The disruptions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic have challenged social cohesion across the world but with particular force across the South Asia Region. Heightened intergroup tensions are linked in historical factors and to inequalities but in the current crisis a major force has been the rapid circulation of misinformation and, still more, rising hate speech. This report explores these regional trends of hate speech and mis/ disinformation as they relate to the COVID-19 emergencies, highlighting efforts to prevent conflict and build or rebuild social cohesion. The focus is on Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh, extrapolating trends to the broader South Asia region. The context is the European Union funded project: Awareness with Human Action (AHA!). The report also summarizes briefly major AHA! Project activities and achievements during the short span of its implementation life, from July 2020 to December 2021.
The report focuses on three communities: religious leaders, women, and youth leaders and the ways in which they have, in the focus countries, mobilized to enhance capacities and increase awareness on COVID-19 prevention and response. A project objective has been to enhance collaboration among different faiths and communities notably through purposeful conflict prevention-focused collaborative initiatives at national and regional levels. The longer-term context is the broad objective to strengthen inclusive communities. The report draws information and insight from townhalls organized through the AHA! project, data collected from the small grant recipients in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Nepal, interviews with grantees, and secondary literature.