On June 6, in an interview given to ANI, the founder of Isha Foundation Jaggi Vasudev, better known as ‘Sadhguru’, claimed that India has not witnessed “major” communal violence in the past 5-6 years or 10 years.

Sadhguru is on a worldwide tour where he is allegedly covering 18,000 miles across Europe, the Middle East and India on his motorbike to “raise awareness” about soil. On Monday, in an interview given to ANI’s Smita Prakash, Sadhguru was asked about the rising religious intolerance in the country, to which he replied, “I think we tend to exaggerate things quite a bit. Yes, there are a few issues which have come to debate and there’s a lot of heat on the television channels, you don’t see that anywhere on the street, all right. You walk across Delhi you walk across any village in the country, there is no such intolerance or such violence or anything… [sic]”

He further goes on to say, “25 years ago when we were in university there was not a single year when there was no major communal riot in the country. Every year there used to be somewhere… major… we have not heard of such things in the last five-six years at least or maybe ten years we have not heard of such things here and there some flash points have happened, unfortunately… [sic]”

This part of the interview was also shared on Twitter by ANI and has been republished by multiple news organisations in a perfunctory manner.

Analysis of the comment

Smita Prakash’s question to Sadhguru was about the rising religious intolerance in the country, however, it seems Sadhguru’s understanding of intolerance means conflicts that end up becoming large-scale communal violence. Intolerance does not necessarily mean that it has to turn into communal violence that results in a large number of deaths. It can be attributed to everyday instances that regress individual freedom, further alienate religious minorities, raise the number of hate crimes, hate speeches, and much more.

Is intolerance only on TV?

To answer this question, we contacted journalists Alishan Jafri and Naomi Barton who are part of The Heartland Hatewatch Project, which monitors religiously-motivated hate speech and hate crimes in the northern ‘Hindi belt’. The states monitored also include Karnataka, Tripura and Gujarat.

Using their database we found that in the first five months of 2022, there were at least 88 cases of communally-motivated incidents reported in the media in these states.

Source: The Heartland Hatewatch Project

April had the highest number of communally-motivated incidents with 22 cases. During this time of the year, Ram Navami processions were carried out and multiple communal incidents were reported. The months of May and February reported 20 cases each, despite the database for the month of May being incomplete. Some prominent examples of religious majoritarianism and intolerance are listed below:

  • In February of 2022, in the country’s capital, a Christain Pastor was assaulted by a mob and was made to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’. The mob also accused the pastor of carrying out religious conversion ‘forcefully’.
  • In March, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad in Karnataka demanded the eviction of Muslim traders around Chamundeshwari Temple.
  • In April, during a Ram Navami procession in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur, a man reportedly climbed on top of a mosque and placed a saffron flag on the structure.
  • Again in April, the Sri Ram Sene in Karnataka destroyed carts of fruits of a Muslim seller at the Dharwad Temple.
  • In May, a Dharam Sansad was held in the country’s capital where provocative speeches were delivered by multiple influential personalities, and journalists covering the event were assaulted.

We also checked the website of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) which publishes a report called “Crime in India” where annual statistics on national crime are available since 1953. We checked the reports from 2014 to 2020 to see data on communal riots in the country in recent years. The data for 2019 and 2020 are not mentioned in the table, however, the data for both the years are available as separate links.

Using the NCRB data, we found that the total number of communal riots reported since 2014 is 5403. We noticed that 2014 recorded the highest number of communal violence, with 1000+ cases being reported. After 2014, there was a decline till 2019. But there is not a single year where communal violence has not been reported. Moreover, we also noticed that between 2019 and 2020, there was a 94% jump in communal violence across the country.

Source: NCRB CII (2014 – 2020)

The NCRB also records data on the total number of victims of communal incidents and it showed that 7,858 people have been victims of communal violence between 2014 and 2020.

It is important to note that the NCRB report started providing the data on communal violence separately only after 2013. Prior to that, the data on communal violence was merged under the larger banner of “Riots”, which includes, industrial, political, sectarian, caste-related violence etc. among others. However, we did find a news report about data on communal violence provided by the Ministry of Home Affairs in reply to an RTI query in 2019.

Using the data provided by the Home Ministry in the RTI reply, we found that between 2007 and 2013, the number of communal violence cases reported was 5325. In the UPA era, the highest number of communal violence was reported in 2008, with 943 cases, followed by 2009 with 849 cases.

Source: RTI response/MHA

We also noticed some discrepancies when we compared the data provided by the MHA to the data provided by the NCRB. For example, as per the data by MHA, in 2014 only 644 cases of communal violence took place. But as per NCRB, the number of communal violence cases in 2014 was 1213. Again, as per the MHA, the number of communal violence cases in 2017 was 822, but when we check the data provided by the NCRB, the number is 723.

Source: MHA | NCRB

This discrepancy in the data on communal violence provided by the MHA and the NCRB is not new. It has been highlighted year after year and has been widely reported by various media outlets.

