Talibanising Kerala

via Courtesy: The Pioneer published on August 15, 2010

The idyllic and sylvan Kerala, otherwise popular as God’s Own Country, is today besieged by growing Islamist extremism. A slew of radical outfits have come into existence and their writ runs large in the State’s Muslim pockets. VR JAYARAJ tells you how fast the situation is getting out of hand

It was a usual family outing for TJ Joseph, Malayalam professor of the Church-run Newman College of Thodupuzha in Kerala’s Idukki district, on July 4. He was returning home after the Sunday Mass from his church in Ernakulam with his elderly mother Aliamma and his sister Stella.

All of a sudden, a seven-man Islamist terror squad in a Maruti Omni vehicle pounced on them from nowhere. They stopped his car, hurled countrymade bombs in all directions to terrorise other church-goers, dragged Joseph out and attacked him with swords and axes.

When Aliamma tried to stop the insanity, the old woman was beaten up too. Amid cries for help from the family, and with no response from others who just stood and stared, the goons cut off Joseph’s right hand from the wrist and threw it into a residential compound some 100 metres away.

The police did not take much time to conclude that the diabolic act was perpetrated by the Popular Front of India (PFI), a radical Islamic outfit that believes in “resistance is a legitimate form of protest”.

“The face of the man who hacked my hand with that axe will never go away from my memory. I can recognise him whenever I see him,” says Joseph who is now recuperating at the Specialists Hospital in Kochi where doctors managed to stitch back his hand which was retrieved by a relative from the compound where it had been hurled away.

Joseph became a target of this Taliban-like punishment when, in March last, he prepared a question paper for under-graduate students in which some “very bad words” were used to refer to the Prophet. Joseph was suspended from service, a criminal case slapped on him and he was put behind bars after earthshaking protests by Muslim outfits and other social organisations that kept Thodupuzha on the boil for several days.

After coming out of jail, Joseph thought he had seen the end of the ordeal. But he was threatened several times. Armed miscreants gatecrashed into his house at unearthly hours but the State police under the CPI(M) refused to heed to his requests for security.

After the July 4 attack, the cops just took a few days to identify the assailants. Police search teams unearthed CDs and other campaign materials of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban containing scenes of decapitation of hapless young women as per the decrees of Sharia courts from Popular Front offices and leaders’ homes. “What does it all mean? The obvious: That the Taliban is here and that the PFI is its Kerala avatar,” a senior police official said.

Looking intently at his reconstructed right hand, the professor, meanwhile, insists that the entire issue was twisted by radicals to meet an agenda.

“I haven’t committed any blasphemy. I respect all religions. I have had friends belonging to all religions since childhood. I had prepared the question paper based on a book proposed by the university. That book was published by the Kerala Language Institute with financial aid from the Union Human Resources Development Ministry. But certain people misinterpreted the issue and twisted the truth. Their objective was something else,” he says.

“It was not just an attack against me. It was an attack against the freedom of expression, freedom of idea and the individual,” Joseph insists.

“Some people tried to convince the world that I had committed blasphemy. Even people close to me misunderstood me. Now the college authorities and the university have understood the truth. It gives me more relief than the healing of wounds inflicted on me,” Joseph, who does not want to identify the assailants by the colour of their flags, says.

Joseph may be the latest victim of Islamic terror in this otherwise idyllic State but the Talibanisation of God’s Own Country has been going on for a long while. Shukoor (name changed), belonging to Vaduthala, now a Muslim-dominated village in Alappuzha district, says rigid conservatism was unknown to the community there till some years ago. “The Talibanism began to show its head by the turn of the millennium. My child, now 15, was wearing a normal head scarf when she had begun to go to school, but the clergy, obviously influenced by extremists, insisted that she wear a total hijab. It had to be black and should cover all of the neck and reach down up to the middle of the chest. I tried to reason with them, but there was no way. As I depend on them in several ways, I have no option but to obey. My wife, who used to wear a sari always was forced to don the purdah and the hijab. That was how it started here,” he says.

Not just that. All of a sudden, participation in religious conferences has been made mandatory. “Dress codes have become imperative for men as well. Participation in religious conferences and the Friday noon mosque meetings are now must through some semi-transparent methods,” says Shamsuddin of Mukkom, Kozhikode, a citadel of Islamists in Kerala, tidying his skull cap. He had not been wearing it till recently. Why now? “Don’t you like seeing me walking in one piece?” he responds jokingly.

What happened to Shukoor and Shamsuddin has happened to thousands of Muslim families in Kerala in the past decade allegedly under orders of the clergy dancing to the tunes of outfits like the Popular Front, Jama’at-e-Islami and the PDP of Bangalore bombings-accused Abdul Nasser Madani, who ushered in the extremist Islamic ideology into Kerala in the early 1990s.

