An Epidemic of Hatred

Some say the world will end in fire,

Some say in ice.

From what I’ve tasted of desire

I hold with those who favor fire.

But if it had to perish twice,

I think I know enough of hate

To say that for destruction

Ice is also great

And would suffice.

Robert Frost

Definition of Hate Crimes and Targeted Violence

A hate crime can be defined as, “a crime, usually violent, motivated by prejudice or intolerance toward an individual’s national origin, ethnicity, color, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability.”

“Targeted violence” means and includes any act or series of acts, whether spontaneous or planned, resulting in injury or harm to the person and or property, knowingly directed against any person by virtue of that individual’s national origin, ethnicity, color, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability.

India’s Long History of Hate Crimes and Targeted Violence: Episodes of Communal Violence

India, home to nine “major” religions, 2000 odd castes, and 22 languages has a pluralistic and diverse character. ‘There are as many religions as there are individuals’, the words by the father of our nations, Mahatma Gandhi could not have been truer. Religious bigotry and caste politics the great enemies of diversity have taken roots in India. India has witnessed incidents of hate crimes and targeted violence that have at times taken the nature of communal violence sometimes with the sanction from those in power whom almost every time escape accountability for committing, encouraging, aiding, or enabling such violence and great injustice is meted out to victims. Communal violence is the deepest fault line in our country.

The Constitution of India acknowledged prejudicing motivated crimes when it declared the historic wrong of untouchability and denounced its practices declaring it constitutionally illegal. It was for the first time around the world in the history of constitutional moments that a ‘constitutionally criminal law’ was recognized. Our constitution guarantees equality before the law and equal protection of the law under Article 14. The 42nd amendment also added the word “secular” in the preamble and we have been provided with religious security under Article 25 to 28 of our constitution. Yet India has been unable to effectively uphold the promise of a secular democratic nation. All the episodes of hate crimes have a recurring horror of structural injustice and the state’s abdication of its duty to protect its citizens. Looking at five mass communal violence episodes after 1980 we see a pattern of lack of accountability and reparation.

  • Identity-based mass violence is suggestive of state tolerance and support for the crime.
  • Police actively support the violence by allowing it to escalate.
  • The government allows high levels of impunity for those involved in the violence since only a few perpetrators are litigated.
  • Violence was systematic, targeted, and premeditated.

Why the word “communal violence” should be used instead of “riot”?

The use of the word “riot” involves disorganized spontaneous violence where chaos spreads and law enforcement and the government are unable to protect its people but these episodes of violence were premeditated. A government of India report said in the context of 1984 riots that, “but for the backing and help of influential and resourceful persons, killing of Sikhs so swiftly and in large numbers could not have happened.”

  • Nellie 1983

The Nellie massacre in 1983 claimed 1800 lives over the course of one morning and the total unofficial estimate of the number of deaths was 3300. The violence escalated due to the anti-immigration agitation throughout Assam making it the most gruesome episode of mass murders since independence. The shocking and sad part of the aftermath was that the government as a result of the Assam Accord of 1985 dropped cases against those charged with violence giving them immunity. The effect was complete amnesty and the victims received a meager amount of compensation.1

  • Delhi 1984

Following the assassination of Mrs. Indira Gandhi, the country witnessed a massive attack on Sikhs not just in the capital of Delhi but across the country. The memories of 1984 act as a reminder of mass deaths, rapes, and the state’s lack of will to protect its minorities. According to official reports, within 3 days 3000 Sikhs were butchered to death, at a rate of one per minute. The means to curb the violence were present but not used pointing to the involvement of State machinery in the violence. Just a few perpetrators were litigated showing how those involved in mass crimes are offered impunity by state machinery.2

  • Bhagalpur 1989

Bhagalpur 1989 is also known as the forgotten riots lost in memory between Delhi 1984 and Godhra 2002.3 The violence broke on 24th October, 1989 between Hindu and Muslims in the Bhagalpur district in Bihar and continued for 2 months claiming 2000 lives. A three-member commission of Inquiry submitted its final report in the year 1995 which held the then congress government, local authorities, and police responsible for the episode.

  • Godhra 2002

In this particular incident, the police openly sided with the mob, and no relief was provided by the government to the victim. The government turned hostile to the community targeted and went on to obstruct non- state efforts who wanted to provide some relief. Some even claim that the death rate was as high as 2000.

