative judges. The prospect for an aggressive legislative response to racist voting seems slim.
Still, Smith points out, in the long term, "these remedies are a lot more practical than a lot of people might think." Republicans won't always control the presidency and the Senate, and judges don't live forever. Democrats could also expand the number of seats on lower courts or even on the Supreme Court — another controversial proposal known as court-packing. If Democrats decide that responding to racist voting is a vital priority, they could, in time, take steps to do something about it.
It's difficult to address injustice, however, if you're unwilling to say injustice exists. Politicians and pundits, Republican and Democratic alike, have been unwilling to reprimand voters or hold them accountable. But voters are not well-intentioned innocents who are helplessly manipulated by malevolent leaders. They make important decisions as constitutional actors, for which they have moral responsibility. Racist voting isn't an accident. It's a choice that may violate the principles of our Constitution and our legal system. We should say so, and then we should find ways to reduce the harm it causes.