Online Caste-Hate Speech – A Growing Concern
6th April 2021
On 22 March a side-event to the 46th Session of the UN Human Rights Council highlighted the impact of caste-hate speech on-line and what could be done to combat it. The keynote speaker was Dr. Fernand de Varennes, UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues, who argued that ‘Dehumanization of minorities such as Dalits through use of hate-speech is a precursor to violence.’ The event was also used as a launching pad for IDSN’s excellent report on Caste-hate speech researched by Dr Murali Shanmugavelan, with support from the IDSN team.
In the UK we are well aware of the impact of hate speech on social media, the effects of bullying and the consequent mental health problems that can arise. But one of the issues that needs to be confronted globally is how platforms deal with this kind of behaviour, regardless of whether one is in India or Great Britain. While traditional media are liable for harmful consequences, social media is not held up to the same standards. Bigotry can grow exponentially when groups of like-minded people find each other in an anonymous setting, having their opinions reinforced and leading to groupthink that can have devastating real-world consequences. And this can often happen with complete impunity.
As part of the general movement to end hate-speech in all its forms, focus on casteism requires a particular response – namely involving those in moderation roles from the affected communities, who understand the nuances of what is being said. While many in South Asia would be aware of what counts as a casteist slur, in the UK few outside the Diaspora would understand, and therefore much of what is posted online raises no red flags.
In the UK we have enough difficulty getting the government to take caste-based discrimination seriously – the repeal to include ‘caste’ in the Equality Act is intended, but has not gone through yet. Consequently, social media companies have no legislation to adhere to and therefore no necessity to take down caste hate-speech when it pops up online. Don’t think that it’s happening here? Just as an example, those in the UK expressing support for the Farmers’ Protest in India have received a disturbing amount of abuse online, and as many agricultural workers are Dalits, you can imagine the sort of language that is being used.
Nevertheless, we would encourage anyone who encounters caste-hate speech on-line to report it both to moderators and to DSN-UK via our Report Everyday Casteism form. Unless we hold social media companies responsible, we are unlikely to see change.