Legal statues across democratic countries guarantee citizens the right to freedom of speech and expression, implying that all citizens have the right to express their views and opinions freely. The right to speech and expression goes beyond inclusion of words of mouth and also covers a speech by way of writings, pictures, movies, caricatures and even banners.
The right to freedom of opinion and expression are paramount for the empowerment of Dalits. Yet, social (online and offline) spaces where Dalits would normally freely exchange their views and ideas are fraught with several instances of violent reactions. Dalit women on these forums face sexist and casteist discrimination, which, intersected, impose considerable obstacles for the enjoyment of freedom of expression.
Dalit women defenders face various forms of violence, ridicule and stigma when asserting their rights. Since the right of free speech and expression is articulated with an array of other rights, Dalit women feel trapped in patriarchal values that perpetuate exclusion and marginalization. Even when they get spaces to freely express their thoughts, they find enormous obstacles, such as hindered political participation and hate speech online and offline.
The current narrative of attack on minorities and Dalits followed a few isolated communal incidents, mainly a case of a person getting lynched on charges of cow slaughter and later, the suicide of a young Dalit scholar, Rohith Vemula. A narrative of “intolerance” has been put in place by the government and is used from time to time in the context of uncomfortable expressions by Dalits and other sections in India.
A 2021 Romanian legislation to combat hate-speech against the Roma community has helped little. Racist slurs and hate speech spiked on social media during the COVID-19 pandemic, with some people going as far as blaming the Roma – who are Romania’s largest ethnic minority – for the spread of the virus.
“Hate-speech is especially present in times of crisis,” said Csaba Ferenc Asztalos, President of the National Council for Combating Discrimination, Romania’s anti-discrimination and equality body. “Resources are less, society is more tense, competition is higher, and then people resort to prejudices, false news, to gain or to maintain economic or political power. In this context, the Roma are the target of prejudice.”
The attacks on Roma temporary settlements in 2018 were preceded by anti-Roma articles in online publications followed by calls for violence against Roma by a neo-Nazi group calling itself C14. According to Olha Vesnianka, “the following paradigm was observed in 2018 — the right-wing local group publishes xenophobic statements about the Roma, and shortly afterward comes an offline reaction.”
“There is a growing level of hostility online after such a post, there is support in the comments, the post becomes known and circulated, and then there is an attack. Some information was not verified, and it even seemed that it was created on purpose to justify the attack.”
In Japan, prejudice against Burakumins manifests in both overt and covert forms – they receive death threats, their homes are vandalised with obscene graffiti or they are called names like “scum” and “maggots” on social media.
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