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IndiaSpend Pulls Down Its Hate Tracker; Swarajya Showed It Was Strongly Biased Against Hindu Victims

Author: Swati Goel Sharma
Publication: Swarajyamag.com
Date: September 13, 2019
URL:      https://swarajyamag.com/ideas/indiaspend-pulls-down-its-hate-tracker-swarajya-showed-it-was-strongly-biased-against-hindu-victims

Snapshot

- IndiaSpend’s ‘Hate Tracker’ is gone but many questions on its data and methodology still remain unanswered.

A website run by the data portal Indiaspend --- Factchecker.in --- announced on Wednesday that it was disassociating itself from a database that it had been maintaining since October 2018. Called ‘Hate Crime Watch’ --- a database of hate crimes in India --- it was located at the URL p.factchecker.in.

The database, as per the portal, was an attempt to “document the rising incidence of religious-bias-motivated hate crimes and any related patterns that emerge”.

The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), the Indian government agency responsible for collecting and analysing crime data, does not maintain specific data on religious hate crimes as they are not defined under the Indian law.

The portal tweeted, “Hate Crime Watch is moving to a new home. With this, we effectively and immediately end our association with this crucial tool…We believe that Hate Crime Watch has outgrown its purpose and merits its own standing.”

Though the portal did not officially announce it, it has also pulled down its other database on ‘cow-related violence in India’ that was available at lynch.factchecker.in. This database was quoted by advocate Indira Jaisingh in an affidavit to the Supreme Court in 2018 for a petition to crackdown on so-called cow vigilantes.

Hate Crime Watch used reports from the English media to identify the religious identities of victims and perpetrators, and the motivation for the crimes. It counted such crimes that have occurred since 2009.

As of 9 September 2019, the database had recorded 303 attacks to conclude that Muslims were overwhelmingly the largest victims of hate crimes in India and Hindus overwhelmingly the highest perpetrators.

“Muslims (14 per cent of India’s population) were victims in 60 per cent of hate crimes; Christians (2 per cent of population) in 14 per cent cases; Hindus (79.8 per cent of population) in 14 per cent cases. In 10 per cent or 30 incidents, the victim’s religion was not reported,” it said.

The database was cited by several left-leaning and far-left Indian and foreign publications in the run up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. It was used to make the claim that in the five years of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government from 2014 to 2019, hate crimes against Muslims soared in India.

The database claimed that 90 per cent of religious hate crimes in the last decade occurred since Narendra Modi came to power.

The publications citing the database included NDTV, The Hindu, Economic and Political Weekly, The Wire, Scroll.in, and The Quint, as well as the Washington Post, Al Jazeera, New York Times, New Yorker and the BBC.

Swarajya has repeatedly criticised the database for its strong anti-Hindu bias as well as flawed methodology and selective application through a series of reports, analysis and social media posts.

On several occasions, the portal was forced to make changes in its data and methodology. Ground check of a case that the portal had claimed it had “verified” revealed that it had fabricated facts to boost the number of Muslim victims (more on this later in this report).

Several social media used the database as the basis for calls for mass violence against Hindus. For instance, a Twitter handle ‘@official_mjaved’ posted last year that “Hindu is not in danger, Hindu is a danger...not according to me, according to facts.” (translated).

Another handle, ‘@khanate18’ said that “Muslims in India need nothing short of armed rebellion.” Yet another user, ‘@remotehai’ used the database to say that time had come for Muslim nations in the world to form one arm of Islam.

The portal did not comment when this correspondent brought these posts to its notice.

The database routinely came under fire from commentators, media persons and social media users. To give but one example, author-columnist Anand Ranganathan called it “propaganda”.

However, despite glaring bias and serious issues with methodology, the database was never scrutinised by other media houses. Even the portal’s strong connection to BJP’s political rival Congress, and the related issue arising out of conflict of interest, was ignored.

In December 2018, the official Twitter handle of the Congress Party cited the database to take a political dig at PM Modi. “The year 2018 saw the most hate crimes motivated by religious bias in India in a decade. Acche din for whom PM Modi?” the tweet said.

The founding trustee of Factchecker.in’s parent organisation IndiaSpend, Praveen Chakravarty, was the data analytics head of the Congress party at that time. Earlier this month, he was promoted to be chairman of Congress' technology and data cell.

In the general elections that were held from 11 April to 19 May, the BJP won 303 out of 542 Lok Sabha seats while the Congress suffered a crushing defeat and was shrunk to 52 seats.

In July, a group of 49 celebrities cited the database in an open letter to Modi to complain about violence against minorities under his second stint as the prime minister.

“254 religious identity-based hate crimes were reported between January 1, 2009 and October 29, 2018 where at least 91 persons were killed and 579 were injured (Factchecker.in database (October 30, 2018)…About 90 per cent of these attacks were reported after May 2014, when your government assumed power nationally,” the letter said.

The signatories included convicted Naxalite, Binayak Sen along with Shyam Benegal, Aparna Sen, Ramchandra Guha and others.

The letter was followed by a counter statement by 62 other celebrities including Kangana Ranaut, Biswajit Chatterjee and Prasoon Joshi, accusing the former of “selective outrage and false narratives”.

