Experimenting with the concept of ‘hate crime’ in India

This post introduces preliminary findings from the ‘Evidencing and combatting hate crime in India: concepts, mindsets and processes’, a project supported by a Society of Legal Scholars Research Activities Grant and by CEJI—a Jewish Contribution to an Inclusive Europe. The project was led by Joanna Perry (Independent Consultant), Mohsin Alam Bhat (Associate Professor and Executive-Director of the Center for Public Interest Law, Jindal Global Law School), Melissa Sonnino (Facing Facts Coordinator, CEJI) and Amanda Perry-Kessaris (Professor of Law, Kent Law School).

The project centred on the design and delivery of an online training course—Facing Facts India—for activists and scholars working on targeted violence in India.

A digital learning environment was created and populated with interactive multimedia content, as well as more traditional policy and scholarly literature; and supported a weekly live seminars and moderated asynchronous discussion, as well as a final lecture by ex-civil servant and veteran activist, Harsh Mander. A balance was maintained between, on the one hand, exploring how the concept of hate crime has been defined, developed and implemented at an international level, and other national contexts; and, on the other hand, considering how the concept might map onto, or be adapted to work in the context of, Indian thinking and practice around preventing, monitoring and responding to targeted violence.

Experimenting in / with designerly ways

A core aim of the project was to experiment with the concept of ‘hate crime’—a term used to highlight ‘criminal acts that are motivated by bias or prejudice towards particular groups of people’—in Indian contexts (see Perry 2020). Here ‘experiment’ is meant both in the ‘scientific’ of sense of testing its usefulness in various Indian contexts; and in the ‘creative’ sense of seeing where an engagement with the concept might lead Indian activists and scholars—How might it change their thinking and practice?

An additional aim of the project was to test how design-based methods might be deployed to enhance the ability of participants to experiment with the concept of hate crime. Emphasis was placed on three ‘ways’ that are characteristic of design-based disciplines:

  • practical-critical-imaginative mindsets;
  • experimental processes; and
  • visual communication strategies

The expectation was that design-based methods would help to generate a ‘structured-yet-free’ space within which to make and communicate sense of the hate crime concept; as well as to anticipate how it might be adapted and activated in the Indian context, and with what risks and rewards.

The Here to There tool

Figure 1 Screenshot of online collaborative Here to There exercise in action. Image © Amanda Perry-Kessaris 2021.

The course culminated in the Here to There exercise in which participants individually and collaboratively reflected upon where we are, where we should be, and how we might get from ‘here’ to ‘there’; then placed their observations in a pre-constructed table in shared google.doc; and then commented upon the contents (Figure 1).

The Here to There tool deploys all three of the designerly ways identified above:

First, it prompts and facilitates participants to be critical—that is, to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the hate crime concept, and in the Indian hate crime context (Here); imaginative—that is, to envisage how the hate crime concept, and responses to hate crime in India, could be (There); and practical—that is, to identify concrete ways in which we can make change happen (To).

Second, it prompts and facilitates experimentation—that is, making  evidence-based propositions about how things probably are, and perhaps could be; and then testing and refining them in conversation via a Google.doc, in seminars and in asynchronous discussions.

Third, it  prompts and facilitates the use of visual communication strategies, including the use of a table divided into ‘here’, ‘to’, and ‘there’; and the use of colour to differentiate between weak, promising and positive aspects of the current Indian hate crime context.

Figure 2: Designed compilation of contributions to collaborative Here to There exercise. Adapted from earlier Facing Facts iterations by Joanna Perry, Mohsin Alam Bhat, Melissa Sonnino and Amanda Perry-Kessaris. Image © Amanda Perry-Kessaris 2021.

At the end of the course the project team consolidated the observations into a designed document including comments, resources and prompts for next steps, some of which pointed them towards design (Figure 2). For example, they were encouraged to use resources from Development Impact and You or Policy Lab UK to enhance their anti-hate crime thinking and practice.

Next?

The Here to There tool is just one of a range of tools iteratively developed in multiple European contexts under the auspices of the Facing Facts project that, although not originally developed with reference to design, nonetheless demonstrate the power of design-based methods in responding to hate crime. Others include the Journey of a hate crime case graphic; an interactive timeline visualising Development of Hate Crime Reporting, Recording and Data collection standards and practice in Europe; and a set of interactive systems maps visualising how hate crime data is currently captured across institutions and organisations in six European countries. How might an explicit engagement with design-based methods enhance anti-hate crime projects in future? Detailed analysis of formal evaluations and follow up interviews will tell us more about the potential impact of this course on thinking and practice around targeted violence in India, where hate crime is on the rise, and independent efforts to record and report it are being closed down (see Bhat 2020). For now it is significant to be able to report that about 20 of the 36 course participants were highly active throughout, and that many commented that their participation had brought them solace and hope in exceptionally difficult times.

References

M. Mohsin Alam Bhat (2020) ‘Hate Crime in India’ 11:1 Jindal Global Law Review 1–5

Joanna Perry (2020) ‘The migration and integration of the hate crime approach in India’ 11:1 Jindal Global Law Review 7-32

Amanda Perry-Kessaris and Joanna Perry, J (2020) ‘Enhancing participatory strategies with designerly ways for sociolegal impact: Lessons from research aimed at making hate crime visible in Europe’ 29:6 Social and Legal Studies 835-857.

Amanda Perry-Kessaris, A (2019) ‘Legal design for practice, activism, policy and research’ 46:2 Journal of Law and Society 185-210. Author accepted manuscript available free on SSRN

Amanda Perry-Kessaris (2021) Doing sociolegal research in design mode Routledge. Download Chapter 1 and watch videos presentations here.

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