Fertiliser jihad, UPSC jihad: Conspiracy theories feeding hate in India
A major plank of hate speech events are conspiracy theories like love jihad, vyapar jihad, and land jihad, says Hindutva Watch report
In the first half of 2023 alone, at least 255 incidents of hate speech gatherings targeting Muslims were recorded in India, says a recent report published by Hindutva Watch, a Washington-based research group. While some 205 (80 per cent) events were documented in BJP-ruled states and Union Territories, one of the major planks of these hate speech events seems to have been conspiracy theories like “love jihad,” “vyapar jihad”, and “land jihad”, the report says.
The report, which is based on activities of Hindu far-right organisations and their members recorded on social media, states that around 64 per cent of the hate speech events in BJP-ruled states and UTs had references to these Hindu far-right anti-Muslim conspiracy theories. Overall, 51 per cent of all the hate speech gatherings in 15 states and two UTs featured anti-Muslim conspiracy theories.
The rise of conspiracy theories was also closely linked with the “BJP’s efforts to mobilise Hindu nationalism (Hindutva) for electoral benefit”, says the report. So, what are these many conspiracy theories the Hindu right wing is using to fuel hate against Muslim minorities, according to the Hindutva Watch report?
Bizarre conspiracy theories
Love Jihad: This conspiracy theory claims that Muslim men lure Hindu women into marriage simply to convert them to Islam and orchestrate Muslim dominance in India.
Population Jihad: According to Hindu right wingers, Muslims make a coordinated effort to become the majority community in India by reproducing. This is basically a Hindutva adaptation of the white-nationalist Great Replacement Theory. However, data of the last census reveals that Muslims comprise only 14 per cent of India’s population.
Land Jihad: This one states that Muslims deliberately build religious structures or hold mass prayers to occupy public or government land. Several right wing-leaning news channels and ruling-party politicians have spread this conspiracy theory, says the report.
Mazar Jihad: Similar to Land Jihad, this conspiracy theory claims that Muslims deliberately build mazars (shrines) on government and forest land to state claim over it.
Economic Jihad: This bigoted conspiracy theory claims that Muslims and Muslim-owned businesses make a coordinated effort to cause economic harm to Hindus. 'Economic boycott', or the mass refusal to do business with Muslim-owned enterprises is practised by right-wingers.
Halal Jihad: This theory claims that Halal certifications are essentially meant to harm Hindus and aim to raise money for terrorism and threaten the Indian economy.
Thook Jihad: The bizarre conspiracy theory suggests that Muslims deliberately “spit” on Hindus to contaminate their food and spread infectious diseases.
UPSC Jihad: This conspiracy theory claims that Muslims are “infiltrating” the bureaucracy by manipulating Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) rules. In reality, Muslims have always underrepresented in the Indian bureaucracy and continue to be so.
Fertilizer Jihad: Initially spread by BJP’s Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, this theory claims that Muslim farmers are primarily responsible for the overuse of fertilizers in agriculture.
Nature of hate
Worryingly, around 33 per cent of these gatherings explicitly called for violence against Muslims, says the report, while about 11 per cent included explicit calls for Hindus to boycott Muslims. Nearly 12 per cent featured a call to arms. Around 4 per cent of all such events featured hate-filled and sexist speeches explicitly targeting Muslim women.
There also seems to be a direct connection with such anti-Muslim hate speeches and elections, says the report, highlighting the potential use of anti-Muslim hate speeches for voter mobilization. In all, about 70 per cent of these events were reported in states with elections either in 2023 or 2024.
The report reveals that around 52 per cent of hate speech gatherings in BJP-ruled states and Union territories were organised by bodies affiliated to the RSS, including the BJP, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Bajrang Dal, and the Sakal Hindu Samaj.
Overall, 42 per cent of all hate speech gatherings in 15 states and two UTs were orchestrated by groups affiliated with the RSS. The report, backed by other studies, also states that there has been a rise in hate speeches in India since 2014 when the BJP assumed power at the Centre.
The largest number of such hate speech gatherings were held in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Gujarat, in that order, with Maharashtra alone reporting 29 per cent of them, the report has revealed.