AMHERST, Massachusetts: An economist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst has found a possible causal connection between the rise to political dominance of India’s right-wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and a significant increase in the incidence of hate crimes against the country’s religious minorities.
In a recent working paper published by the UMass Amherst Political Economy Research Institute, Deepankar Basu has linked the massive parliamentary victory of the BJP in 2014 with a 300% increase in the level of antiminority hate crimes.
Basu, associate professor of economics at UMass Amherst, used data from Citizen’s Religious Hate Crime Watch to create a state-level panel data set for 27 of India’s states and the National Capital Territory of Delhi, comparing the five years prior to and following the May 2014 election, in which the BJP won over 31% of the popular vote and 282 of 543 seats in India’s lower house of parliament, the Lok Sabha. He found increases in the number of incidents in 20 of the 28 states in the five years following the elections, with double-digit increases in eight states.
In India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, incidents of hate crimes rose from just two in the period of 2009-13 to 45 in the period following the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, in which the BJP collected nearly 43% of the state’s popular vote. Rajasthan’s number of hate crimes rose from two to 20 after the BJP received over 55% of the election’s votes.
Ten states and Delhi had zero incidents of hate crimes reported in the five years prior to the elections but suffered multiple hate crimes in the five years following, with Delhi, Bihar Gujarat and Jharkhand all seeing double-digit crimes reported.
“An election is a way in which information about attitudes, in this case anti-Muslim attitudes, can be thought to be aggregated,” Basu writes. “Thus, BJP’s spectacular electoral victory in 2014 sent a signal to those holding strong anti-Muslim sentiments that such sentiments were widely held in society. Since the election campaigns by key BJP leaders had demonised and vilified Muslims, its victory made it acceptable to verbally and physically attack Muslims. Since key political leaders did not strongly condemn such attacks and law enforcement officials were lax, it reinforced the attacks on Muslims by creating and sustaining a culture of impunity. It is this social atmosphere that encouraged violent, and often lethal, attacks on Muslims across India.”
Basu also collects reports of hate crimes in 2019, and sees the troubling trend continuing, if not possibly increasing.
“In this paper, I have limited my analysis to the end of 2018 to study comparable period before and after the 2014 elections. But incidents of anti-minority hate crimes have continued occurring in 2019 in an equally disturbing manner as in the previous five-year period,” Basu writes. “In fact, since the end of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, which the BJP won in an even more decisive manner, the country has seen a spurt of hate crime incidents. Within a period of about 90 days, the country has witnessed horrific incidents of hate crimes, 13 of which were exclusively against Muslims. It seems that the rate of occurrence of hate crimes against Muslims that had declined between 2017 and 2018 is about to reverse itself.”
The complete working paper, “Majoritarian Politics and Hate Crimes Against Religious Minorities in India, 2009-2018,” is available online via PERI’s website.