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Post-Pulwama anti-minority, Islamophobic WhatsApp messages "up" from 24% to 41%

By Our Representative
A new research has shown that if between November 14 to February 13, 2019, as many as 23.84 percent the percentage of messages on WhatsApp groups were allegedly “anti-Muslim, Islamophobic, and deeply inflammatory with an intent to create disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred, or ill-will between Hindus and Muslims”, these sharply went up after the Pulwama attack on February 14.
Carried out by Soma Basu, who has researched on “Islamophobic hate speech on WhatsApp” as a fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Oxford University, the expert says that after Pulwama “that claimed the lives of 44 paramilitary personnel, 41.19 percent of the messages were inflammatory and instigated people against a community, religion, profession or others.”
According to Basu, “In this category, 23.64 percent of messages targeted Kashmiris, 32.72 percent of the messages were anti-Muslim, and 43.63 percent of the messages were targeted against journalists, civil society members and celebrities”, adding, “Such messages have the potential to incite violence.”
Claiming to have analyzed a whopping 60,000 WhatsApp messages in order to reach these conclusions, the scholar, identified as an investigative journalist based in India, says, quoting Lokniti-CSDS Mood of the Nation (MOTN) survey, WhatsApp may be an “encrypted messaging platform used by more than 230 million people in India”, yet “every sixth user is a member of a political WhatsApp group”, which makes it the “most important tool of propaganda used by political parties in India.”
Basu says, she went in for analyzing this phenomenon – which has already taken roots in Brazil, Spain, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and the Philippines –ahead of the Lok Sabha polls in order to “understand how the BJP was manufacturing hate and to measure the extent of Islamophobia and hate speech on WhatsApp and the sources of such messages.”
In all, she says, she “took a deep dive into more than 140 pro-BJP groups on the platform for a period of four months”, finding that “approximately a quarter of 60,000 messages that I analyzed quantitatively were Islamophobic and anti-Muslim.”
“These messages portray all Muslim citizen of India as either terrorists or a community that is plotting genocide against the Hindus”, Basu says, adding, “Most of these narratives on WhatsApp are supported by fake and concocted news stories, fudged data and incorrect, out of context translations of the Quran.”
According to her, “Some of the major narratives pushed through social media include the following: Hindus are under threat (#HinduKhatreMeinHain); Hindus are becoming a minority in India; Muslims will kill Hindus and rape Hindu women if they become a majority in India; all Muslims support Pakistan; all Muslims are terrorists (#TerrorismHasReligion); non-BJP parties support Muslims and hence are anti-Hindu; and non-BJP parties support terrorism.”
Basu underlines, “A large number of these messages are conspiratorial in nature and provoke the Hindu majority in India to not just deny or deprive Muslims of their rights as citizens of India, but also cause loss of their life and property. Some of the messages called for outright war, witch-hunting of Muslims and “teaching them lessons” by violent means. Old videos of beheadings from Syria and Iraq were shared to support the narratives.”
“The animosity against Muslims, cultivated over social media over a period of time, led to widespread attacks on Kashmiri traders in different parts of the country, trolling and abuse of Muslims and anybody who spoke against the culture of hate or stood against war, including the wife of one of the paramilitary troops killed at Pulwama”, Basu says.
“Videos of Kashmiris being beaten up or harassed were shared routinely in the WhatsApp with messages inciting others to participate in the harassment and violence to prove their nationalism”, she says.
Basu notes, “Phone numbers of activists, journalists, celebrities who were known to speak against human rights abuses in Kashmir, or India-Pakistan art and cultural exchange initiatives were shared widely and people were encouraged to call and harass them. Hit lists were circulated and also listed questions that could be asked of those called.”
What is worse, she says, is that the ministry of information and broadcasting “issued a circular to news outlets against disseminating ‘anti-national’ content just after the Pulwama attack”, adding, only after nine days of “widespread attacks on Kashmiris and Muslims across India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, an active Twitter user, finally said that ‘our fight is for Kashmir, not against Kashmiris’.”
Basu emphasises, a comparative analysis of groups run by supporters of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samajwadi Party, Trinamool Congress and Rashtriya Janata Dal – two of whom she joined – as also dataset of 80 pro-Congress Party WhatsApp groups suggested that “propaganda and fake news are shared in all the political WhatsApp groups”, but “hate speech and Islamophobia were unique to the pro-BJP groups.”
Referring to the non-BJP WhatsApp groups, Basu says, “None of the groups observed shared anti-Hindu messages.”

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