(Bloomberg) -- Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party and affiliated groups were behind most hate speech events against Muslims during the first half of the year, according to a report released on Monday.

Some 80% of the 255 documented incidents of “hate speech gatherings targeting Muslims” occurred in Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled states and union territories, according to a report from Hindutva Watch. The Washington DC-based research group tracks hate crimes and inflammatory speech against Muslims and other minorities in India.

Researchers wrote that India has seen an “escalating trend” of anti-Muslim speech since Modi rose to power in 2014. The report found that more than half of the documented incidents this year were orchestrated by the ruling BJP and affiliates including the Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Sakal Hindu Samaj. Those groups have ties to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or RSS, the ideological parent of the BJP.

Abhay Verma, a senior member of the BJP in New Delhi, called the report “totally baseless” in an interview. “We don’t divide the country and people based on their religions,” he said by phone. “There’s no support from the BJP in favor of hate speech.”

The report is the first of its kind to document hate speech against Muslims after India’s crime bureau stopped collecting data on hate crimes in 2017. Hindutva Watch relied on social media and news outlets in gathering data. It used data scrapping techniques to locate verifiable videos of hate speech events, and then conducted an in-depth investigation of incidents through journalists and researchers, according to an explanation of the methodology.

Though India doesn’t have an official definition for hate speech, the research group used language from the United Nations, which characterizes hate speech as “any form” of communication that employs “prejudiced or discriminatory language towards an individual group based on attributes such as religion, ethnicity, nationality and race.”

The report found that Maharashtra, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat witnessed the highest number of gatherings with hate speech. A third of documented incidents occurred in states scheduled to hold legislative elections this year.

Hindutva Watch, which monitored activities in 15 states and two union territories, also reported that about 64% of the events propagated anti-Muslim “conspiracy theories,” including the claim that Muslims are luring Hindu women into marriage to convert them. 

Inflicting violence against Muslims was a rallying call in 33% of the events, the report said, and 11% included appeals for Hindus to boycott Muslims. The remaining gatherings featured “hate-filled and sexist speech” targeting Muslim women, according to the report. 

“Rather than combating hate speech, government officials have frequently engaged in it themselves,” the report said. “As this report documents, some of the purveyors of hate speech include chief ministers, legislators, and senior leaders from the ruling BJP.”

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