  • Delhi 2020

Northeast Delhi witnessed multiples waves of bloodshed, property destruction from 23rd February when the Hindu mob attacked Muslims. 53 people died amongst which two-thirds were Muslims. Police abdicated its duty and they were witnessed helping the mob purposefully helping them.4 On 26 February, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) conveyed its grave concern and pleaded the government to protect all its citizens irrespective of their faith.

Dimensions of Accountability

  • Access to criminal justice

The experience after all these incidents suggests that majority cases lodged do not go far in a criminal justice system due to the absence of evidence. The vast majority of these complaints don’t see the light of the day and if by some miracle they are bought to the courts, most of the accused are acquitted and just a very small fraction of acquittals are appealed against.

  • Accountability of public officials

The first order of business after the aftermath is to set up a judicial commission of inquiry that would evaluate the central or state government’s performance. The problem of the commission is that they are appointed by the very people they have to evaluate and most of the reports of these commissions are not easily available to the public.

  • Compensation and rehabilitation

The victims of these incidents have not just lost their family members but have also lost their homes, possessions, and livelihoods. They have been displaced and have lived in relief camps for months. The problem is India does not have a national relief code. They do have state relief codes which mainly cover natural disasters such as floods or famine. Most of the state governments don’t apply these codes to incidents of communal violence.

Lynchistan: India’s Deadly ‘Gau Raksha’ Network

Communal rhetoric is on the increase in India since the Bhartiya Janata Party rose to power at the central level in 2014. The incidents of vigilante violence by Hindu majoritarian groups against Muslims, Christians, and Dalits have risen. This has spurred into the formation of a vigilante campaign against beef consumption and those who are linked with it which has created a vicious cycle of violence. The slaughter of cows has been banned in India since cows are considered to be sacred to Hindus. The ruling party indulged in cow politics defends the attacks and more often than not abets it. 36 out of 44 people who were killed and 280 people were injured across 20 states between the year 2015 and 2018 due to mob lynching were Muslims.5 31 people have been killed due to fake rumors between the years 2015 to 2018 that spread via WhatsApp groups and dozens have been injured according to a BBC analysis. There have been reports of cow protectors in Madhya Pradesh assaulting men and women in trains and railway station in Madhya Pradesh, a Dalit man stripped and beaten in Gujarat, two men in Haryana being force-fed cow dung and urine, and raping two women and killing two men Haryana for allegedly eating beef at home. There have been various incidents where Muslims are forced to chant “Jai Shri Ram” by beating them, sometimes the perpetrators in a lynching incident are heard saying that “this is what happens when you spread love jihad in the country”.6 The network of vigilantes is being legitimized and supported by police giving them greater impunity. Even when the vigilantes admit to the crime the police deny the lynching and claim that lynching was a case of “road rage”. An incident where a Muslim man named Tabrez Ansari was tied to a pole, beaten through the night, and forced to say “Jai Shri Ram” demonstrates how the perpetrators are in cahoots with state actors. The police took him into custody rather than to a hospital and he died three days later. Mob lynching rarely happens in a spur of a moment rather they are organized crimes. When the deed is done those who did it are congratulated. The crime gets justified, the criminals are garlanded, the victim gets blamed or the authorities deny that it ever happened. Some of the statements by the government authorities must be stated to give the effect of how deep the hate actually resides.

  1. “We should not take the law into our hands. But we have no regret over his death [Pehlu Khan] because those who are cow smugglers are cow-killers; sinners like them have met this fate earlier and will continue to do so.”

  –Gyan Dev Ahuja, BJP lawmaker, Rajasthan state, April 2017

  • “There is only one way to protect Indian culture: to protect gau (cows), Ganga, and (goddess) Gayatri…Only the community that can protect this heritage will survive. Otherwise, there will be a huge crisis of identity, and this crisis of identity will endanger our existence.”

–Adityanath, BJP chief minister, Uttar Pradesh state, November 2017

  • “We won’t remain silent if somebody tries to kill our mother. We are ready to kill and be killed.”

–Sakshi Maharaj, BJP member of parliament, on the killing of Mohammad Akhlaq, October 2015[5]

  • “Muslims can continue to live in this country, but they will have to give up eating beef. The cow is an article of faith here.”

 –Manohar Lal Khattar, BJP chief minister, Haryana state, October 2015

Hate Crimes Against Christians, Dalits, And Women7

People who have converted to Christians face the brunt of vigilante violence. As many as 7 states have anti-conversion laws that are being misused by booking Christians on the ground of illegal conversion. 

Amnesty International has reported 618 incidents of violence against Dalits out of which 194 died and 119 cases of rape. Dalits are hunted on the pretext of cow slaughter and beef consumption and also on the notions of impurity.