"49 self-styled guardians and conscience keepers of the nation and of democratic values have once again expressed selective concern and demonstrated a clear and political bias and motive,” the counter letter said.

There has been no reply from the first side.

The BJP has maintained a silence on the database and its conclusions all along.

The portal has not clearly stated why it pulled down the database. A website quoted “sources” to report that “Factchecker had been facing pressure from entities that were funding the website. The portal allegedly succumbed to the pressure and the database was erased.”

The report did not specify what kind of pressures. It also cited resource-crunch as a possible reason.

Another website quoted Govindraj Ethiraj, the founder of IndiaSpend and Factchecker.in, as saying that the portal’s editor Samar Halarnkar has “taken a call that he would like to pursue this project independently”. Halarnkar reportedly quit the portal on Wednesday (11 September).

Documented Bias Against Hindu Victims

Swarajya first called out the website in November for choosing select English publications as its primary source.

Read: Selective Data On Communal Violence In India: IndiaSpend, English Media Have A Lot To Answer For.

The choice introduced bias at the source itself as it’s well-known and well-documented that English media consistently ignores atrocities done on Hindus by Muslims. English media also evades mentioning Muslims when they are perpetrators.

For instance, in an August 2018 case where the Hindi media widely reported that a group of Muslims pelted stones at kanwariyas when they were passing by a mosque in Rajasthan’s Tonk district, the English newspaper, The Times of India called the perpetrators as “miscreants” and avoided mentioning their religious identity.

After Swarajya’s reports, the portal promised to include regional media reports in its database. However, it never did.

We further showed that the portal applied its definition of hate crimes selectively.

For instance, it refused to consider the Tonk attack as a hate crime, arguing that “available evidence does not suggest a motivation partly or wholly based on bias against the victim's religion.”

However, it added a case where a Hindu group carrying out a Tiranga rally in Uttar Pradesh’s Kasganj district had asked a Muslim group to clear the way for them. The portal justified the inclusion, saying that “it later aggravated and led to communal violence.”

When it was pointed out that the same held true even for the Tonk case, the portal ignored the argument. Instead of correcting the selective application of its own argument, the portal remained mum on the questions.

Swarajya’s second report titled, ‘IndiaSpend’s hate crime watch is Hinduphobic, tailor-made to show mainly Muslims as victims’ carried several such examples.

The database wasn’t marred by bias alone. It was caught misrepresenting facts on several occasions.

Even though the portal claimed that each case in its database had been verified, ground check of a case revealed that it had listed a fight between two Muslim couples as a communal crime.

Read: Ground Report: How Indiaspend Twisted Facts To List Fight Between Muslims As ‘Communal Clashes’ For Hate Database.

The portal had listed the four persons as ‘victims’ of religious hate at the hands of ‘unknown perpetrators’, thus inflating the number of Muslim victims.

When exposed, the portal pulled down the case but brazened it out saying that “corrections in a few incidents does not affect the overarching trends in religious-bias motivated hate crime.”

The portal refused to consider the February Pulwama attack as a hate crime, arguing that it was an attack on the nation and not a religious hate crime.

When it was pointed out that the attacker --- a Kashmiri resident named Adil Ahmad Dar --- had posted a statement that he was driven by hatred for “cow piss-drinking” Hindus, the portal neither replied not corrected the database.

At least 44 CRPF personnel were killed in the suicide attack.

Read: After Pulwama, Hate-Crime Checkers Need To Re-Examine Their Basics.

Recently, the portal came under fire after an activist leaked the audio conversation of its reporter with a minor Dalit boy where the reporter seemed to be manipulating him into denying the religious hate angle in an attack on him and his family in June.

The Dalit family had alleged that they were sexually assaulted and beaten up by the neighbouring Muslim family after being consistently pressured into leaving the “Muslim village” and shift to a “Hindu village”.

When confronted with the audio, the portal denied the manipulation and simply said that it had decided that the case was indeed a hate crime. It is pertinent to mention that the portal never added the case to its database.

Read the details of the episode here: What Reporting On The Begusarai Dalit Atrocity Case Has Told Me About The English Media.

Just two days before it was pulled down, the portal was asked by this correspondent why it had not added the case of Bharat Yadav. The portal has not yet replied.

Yadav, a lassi shop owner in Mathura, was thrashed by a mob in June. He died of the injuries five days later.

Yadav’s younger brother Pankaj, a survivor of the assault, revealed that the Muslim mob had repeatedly called the brothers ‘kaafir’ before dragging them out of their shop and mercilessly beating them.

Reacting to this correspondent’s questions to the portal, T V Mohandas Pai, chairman of the Manipal Global Education Services, tagged Govind Ethiraj in a Twitter post on 7 September and asked, “This pathological bias has gone on long enough,now amounting to fraud;You have damaged a community reputation globally;will you pl immediately stop such biased data pl? (sic)”

The database has been pulled down for now but the questions remain. And it can come up again anytime too.

- Swati Goel Sharma is a senior editor at Swarajya. She tweets at @swati_gs.

 
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