Haridwar’s hubris of hate must be stopped

A manic irrationality is being seeded in Indian society, with hate-filled words having an impact on the rights of all

Updated - December 30, 2021 11:04 am IST

Published - December 30, 2021 12:02 am IST

speech bubble on orange background.

speech bubble on orange background.

Between December 17 and 19, 2021, a militant Hindu religious assembly was held at Haridwar , Uttarakhand where speakers amplified targeted hate messages. Organised by Yati Narsinghanand Saraswati , the head priest of the Dasna Devi temple and a high-ranking officer of the Juna Akhara (a sect of Hindu seers), the assembly had many speakers who raised the bogey of an Islamic threat to India and Hindus.

Carnival of hate

Swami Prabodhanand Giri, president of the Hindu Raksha Sena, a right-wing organisation, said, “... you have seen this at the Delhi border, they killed Hindus and hung them. There is no more time, the case now is that either you prepare to die now, or get ready to kill, there’s no other way. This is why, like in Myanmar, the police here, the politicians here, the army and every Hindu must pick up weapons and we will have to conduct this cleanliness drive. There is no solution apart from this.” Yati Narsinghanand, a repeat hate-speech offender, also offered ₹1 crore to any youth who would rise up to be a “Hindu Prabhakaran” (a reference to the leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam), in a clear incitement to violent behaviour. Swami Darshan Bharti, a proponent of the Hindu right, again called for restrictions on the buying of land by Muslims in Uttarakhand.

Editorial | Striking fear: On Haridwar hate speech and legal action

I do not want to further amplify the hateful words that were spoken in that carnival of hate at Haridwar. I will instead offer some trajectories of thought. How should we be thinking about these events and processes?

Mass indoctrination

First, let us recognise that there is a manic irrationality that is being carefully seeded in Indian society today and that hate-filled words have an impact on the rights and well-being of all. This process involves consistent and repetitive hate speech and fear speech against minority groups by Hindutva ideologues, which is resulting in a mass cult-like indoctrination aimed at making Hindus believe that they are under immediate threat by those that are not exactly like them. In doing so, a non-existent and unverified threat is manufactured and presented. The speakers at the Haridwar event, between their speeches, painted a picture of an India which is under threat of being taken over by Islamists, and therefore they reasoned, all Muslims must be treated with hate and suspicion. Then the purveyors of this hate speech offered a solution — Hindus must take up weapons against all Muslims in acts of self-preservation. What they effectively outlined for the followers is a fictitious reason for genocide followed by a call to engage in the genocide of Muslims.

Second, we need to think about why in India it has been so difficult to isolate and prosecute hate speech even when it so clearly, dangerously and imminently asks for the weaponisation of the majority and the murder of Muslims. Why do Indian policy-makers still not clearly recognise the extent to which hate-filled narratives lead to actual events that involve a loss of lives, injury to people, loss of dignity and the stripping away of rights of targeted groups?


No distinction

In India we do not make a distinction between hate speech and fear speech. Hate speech (speech that expresses threats, abuse, violence and prejudice) against any community works most effectively when the public sphere has first been saturated with fear speech. Fear speech expresses unknown and unverifiable threats that create a sense of anxiety and panic in individuals. It is purposefully vague. A classic example is the spread of the “satanic panic” in the United States in the 1980s, where the bogey of satanic cults committing ritual child abuse led to deep and widespread public fear.

In India, when Hindutva ideologues tell Hindus that they are under threat by Muslim others, the ideologues are creating mass fear and panic. Every time they re-articulate a trauma inflicted on the Hindu community in the past, they are mobilising an emotion of eternal hurt combined with presenting a targeted group in a negative stereotype. This has special purchase on people when societies are undergoing conditions of economic, social and political inequality and uncertainty. What such speech also encourages someone to do is simple — pick a side. Being in the middle of debates is no longer an option.


Third, what we have been witnessing in India is the sustained escalation of hate speech and fear speech towards an end goal which involves the violent expulsion of Muslims from the Indian body politic. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has managed to coalesce an electorally beneficial Hindu identity around itself and over time it has blessed the rise of extreme Hindu leaders, thereby creating incentives for other such militant religious careerists, many of whom were in attendance in Haridwar. All of them followed the communal formula that can benefit them, and the BJP, politically.

A transformation and support

Fourth, in over a century, Hindutva ideology has progressed from a loose-cluster of fringe organisations to a sustained grass-roots political movement that has electorally managed to capture state institutions. This capture is important. This is why Swami Prabodhanand Giri can confidently talk about enlisting the police and army in a safai abhiyaan (cleanliness drive). The attendees know that they have the support of the ruling party and its institutions. They are almost sure that they can beat prosecution under existing laws that criminalise hate speech. They also instinctively understand through repeat experimentation that hate speech can lead to violence by their followers against targeted groups and that fear speech can diminish the barriers to people engaging in violence.

Fifth, the display at Haridwar that was attended by at least two functionaries of the BJP, Ashwini Upadhyay and Udita Tyagi of the BJP’s Mahila Morcha, was in direct contravention of the rights of citizens that are clearly worded in the Indian Constitution. Speakers threatened of an 1857-style mutiny against Delhi, Uttarakhand, and Uttar Pradesh (sedition), incitement to arms and violence.


One speaker, Sindhu Sagar Swami, even bragged about entrapping 10 Muslims in fake cases under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. All of these are offences under various sections of the Indian Penal Code.

Set in 2014

Finally, let us also acknowledge that the Haridwar hate conference has occurred in the broader context of the escalation of attacks on minority groups, attacks on churches and mosques and the disruption of prayers. The manner and tone for such events to occur was set in 2014. What is becoming clear is that the current Indian state seeks to turn common Hindu citizens into enforcers of its majoritarian vision at the neighbourhood level. The self-styled godmen at Haridwar are the facilitators of this process, allowing the BJP just the right amount of distance to allow for plausible deniability in domestic and international fora. This is most certainly a dangerous path for India because mass political and social radicalisation does not come with power-steering. Those in power would be well advised to start making the moves to check this growing radicalisation as effectively as they seem to move to check the fictitious anti-national activities of their fictitious domestic enemies.

Vasundhara Sirnate Drennan is a political scientist and journalist. She is also the creator of the India Violence Archive, a citizen’s data initiative aimed at recording collective public violence in India

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