South Asia State of Minorities Report 2021: Hate Speech Against Minorities


This report was published by the South Asia Collective, a human rights group aiming to document the discrimination faced by various minority groups – “religious, linguistic, ethnic, caste and gender, among others” – across South Asia. Member organisations of the Collective are based in Dhaka, New Delhi, London, Kathmandu, Lahore and Colombo. This 2021 report is the fifth edition of the South Asia State of Minorities Report, the first of which was published in the year 2016. It focusses on exploring the prevalence and causes of hate speech in six South Asian countries – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. It also examines the legislative and regulatory frameworks in place to curb hate speech.

The report notes that laws and regulations across South Asian countries are not adequately formed or enforced to prevent the incitement of hatred against minorities. The report also highlights the efforts of civil society and non-governmental organisations in addressing this lack and working to promote enforcement of the rights of minorities.

The 306-page report consists of seven chapters: Hate Speech and Incitement to Violence in Afghanistan (Chapter 1); Hate Speech and Incitement to Violence against Minorities in Bangladesh (Chapter 2); India’s Other Pandemic: Anti-Minority Disinformation, Hate, and Incitement to Violence and Discrimination (Chapter 3); Nepal: Hate Speech against Minorities (Chapter 4); Charting Hate Speech against Religious Minorities in Pakistan (Chapter 5); Online Hate Speech in Sri Lanka 2019-2021: Trends, Challenges and Recommendations (Chapter 6); and State of South Asian Minorities 2021 (Chapter 7).


  1. In keeping with the United Nations Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech, the report defines hate speech as “any kind of communication in speech, writing or behaviour, that attacks or uses pejorative or discriminatory language with reference to a person or a group on the basis of who they are, in other words, based on their religion, ethnicity, nationality, race, colour, descent, gender or other identity factor.”

  2. An overwhelming amount of hate speech in South Asia is targeted towards minority communities, the report notes. In Afghanistan, the target minorities are often people belonging to the Shia Hazaras, Sikh and Hindu communities. Hindus, Dalits, and Ahmadiyyas are the targets of hate speech in Bangladesh whereas people belonging to Muslim minority communities like Shia and Ahmadiyya, in addition to Christians and Hindus, are victims of hate speech in Pakistan.

  3. Religious minorities such as Muslims, Christians and Sikhs, as well as Dalits are the primary targets of hate speech in India, the report states. Muslims in Sri Lanka, and Muslims, Christians, Madhesis and Dalits in Nepal are also subjected to hate speech.

  4. During the Covid-19 pandemic, hate speech against Muslims worsened in countries where the Muslim community is a minority. In certain cases, Muslims were also falsely accused of intentionally spreading the disease.

  5. A considerable amount of hate speech in India can be found on social media. The report cites a 2019 study – conducted by Equality Labs – concerning hate speech on Facebook in India. It notes that, of the total content reviewed, Islamophobic content was the largest contributor (37 per cent) of hate speech. As per the same report, caste-based hate speech was the second-largest contributor making up 13 per cent of all the content reviewed.

  6. The report refers to a study conducted by Amnesty International to state that between September 2015 and June 2019, as many as 902 alleged hate crimes resulting in 303 deaths were recorded in India.

  7. As per the Amnesty International study referred to above, 621 out of the 902 cases of alleged hate crimes in India were motivated by caste and almost all (99.5 per cent) of the victims in such cases belonged to Dalit communities. Around 217 of the 902 cases – resulting in 91 deaths – were reported to be motivated by religion and the victims in these instances were majorly Muslims (89 per cent) and Christians (eight per cent). The study adds that 113 hate crimes were linked to concerns regarding ‘cow protection’.

  8. There is no law in India that defines hate speech. The Indian Penal Code considers speech “promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc.” as a punishable offence. However, legal measures like these have been typically wielded against dissenters such as human rights activists, lawyers, journalists, and artists, the report states.

  9. None of the six South Asian countries that this report covers has laws in place that meet standards laid out by the UN to safeguard minority communities against hate speech or to penalise perpetrators. The report adds that these countries have not yet aligned their laws and policies with the UN Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech.

  10. Widespread hate speech has been practised in Afghanistan since the 1990s, the report states. The country had since pledged to conform to human rights principles such as those outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

  11. In Bangladesh, the Digital Security Act, 2018, penalises the publication or broadcast of information that might hurt religious sentiments. However, in a survey conducted for this report, 87.8 per cent of respondents from the country said that either they or people they know have experienced hate speech and violence.

  12. The spread of the Covid-19 pandemic in Sri Lanka resulted in many instances where Muslims were harassed and Islamophobic sentiments were shared on social media. Between March and December 2020, 26 per cent of hate speech recorded was targeted towards the Muslim community.

  13. The report urges the United Nations and the international community at large to persuade national governments to adopt laws against the incitement of hate and violence towards minority communities. It encourages international organisations to evaluate on-ground situations and petition governments to enforce legal measures and penalise responsible parties for violating human rights.

  14. National governments are petitioned to take active measures by putting into place strong mechanisms, laws, and frameworks against hate speech while also ensuring that freedoms of speech and information are not encroached upon.

    Focus and Factoids by Sruthi Venkateswaran.

    PARI Library's health archive project is part of an initiative supported by the Azim Premji University to develop a free-access repository of health-related reports relevant to rural India.


Elaine Alam, Harindrini Corea, Sabah Gurmat, Sajjad Hassan, Zakir Hossain, Monjurul Islam, Hafizullah Saeedi, Amalini De Sayrah, Ritika Singh, Abhimanyu Suresh and Sudeshna Thapa


The South Asia Collective


Dec, 2021