Violence against women, especially those from the marginalized sector has been on the rise as depicted by the report of the National Crime Bureau of Investigation (NCRB). Amnesty International’s report “Halt the Hate” records 274 incidents of hate crimes against women from 2017 to 2019.

Laws that have Aided this Targeting

  • We have cow protection laws in 24 out of 29 states creating a criminal offence that is non-bailable, cognizable and the burden of proof rests on the accused. These state laws have also empowered the police into arresting suspected individuals without a warrant. These laws are cloaking the perpetrators with impunity. All the states which have strictest cow protection laws also have ironically the maximum number of lynching cases.
  • Seven states in India have laws called Freedom of Religions Acts which are used to regulate religious conversions.8 All these laws have a similar structure since all of them prevent conversions through “forcible” or “fraudulent” means or by means of “allurement” or “inducement”. Crimes under these state laws are non-bailable and cognizable. These laws are being abused fostering hostility against religious groups

Absence of Stringent Laws

No safeguards in the form of laws are present to deal with hate crimes and targeted violence. The conviction rate under Schedule Castes and Tribes Act is less than 5% from the years 2014 to 2016. The Supreme Court has ruled that the use of section 295 of the Indian Penal Code which tackles deliberate and malicious acts meant to insult and outrage religious sentiments is narrow and restrictive.9 There are certain laws that deal with hate speech like Section 153, 153A, 295A, and 505 of IPC; and 69A and 79 of Information Technology Act but they are seldom used against powerful people who have made hate speeches.


  • We already have a pending communal violence bill that needs to be enacted while keeping in mind International Human Rights Standards. The bill must define the offence of Hate Crimes and Targeted violence and it should create an offence of dereliction of duty of police officers and this would give away with the need for sanction to prosecute. It must create a national standard for compensation. In Nelli 1983, compensation given was Rs.5000 and just a year later when the massacre happened against the Sikhs in Delhi, the first announcement for compensation was Rs.10000 and in 1987 it rose to Rs.20000 and the Nanavati Commission later bought it up to 3.5 Lakhs. The compensation must be fixed and formalized and not left to the arbitrary whim of the people who make up their minds. The bill will create a statutory duty on the government to provide relief, rehabilitation, reparation, and internal displacement.
  • The Indian Parliament as per the recommendations of the Supreme Court must enact a legislation to prevent violence based on religion or caste.
  • It must enact a witness protection law that will provide protection to the victims and witnesses against harassment, coercion, inducement, and threats.
  • The central and state governments must ensure the setting up of Police Complaints Authorities (PCAs) which will ensure accountability in cases of police misconduct. The complainants can be protected by the creation of an anonymous complaint line.
  • The central and state governments must implement the directives laid down by Supreme Court in Tehseen S. Poonawalla & Ors. v. Union of India & Ors, which will ensure prevention and accountability in cases of mob violence.

Lessons from the Past

If we just look back to the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany, we find ourselves realizing that the victims of hate will never be singular group nor will the bloodshed be localized, hate spreads like wildfire engulfing anyone who comes in its way. Just look at a poem written by Martin Niemöller, a Lutheran pastor from Germany, who to begin with was a supporter of Hitler but later went to oppose the Nazi rule and was punished by being sent to concentration camps emphasizes the idea of human apathy in wake of gross human rights violations.

First, they came for the Communists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Communist

Then they came for the Socialists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Socialist

Then they came for the trade unionists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a trade unionist

Then they came for the Jews

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Jew

Then they came for me

And there was no one left


  1. A. A. Engineer, Communal Riots after Independence: A Comprehensive Account (Delhi: Shipra, 2004).
  2. Human Rights Watch, “India: No Justice for 1984 Anti-Sikh Bloodshed”.
  3. Scroll.2015, “The forgotten riot: How Bhagalpur 1989 left a memory trace in Bihar politics”.
  4. The Guardian, “Inside Delhi: beaten, lynched and burnt alive”.
  5. Amnesty International (2019), “Halt The Hate”.
  6. Human Rights Watch (2019), “Violent Cow Protection in India”.
  7. Citizens Against Hate (2019), “Hate Pays: The Ease of Targeting Minorities in India”.
  8. Lausanne Global Analysis, “The Spread of Anti-conversion Laws from India”.
  9. Choudhary. A (2017) “Not all ‘insults’ to religion are offences: Supreme Court”.

Armaan Kaur Bhinder from Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar

Truth can be stated in a thousand different ways, yet each one can be true.”

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