Despite the contradictory data provided by the government, there’s not a single year when communally-motivated incidents have not been reported. And speaking of intolerance, days after his amiable interview with ANI, Sadhguru recently ended an interview with BBC Tamil after the interviewer asked him questions about his organisation violating environmental laws.

Vigilantism and declining polity indexes

The argument that Sadhguru made is that 25 years ago large-scale communal violence was common – it happened every single year. When we look at the paper ‘Hindu-Muslim Communal Riots in India Part I and II‘, from the year 1979 up to 1993, there has been consistent large-scale communal violence every two to three years. In the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom, almost 3000 Sikhs died. The year 1989 till 1993 i.e., just before the demolition of Babri Masjid and post-demolition, at least 1612 people died in the violence.

Source: Hindu-Muslim Communal Riots in India Part I & II

One cannot refute the arguments made by Sadhguru, because large-scale communal violence leaving hundreds and thousands of people dead was indeed quite common. However, the nature and manifestations of communal violence in India have changed. Today, low-intensity, pocket violence has replaced large-scale ones. Vigilantism, hate speech and collective punishments have become common features of the country.

For example, the word “bulldozer” found a place in the Indian political lexicon during the 2022 Uttar Pradesh assembly elections. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has been referred to as “Bulldozer baba” by his supporters for bulldozing houses of accused criminals, a form of state punishment without a trial where the properties of the accused are demolished, rendering them and their families without a roof to live. Following the UP elections, the term got picked up by BJP supporters in Madhya Pradesh who started referring to CM Chouhan as “Bulldozer mama” after multiple district administrations razed the houses of three rape-accused. Victims of this bulldozer politics are usually Muslims.

At the beginning of this year, FIR was registered against the organisers of a three-day ‘Dharam Sansad’, which was held in December of 2021, where several Hindu religious leaders had given incendiary addresses targeting Muslim minorities. The chief organiser of the gathering, Yati Narsinghanand, was later arrested by the police and is out on bail since then. Despite his bail conditions asking him not to make such provocative comments, Narsinghanand continues to make these speeches and has made calls for violence against Muslims (here and here). These hate speeches are not limited to people like Narsinghanand. We have also heard BJP leaders speak in the same language during the UP assembly elections (here and here).

Vigilantism is also on the rise. Between 2010 and 2017, 86% killed in cow-related violence were Muslims. WhatsApp is used as a tool by Hindutva vigilante groups to constantly monitor the activities of Muslims in a region, whether to punish cattle “smugglers” or to police interfaith couples. In the entirety of December 2021, Hindu vigilante groups did not allow Muslims to offer Friday prayers in the National Capital Region.

Source: IndiaSpend | The Hindu

In 2021, a Muslim comedian ended up spending 37 days in jail for a joke he didn’t crack. Again in 2021, a senior Muslim politician’s house was vandalised after he compared Hindutva ideology with radical Islamist groups. Similarly, in February of 2022, Shah Rukh Khan, an influential Muslim actor and the poster boy of India’s soft power, was falsely accused of spitting on Lata Mangeshkar’s mortal remains. Despite status, power, and even fan following, attacking religious minorities has become a common affair. One can be a celebrity or a roadside vendor but harassment due to Muslim identity is common. The only difference is that Muslims who cannot afford expensive legal assistance are at a greater disadvantage due to poverty.

Muslim men are also accused of love jihad, a conspiracy theory according to which Muslim men are trained to trap Hindu women. Multiple states have introduced laws based on this conspiracy.

Global response to growing hate in India

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has put India on the list of ‘Country of Particular Concern’ since 2020. Similarly, for the last two consecutive years, India has been termed ‘partly free’ in terms of democracy and freedom in the annual Freedom House report. India’s Press Freedom Index has also been in freefall for a while now, ranking at 150/180 as of 2022. The annual Human Freedom Index report put out by Cato Institute in the US and Fraser Institute in Canada has also ranked India 119/165 as of December 2021.

Aakar Patel, the chair of Amnesty International India and the author of the book ‘Price of the Modi Years’ said in a conversation with Alt News, “Violence against Muslims has risen in India post-2014 accompanied by deliberate political exclusion. It is for this reason that for the last two years India has been named a ‘Country of Particular Concern’ by the bipartisan USCIRF, with sanctions recommended against Indian government functionaries. India has been rated ‘partly free’ and Kashmir ‘not free’ by Freedom House because of the assault on liberties, particularly of minorities. On Pew Research Center’s ‘Religious Restrictions Monitor’ India was in the top 10 in each of the following categories: countries with high levels of social hostilities related to religious norms, countries with high levels of inter-religious tension and violence, countries with high levels of religious violence by organised groups and countries with high levels of individual and social group harassment. Violence against Indian Muslims is state-sponsored through rhetoric and extra-judicial punishment and the world has noticed this.”

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About the Author

Kalim is a journalist with a keen interest in tech, misinformation, culture, etc