The websites of Hindutva Watch and India Hate Lab, independent research projects based in the United States that document hate crimes against religious minorities in India, have been blocked by the Modi government.
Notices were issued under section 69A of the Information Technology (IT) Act, allowing authorities to prevent public access to information in the interest of India’s sovereignty, integrity, and security. The move follows warnings to the founder, Raqib Hameed Naik, about potential blocking. Both projects have faced restrictions, with Hindutva Watch’s Twitter account being withheld in India earlier, reflecting a broader trend of censorship.
Hindutva Watch, initiated by Naik, a Kashmiri journalist residing in the US, launched in April 2021. The project, which involves 12 volunteers across five countries, has become a crucial database documenting hate speech and violence against religious minorities in India. The blocking of the websites aligns with concerns about freedom of expression and access to information, especially considering the recent Supreme Court decision overturning a section of the IT Act that allowed the government to prosecute for online “offensive” messages.
Indian government’s actions raise concerns about freedom of expression, transparency, and the democratic functioning of the country. The government’s use of the IT Act to block information has faced criticism, particularly in the context of increasing restrictions on independent voices and news outlets.
The decline in India’s ranking to 161 out of 180 countries in the 2023 World Press Freedom Index further highlights the challenges faced by those monitoring hate crimes and speech. As the country heads toward national elections in April-May 2024, the suppression of independent voices and documentation of hate crimes raises questions about the government’s commitment to transparency.
Suppression Amid Election Preparations
Hindutva Watch and India Hate Lab released a joint report in September 2023, analyzing over 255 documented incidents of hate speech against Muslims. The report revealed that 80% of the events occurred in states governed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP, with 70% in states set to hold elections in 2023 and 2024.
With India approaching national elections, there are concerns about the use of hate speeches to incite people. Rather than obstructing such projects, the government should view them as allies in promoting transparency and addressing hate crimes. The recent blocking of websites is seen as part of a larger pattern of censorship, impacting the democratic fabric of the ‘largest democracy of the world.’
The blocking of Hindutva Watch and India Hate Lab’s websites is seen as part of a broader challenge facing independent documentation efforts. As the government takes measures to suppress information, concerns are raised about the potential impact on the democratic process.
The situation also highlights the risks faced by those attempting to monitor hate crimes and speech in an environment where independent viewpoints are increasingly under threat. The blocking of these websites reflects a larger issue of censorship and suppression, with implications for the free press and the democratic functioning of India.