In May last year, when Muslims around the world celebrated Eid al-Fitr, many women in Pakistan were shocked.
The live stream of Ratish Jha and one of his colleagues whom he calls ‘Keshu’ was full of Islamophobic comments. It was seen by hundreds of people in India.
YouTube removed the video and its broadcast channel after several users reported the incident. The women later said they were feeling “insecure” and “scared” and that their Eid was “ruined”.
Eight months later, Mr. Jha, 23, says he was “filled with hatred” at the time. He did not provide any details about Keshu.
India has seen an increase in trolling of women in recent years – especially trolls who criticize Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
In recent years, the growing social divide, both online and offline, has worsened.
Although women of all political parties and ideologies are harassed online, experts say the spread of far-right style and technology has further encouraged young Hindu nationalists.
There have been several incidents of online abuse of women following the YouTube live streaming incident. Two app developers shared photos of Muslim women in a mock ‘auction’ aimed at humiliating them.
Hindu women who criticized Prime Minister Modi and the BJP were also jokingly presented on the audio app ‘Club House’ in a fake ‘for sale’ manner. In all three cases, no women were sold.
After severe public protest, the police arrested nine people in relation to these ‘for sale’ posts, all those people are between 18 to 26 years, mostly where they were active in social media groups. Islamophobic messages were posted regularly.
A senior police official told the BBC that Ratish Jha had also been named in a complaint lodged with the police in connection with a fake clubhouse auction and a YouTube live stream incident.
“We are investigating the matter and if he does not present himself, we will take necessary legal action against him,” said Rashmi Karandikar, head of the Mumbai Police Cyber Cell.
Experts say the incidents are not isolated. Journalist and writer Singdha Poonam say, “I would attribute this to the growing extremism of the Hindu middle class. This is pure prejudice that is emanating from the depths of Hindu society.
Extreme right-wing ecosystem
Ratish Jha now has thousands of followers on the now-deleted YouTube channel that spreads anti-Muslim content he shares. They present offensive jokes that target Islamic practices as “black humor”. They also compare the live streaming of such images of women to ‘tick talk or harmless videos on Instagram’.
Ratish Jha was 14 years old when he was given his first smartphone. He says the material he accessed at the time was his introduction to the right-wing world. I saw memes on it, listened to the speeches of politicians who were shouting that Hindus are in danger, he says.
He says the biased political debates and toxic rhetoric that “identified” Muslims as enemies gradually turned him into a “radical” young man.
“You start to feel that you are being discriminated against, so you start thinking about violence,” says Ratish Jha.
Experts say young people are more likely to be affected by this trend. A study by the Canadian Institute for Strategic Dialogue, which studies the online behavior of right-wing extremists in the country, says: The line has spent more time, it has also created a warmer atmosphere.
India’s right-wing is also undergoing changes, with many now dividing themselves into two groups: the ‘Trades’ and the ‘Raitas’.
The Trojans, or conservatives, have more violent views and believe that the BJP no longer leans to the right. He calls his right-wing opponents or critics right-wing ‘right-wingers’.
Raitas says he prefers to express his views without supporting violence. Abhishek Banerjee, a right-wing columnist, says it’s like a split between leftists. He adds that “as the right-wing has become an influential and powerful ideology in politics and power, its voice is growing and its presence is becoming more visible.”
‘Trades’ – more violent left-wing than left
At the beginning of his Twitter handle, a young Dalit man who just wants to be known as HR, told the BBC how he got into the world of trades. Dalit (formerly untouchable) is the name of the lowest caste of the oppressive Hindu caste system.
In March 2020, HR was invited to join an Instagram group whose stated goal was to “spread accurate information about the Hindu religion.” The person who invited him said that he was impressed by HR’s expertise in discussing “with Muslims online”.
He was asked to include 14-15-year-old children in the group. HR says he was happy to join because he was “proud” of the Hindu faith, but he soon became disillusioned with members who constantly spread hatred not only among Muslims but also among Dalits.
He told the BBC via Twitter that “he thought that Dalits were not Hindus, that it was okay to rape Muslim women to rebuild Hindu India and even justified the killing of children.” can go.’
HR never revealed his identity to the group and left six months after joining. He says he is now fighting a “fight” against the social media handles of “trades”.
One of the women whose photos were uploaded to fake auction apps, Sania Syed, the author, says: Praises, opposes both Muslims and Christians, believes in the oppressive caste system, and hates women with modern ideas and voices, whether Hindu or Muslim.
Sania Syed says her harassers often added her to online trade groups so she could see the objectionable comments made about her. Delhi Police say the man who created the fake auction app was part of a trade group.
A deep division
Mona Sharma, who describes herself as ‘Raita’, says that she and other right-wing women have also been targeted by online trades because they are not in line with their perceptions of how women should be treated.
She was abused online and her husband’s personal information was leaked, Mona Sharma added. Harmless’ activity.
“It is not enough for trades to target modern educated Hindu women,” she says.
Police have had limited success in overcoming this powerful digital ‘ecosystem’. “Law enforcement agencies have no way of monitoring and tracking the millions of accounts on the platforms that are owned by foreign companies,” said Burjeesh Singh, a senior Mumbai police officer.
Experts say the issue is deeper than the hatred of social media. Singadha Poonam believes that Hindu fundamentalism is a serious threat to secularism in India.
“As I am reporting, you will be amazed at how often ordinary people present Pakistan as a model country for India,” she says.
She adds that “there is a strong feeling among a large section of Hindus that India should be for Hindus (as Pakistan is for Muslims), and they feel free to express it today.”
Ratish Jha told the BBC that his actions were “morally wrong” but said that people like him were being “used”.
“We have no idea how hatred is rooted in our minds,” he says. It does not benefit anyone, except those who pursue a hate agenda. ”