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The rise of hate crimes in India

There has been a stark increase in the number of hate-crimes that have happened in the country in the last decades. The most prominent form of hate-crime being a lynching. There have been multiple incidents across the country in which of a group of violent men who have gone and brutally attacked a person because of reasons like – there are rumours of him killing cows, or insulting religious sentiments, or being a child lifter. On July 1, 2018, in Dhule, Maharashtra five people were killed because there were rumours that there was a gang of child lifters in town. Similar incidents have happened over the course of a year in Tripura, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and other states as well. Incidents of lynching due to rumours that a person slaughters cows or theft or other small issues have increased. On June 19, in Hapur, Uttar Pradesh, a mob beat up a person to death on suspicion of him slaughtering cows. A senior police officer was lynched outside a mosque in Srinagar on the holy occasion of Shab-e-Qadr, a person was killed over an argument over a train seat in Ballabgarh, Haryana, a person was dragged out of a police van and beaten to death in front of policemen in Shamli, Uttar Pradesh. An autorickshaw driver was killed on the allegation of theft in Delhi. The murder of 23-year-old, Ankit Saxena by the girl’s father and uncle who he was in the relationship because the two of them were from different religions is another example of the rising hate crimes in India. The most recent incident being the one that happened in Bulandshahr, Uttar Pradesh where a police Inspector and a youth were killed when a mob clashed with the police after the alleged discovery of cow carcasses.

According to a news report from India Today, 16 people were lynched in 2 months because of rumours and suspicions of this sort since May 10, 2018. Such frequency of violence in a civilized society is not a normal occurrence. There are deeply seated cracks that have emerged in the fabric of the society which has resulted in such a disastrous situation. People turning violent to the extent of beating someone to death on the basis of rumours and suspicion is a troubling sign for a society. It is important to delve into the reasons of why such an atmosphere of hatred and violence has developed and why people are so quick to believe in any rumour about someone from a different religion, region, and caste. We, as a society need to ask ourselves a few questions to understand the reasons for such a phenomenon that is happening in our society. Only then can we rise above the hate and bigotry and start to heal as a society and to see people from different religions, regions, and caste as equal human beings.

The primary reasons for such escalation are the insecurity among the people. People are not open to listening to others point of view. People who possess the position are not willing to accept others as worthy of the same position. The reason for such insecurity and not being open to listening to others point of view is because we have become so divided and polarised as a society. Some political scientists have termed this as political tribalism. Videos and images which have communal and casteist undertones are being made viral on social media and messaging apps to incite people against one another due to their religion and caste. An atmosphere of non-inclusiveness and intolerance is being created through sustained and systematic propaganda using fake news and hateful content. Even society has not changed much but people are trying to create the narrative that the whole nation and society have been changed in a few years and one community is not in safe.  As a result of all this, people have lost any form of trust and respect for others and look at others only through the lens of what their religion is or where they are from or what their caste is. It has become a scenario where a person’s identity is not what he or she actually is. It is what the mainstream media presents someone from that community to be. There is no space for empathy and civility remaining due to the immense polarisation in today’s world.

All incidents of crimes are being seen from the perspective of religion and caste and how much political benefit that incident can yield. Crime is not being seen as the crime which unfortunate. People are trying to see all crime from the lens of conspiracy.

We are not exploring options like talking or negotiation because we have assumed that there can be no solution reached via that. This assumption is due to the deep-seated hate that has been created in us due to the propaganda that we are daily being projected to through the biased news media and hateful content on social media. We have acquired a behaviour of generalising everyone from a community on the basis of a negative image that is portrayed to us by the news and social media. The common human element of understanding each other’s feeling and pain has been diminished completely in today’s day and age. We have become a society that has lost any amount of civility in discourse. News media and social media keep floating the news which harms the society but they keep doing it in the name of saving one community from another.

The growing amount of rumours in the form of fake news that has been spreading is a troublesome phenomenon. However, what is even more problematic is the growing amount of belief that people have placed in it. We have started to believe everything that we see and read on our phones without a moment of critically thinking about it. Not only that, we forward that piece of fake information to several others as well and even they fall in the same trap. This creates a whole ecosystem in which the actual truth does not matter, whatever information is the most widely circulated becomes the truth. Living in such a world is destroying the fundamental basis of our civilized society. However, why is the case so, why have we started to believe everything so easily. There used to be a time when news and related information was only consumed from legitimate sources like newspapers and magazines and certain trusted tv channels. The reasons are many. Firstly, due to the degradation of the reading habit, a lot of people don’t read the newspaper and magazines anymore. We consume our news from social media and other online resources who have extremely little editorial responsibility and accountability in the content they publish. News channels in the race of TRPs and the necessity to fill the content hole 24*7 show a lot of useless things which are absolutely irrelevant. The growing amount of money coming into media houses as they become increasingly corporatized is another major concern. They have a bias in whatever content they show which depends on which source they are receiving the money. All of this has created a systematic erosion of the well-established institutions that used to inform the electorate. This space is then being taken over by the little screens in our hands. The news we see on our phones are curated in a manner that re-affirm our biases and strengthens our pre-existing beliefs and prejudices. We see and read what we want to see and read and that is exactly why we have started to believe whatever is in front of us.

Law and order have always been an issue of the state. People have lost their belief in the police system and judiciary because it takes too much time. A person loses their interest in justice because it is too expensive and time taking. Whether it is the central government or the various state governments, maintaining a peaceful co-existence is the mandate of the government. The government has a duty not only to enforce law and order through the institution of police and courts but also create a harmonious and inclusive environment so that people from all religion, regions and caste feel safe and are able to lead their lives freely. The State and its various organs are expected to play the role of the harmoniser that brings everyone together. However, what is expected of and what actually happens is a different story altogether. All governments over the years have played vote-bank politics and pitted one community against the other for their own benefit. In recent times, owing to the increasing polarisation in the society and the technological advancements, the task of the State has become all the more complicated and important. In the age of so much hate content and fake news on social media, the state has a greater responsibility now to find new and innovative ways to tackle such problems. It has not been able to solve this problem and the failure of the state has cost society a lot. Most of the communal riots and hate crimes have been triggered and executed using social media and instant messaging apps like WhatsApp. These incidents are an example of the failure of the society and even a bigger failure of the State. It would be correct to say that the State has been grossly incompetent and totally failed in coming up with ways to deal with the technological advancements. Rather, it has been seen that the government has been complicit in such incidents of violence and even incited a few of them by the actions of some of their leaders. The various agencies of State have to become a lot more pro-active and advanced to deal with the pressing concerns, it cannot continue to act in the manner it has until now.

In times like today, where mob violence and hate crimes are being normalized, the most basic thing, we as a society can do is to initiate dialogue with people from all communities. We need to cultivate a culture of treating others with an equal amount of respect and civility irrespective of the other person’s background. Not only do we need to be building bridges outside our communities but also on the inside. Making people from our own communities understand that someone who is from a different religion, region or caste is equally entitled to live and prosper in a country like ours. These conversations need to happen within our own families and friends and only then can some meaningful path be created to build an inclusive and tolerant society. The media needs to play a more responsible role of being the voice of the people, it cannot simply turn into a tool for political propaganda. The state and its agencies have a steep task ahead of them of tackling the societal and technological changes and only a sincere and keen effort can achieve that goal.