Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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Rohingya refugees seek justice at India’s High Court

Guest contributor

Shalini Perumal

In a significant move, Mohammad Hamim and Kawsar Mohammed – two Rohingya refugees living in India – have taken legal action against Facebook, filing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Delhi High Court. 

The petition sheds light on the misuse of social media platforms, where it is cited that Indian users frequently employ derogatory terms such as “illegal migrants,” “enemies of the country,” and “Bangladeshis” to target the Rohingya community, which is predominantly Muslim. 

This legal action raises critical questions within India – on the footsteps of an election year – about the responsibility of social media platforms in curbing hate speech and safeguarding the rights and dignity of vulnerable communities and minorities.

In 2019, the advocacy group Equality Labs, specialising in technology and human rights in India, conducted a comprehensive study that systematically documented 1,000 Facebook posts deemed in violation of the platform’s community standards. 

Shockingly, the research discovered that more than 40 percent of the posts initially removed were reinstated after an average period of 90 days. Alarmingly, a significant majority of the reinstated posts were found to be Islamophobic, revealing the persistence of hate speech on the platform. 

The findings highlight the pressing need for addressing and rectifying the systemic challenges associated with hate speech and discrimination on social media platforms. 

The Rohingya, an ethnic minority group from Myanmar, have faced persecution and violence, leading to a mass exodus from their homeland. 

Seeking refuge in various countries, including India, they continue to grapple with challenges that extend beyond displacement. 

The PIL filed against Facebook highlights the distressing reality that even in their host countries, Rohingya refugees are not immune to discrimination and hate speech.

The terms used online contribute to the stigmatisation of the Rohingya people and further marginalizes them. 

Social media platforms such as Facebook play a crucial role in shaping public opinion, and the misuse of these platforms to spread hatred raises concerns about the impact on real-world dynamics. 

By filing a PIL, the Rohingya refugees Mohammad and Kawsar are urging the Delhi High Court to address the issue of hate speech against their community. The legal action emphasizes the need for accountability and measures to curb the spread of discriminatory content. 

The plight of Rohingya refugees in India has become a contentious and highly politicised issue, leading to a disproportionate targeting of the community. 

This content often portrays the Rohingya as a perceived threat to India, utilising terms such as “terrorists” and “infiltrators” while exaggerating the number of Rohingya refugees in the country. 

According to a news report in The Wire, a comprehensive 2019 study examining hate speech on Facebook in India revealed that six percent of Islamophobic posts specifically targeted the Rohingya, despite their representation being a mere 0.02 percent of India’s Muslim population at the time.  

The Rohingya refugees who have sought shelter in India already face numerous challenges, including the lack of official recognition, restricted access to education and healthcare, and social marginalisation. 

The online targeting exacerbates their plight, creating an environment of hostility and further isolating them. 

The PIL seeks to address not only the immediate concerns related to online hate speech but also the broader impact on the well-being and integration of the Rohingya community in India. 

As the legal proceedings unfold, the outcome may set important precedents for how social media companies address hate speech and contribute to fostering a more inclusive online environment.

Shalini Perumal is a journalist living in New Delhi, India.

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