Violent Islamophobia and India’s Elections

Today, the Delhi High Court has dismissed a petition to force the Election Committee of India (ECI) to take immediate and effective action on a case submitted separately by both the Indian National Congress and the Communist Party of India (CPI-M), regarding allegations of hate speech by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi on April 21st. Bench of justice Sachin Datta stated, “I cannot micromanage the ECI as to how they deal with the situation.”

The urgent need for action by the ECI is spurred by the impending finish of India’s seven-phase election. The BBC has described has described this election, held over six weeks with “nearly a billion eligible voters”, as “the biggest democratic exercise ever”. This is the stage that Modi chose to fire up a crowd of supporters at an election rally with what has been widely criticized by lawmakers and journalists as thinly-veiled Islamophobic hate speech.

The Prime Minister said, “When they (the Congress) were in power, they said Muslims have first right over resources. They will gather all your wealth and distribute it among those who have more children. They will distribute among infiltrators. Do you think your hard-earned money should be given to infiltrators? Would you accept this?”

This clearly demonstrates a hallmark of dangerous speech that we call “Threat to Group Integrity or Purity”. It’s a tactic used by speakers to “assert that members of another group can cause irreparable damage to the integrity or purity of one’s own group”. In his speech, Modi frames Muslims as “infiltrators”, who seek to steal the “hard-earned money” of Modi’s audience, in a classic example of this hallmark.

As Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seeks a third term of control of government, hate speech and dangerous speech targeting Muslims has risen dramatically. The BJP, a far-right party that has held power since 2014, is grounded in Hindu nationalism – “Hindutva” – the glue of which is rampant and often violent hatred of Muslims.

“Hindutva (literally: Hinduness), a supremacist ideology that privileges Hindus over minorities, started its ascendancy in the latter decades of the 20th century and has now acquired hegemonic status,” as Dangerous Speech Project (DSP) research fellow Prabhir Vishnu Poruthiyil explained in his case study A dangerous speech that triggered lynchings in India (2013-2018). Poruthiyil’s work details how political leaders like Modi implemented gau raksha laws, which punish the slaughter of cattle with harsher punitive measures than murder or rape, as a political tool for the rise and entrenchment of Hindutva in India’s government.

As Poruthiyil writes, “India has become a de facto Hindu theocracy, where institutional protections for democracy have been permanently damaged and made subservient to the interests of fundamentalists in power.” This context is crucial in understanding how the overwhelming amount of hateful and dangerous speech spread by Modi and his party goes largely unchecked.

2023 Report: Hate Speech Events in India by India Hate Lab

The nonprofit research team India Hate Lab has chronicled hundreds of cases of hate speech and dangerous speech in India, with agroundbreaking report detailing 668 cases in 2023 – of which 75% occurred in BJP-controlled states. The lab identified T. Raja Singh, a BJP legislator from Telangana, as the top contributor to dangerous speech in 2023.


Unsurprisingly, Singh’s behavior has continued into 2024, as when he bellowed to a crowd of Hindutva supporters on January 6th, “Is rape not happening to our sisters and daughters today in the name of Love Jihad? They are being trapped and then being made a machine for producing children”.

This statement includes two glaring examples of dangerous speech hallmarks. “Love Jihad” is a Hindutva term used to describe the allegation that Muslim men are kidnapping Hindu women and converting them to Islam, and has been widely debunked as an Islamophobic conspiracy theory. This threat of converting Hindu women into Muslims is what we call an “Assertion of Attack Against Women & Girls, or Children”, which is the “suggestion that women or girls of the in-group have been or will be threatened, harassed, or defiled by members of an out-group. In many cases, the purity of women symbolizes the purity, identity, or way of life of the group itself.” In this dangerous narrative, Hindu women, are not really  victims of imagined violence, but rather a symbol of Hindutva identity.



Singh’s speech, like Modi’s, also features the “Threat to Group Integrity or Purity” hallmark. The legislator’s claim that these nameless Hindu women are being “made a machine for producing children” is a well-documented aspect of the Love Jihad conspiracy that implies Muslims are seeking domination through demographic growth and replacement.

These allegations of a rise in Muslim supremacy are made even more ludicrous when repeated by Singh, who has been shielded from any real consequences for his actions over the years by the BJP’s hegemonic control of India’s government. He has a long track record of clearly inciting violence from as early as 2010, when he was arrested in Hyderabad for “fanning communal clashes”, with a particular penchant for calling for a Hindutva government through armed means. India Today reported in 2022 that the Hyderabad Police knew of 101 charges against him, 18 of which were “communal offenses” under Indian law – “promoting enmity between different groups on ground of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony.”

At one point even the BJP distanced themselves from Singh, suspending his party membership In August 2022 for making derogatory remarks against the Prophet Muhammed. This seemingly had no effect on Singh’s behavior: for example, in March 2023 Singh was charged with yet another communal offense for inciting an audience of mostly BJP officials and workers to throw stones at city buses after an unpermitted rally in Aurangabad. Alarmingly, this example is one of many similar violations of his suspension.

Indeed, the BJP quickly reneged on its own disapproval of Singh’s behavior, reversing his suspension so he could run for the legislature as a BJP member in November 2023. When he filed his candidate paperwork, he acknowledged 75 open cases against him, mostly for illegal hate speech. Throughout the electoral period, Singh continued to spread hate speech and even threatened violence in the event of his loss.

Citing India Hate Lab’s report, the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) warns that “the government’s unequivocal embrace of Hindu nationalism has…mov[ed] the political discourse firmly to the right with regard to religion,” and expects increasing religious polarization, communal violence, and targeting of Muslims throughout the election period and in what is likely to be another term of BJP rule.