Mob, Murder, Motivation: The Emergence of Hate Crime Discourse in India

16(1) Socio-Legal Review (2020)

32 Pages Posted: 11 Jun 2020

See all articles by M. Mohsin Alam Bhat

M. Mohsin Alam Bhat

Queen Mary University of London, School of Law; Yale Law School

Date Written: May 1, 2020


Since 2015, various legal and civil society actors started highlighting the visible rise in media-recorded incidents of anti-Dalit and anti-Muslim violence in the country. These conversations were marked by diverse and competing ways of describing and legally addressing such events. One of the categories that the various actors came to deploy was hate crime. The hate crime concept is distinct from other alternatives like lynching, communal riot and vigilantism due to its simultaneous focus on motivation and social hierarchy. In response to a set of petitions in 2018, the Supreme Court of India through a series of guidelines in Tehseen Poonawalla v Union of India, sought to introduce greater official accountability, procedural protection to victims and witnesses, and more stringent punishment for perpetrators. This article argues that the Court’s intervention is best interpreted in the light of the hate crime concept. This is evident when we situate the case in the longer trajectory of the media and public discourse, the framing of the legal arguments, and finally the Court’s order. Nevertheless, the article argues that while there is a definite emergence of the hate crime framework in the Indian legal and policy discourse, it continues to be inconsistently and contradictorily applied to the detriment of coherence and effectiveness. The article concludes that the most effective way to address these limitations is to foreground the conceptual and institutional recourses of the hate crime concept.

Keywords: Lynching, Mob Violence, Hate Crime, India, Discrimination, Minorities, Religious Minorities, Caste, Criminal Justice, Vigilantism, Indian Muslims, Equal Citizenship, Supreme Court of India, Law and Media, Law and Social Movements, Communal Violence, Subordination, Atrocities, Targeted Violence, PIL

Suggested Citation

Bhat, M. Mohsin Alam, Mob, Murder, Motivation: The Emergence of Hate Crime Discourse in India (May 1, 2020). 16(1) Socio-Legal Review (2020), Available at SSRN: or

M. Mohsin Alam Bhat (Contact Author)

Queen Mary University of London, School of Law ( email )

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United Kingdom

Yale Law School ( email )

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