Caste-hate speech: Addressing hate speech based on work and descent
This report studying caste-based hate speech was published on March 22, 2021, by the International Dalit Solidarity Network – a collective of individuals and organisations from several countries. Its author is Murali Shanmugavelan – senior teaching fellow at the School of Oriental & African Studies, University of London.
an ancient form of social discrimination in South Asia – continues to exist
through endogamous practices, rituals and cultural codes. Yet, it is not specifically
recognised by any international instrument or treaty on human rights. The
report discusses the ways in which ‘caste-hate speech’ is humiliating and
dehumanising for those at the bottom of the social hierarchy, and studies such
speech in the media and digital spaces. It also argues that such acts be
recognised as a distinctive
form of hate speech by international agencies like the United Nations.
with a review of international human rights documents and media reports, the publication draws on qualitative interviews of over 35 activists, experts, representatives of
civil society organisations and social media platforms, IT professionals and
internet-rights activists, from across South Asia.
The 35-page report contains nine chapters:
Introduction (chapter I); Approach and Methodology (chapter II); Hate speech in
a global context (chapter III); Caste-based discrimination (chapter IV); Legal
recognition of caste-hate speech (chapter V); Manifestations of everyday caste-hate speech
(chapter VI); Caste-hate speech in media and digital spaces (chapter VII); Recommendations
on caste-hate speech (chapter VIII) and Conclusion (chapter IX).
The report cites a case where a Twitter user stated that Dalits and Adivasis should be hit by Covid-19 first due to their demand for reservations. This was said in March 2020, when the pandemic was beginning to spread in India. In 2019, when the social media platform TikTok was gaining traction in India, there were many videos of dominant caste Tamil youths insulting Dalits. “Our time will come,” one user said. “When it arrives, we will kill you.”
Research on communal intolerance by Hindu nationalists – the report notes – indicates that party workers, political consultants and others are the drivers of fake news, extreme speech, and trolling, online. Studies have also noted a distrust towards Dalits, Muslims and critical or dissenting citizens, among sections of middle class caste Hindus in rural and urban areas.
The European Union, in 2008, adopted a set of rules to combat racism and xenophobia based on race, religion, descent, sexual orientation or gender identity, and other characteristics. Several intergovernmental agencies – such as the United Nations and African Union – have undertaken similar measures.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights published the Guidance Tool on Descent-Based Discrimination in 2017 for combating caste-based and similar kinds of discrimination. It mentions hate speech as an early sign for violence against descent-based communities.
The constitutions of Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka prohibit caste discrimination. India and Nepal have additional provisions for the same: the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, and the National Dalit Commission Act, 2017, respectively. India’s laws contain provisions to criminally charge a person for uttering a casteist slur. They mandate reservations for Dalits, Adivasis, and other oppressed groups, in education and public sector employment as a means of affirmative action.
Human rights groups and networks have made attempts to criminalise caste-based discrimination, such as the Dalit Solidarity Network UK’s project ‘Report Everyday Casteism’ which was launched in 2020.
The report considers the United Kingdom’s Equality Act, 2010, which categorises caste as a discriminatory offence under ‘race’.
Most print and television media houses in South Asia are owned or controlled by upper caste individuals and families. During his research, Robin Jeffrey – a Canadian media and development studies professor – did not find a single Dalit journalist in India in the 1990s. None of the chief editors of mainstream media houses are Dalit. However, several independent platforms covering oppressed groups – such as digital news platform Dalit Camera – have come up.
Google, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter have recognised material on caste under their hate speech rules. Twitter India has even consulted the Indian collectives National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights and Social Media Matters to develop comprehensive policies.
The Dalit activists interviewed felt that social media platforms should be more sensitive to caste-based hate speech, which is usually layered with local context. They should also support the visibility of Dalit persons. The report states the example of an activist who is popular for her anti-caste content on social media – the digital platforms refused to verify her account as it had no photos of her, even though she did this for safety reasons.
The hashtag ‘BlackLivesMatter’ – in protest of racially motivated police brutality cases, largely in the United States – was extremely popular on social media, with widespread support from political party leaders, social media platforms and tech corporations, as well as sections of the upper castes. However, the trend ‘DalitLivesMatter’ was hardly given similar support.
Focus and Factoids by Khushi Mehrotra.
Dr. Murali Shanmugavelan
International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN)
22 Mar, 2021