“A wave of strict conservatism, which we see in countries like Sudan and Wahabi societies of West Asia, began to conquer Kerala Muslim homes,” says Nishad Muhammad, an IT professional in Kochi. “That is the social engineering that led to the paving of the way for a jihadi situation, so to speak,” Nishad adds.

Hypocritical postures

Pragmatic politician PK Kunhalikutty, former Kerala Minister and State general secretary of the Indian Union, complains that a “microscopic minority” of hot-blooded people — the Popular Front, Madani’s PDP and the Jama’at — are bringing humiliation and insecurity to an entire community in the name of Islam. League’s major ally, the Congress, says it is against all sorts of extremism, including Islamic terror but it is reluctant to name any organisation.

Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan, whose police deposed in the court that “love jihad” was a myth, admitted recently on the floor of the House that the PFI’s objective is to turn Kerala into a Muslim-majority State in two decades (Muslims now constitute 24 per cent of the Kerala population). He now also admits that the Islamists are, indeed, giving money and Muslim girls in marriage to youth from other religions to meet this end. To Kerala CPI(M) secretary Pinarayi Vijayan, the Jama’at-e-Islami is fanaticism personified whose goal is installation of Islamic rule in India.

“The seed of radical Islamism had begun to sprout in Kerala several years back but both the main political fronts chose to avoid warnings not because they did not have the resources to face it but because they did not have the will. They wanted the comfort and dignity that power alone can give, and for that they need vote-banks,” sociologist Jacob Mathew says.

“Don’t you remember how charitable both the fronts were when they unanimously passed a resolution in the Kerala Assembly back in February, 2006 to save Madani from the Coimbatore prison where he was lodged over a case pertaining to a ruthless terror strike in which 60 people were killed and hundreds suffered injuries?” he asks.

Kunhalikutty has not yet been able to convincingly deny the allegation raised by Madani — holding up a letter — that the League had requested his party’s electoral support when he was in prison. The League still enjoys the direct and indirect support of the PFI and Kunhalikutty had tried to strike a secret poll pact with the Jama’at as recently as this May. The PFI, which had recently launched own political party (Social Democratic Party of India — SDPI), has supported Congress-led UDF in the past several elections.

The Left’s track record is no better. Enjoying the support of the Jama’at-e-Islami throughout the past decade, party secretary Pinarayi Vijayan recently chose to call them jihadis after they decided to field own candidates in elections. The Marxists have not yet been ready to find fault with Madani, with whose party they had an open alliance in the last Lok Sabha election. Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, a CPI(M) politburo member, still faces the allegation that PFI activists had campaigned overtly and covertly for him in Thalassery constituency in the 2006 Assembly election. “So the hypocrisy is understandable,” says Jacob Mathew.

When organisations like the BJP have been persistently reminding the authorities that the jihadis are spreading their tentacles throughout Kerala, the two main fronts have only jeered at them. When four LeT men from Kerala were killed by security forces in Kashmir in 2008, they chose to underplay the reality. Probes into secret meetings and training camps of the banned SIMI were cleverly sabotaged with the alleged connivance of police and political bosses. When the Karnataka Police broke through the shell of complacency of the Keralites and the compliance of Kerala authorities by boring into the ISI-trained minds of LeT’s South India commander Thadiyantavide Nazeer and his accomplices in the Bangalore bombings, it upset many.

Prof Joseph had to undergo a brutal jihadi attack to shake the secularist authorities out of their pretended slumber to the reality of Islamist terror in Kerala.

Global Jihadis of Kerala

Sociologists, historians and the police say that the Jihadi movements in Kerala can’t be seen in isolation from terror gangs spreading globally — from the Afghan mountains to the stony deserts of Sudan to the money-laundering market places and apartments in Dubai to the terror-training camps of Pakistan. “Islamists here love to see Ayodhya of December, 1992 and the happenings in Gaza, Israel as the fountainheads of inspiration,” says history lecturer Ajayakumar.

“I can’t isolate jihad in Kerala from the pan-Islamic movement. The ideas and ideals of all international Islamist outfits like Hamas, LeT, Al-Qaeda and Taliban factor into it. The reported trips by known Kerala terrorists to certain countries, the visits by people like Tahawwur Hussein Rana into Kerala, reports of money being funneled through the hawala route from Dubai and through numbered accounts in Hong Kong, etc are proofs of this,” he argues.

Not many dispute what he says. Police raids on PFI offices yielded campaign materials of Al-Qaeda and Taliban. Pamphlets seized in these raids say: “No force can prevent the installation of Islamic rule in India”. The Tareeqat sessions, projected as religious coaching classes, are fashioned on the models of terror conferences of the Taliban. Intelligence reports say that Sharia courts like those of the Taliban are functioning in several centres in Kerala. The right hand of Prof Joseph was cut off as per a decree of one such court.

The PFI’s blood trail

The police attribute to the Popular Front of India (PFI) at least 20 brutal murders in Kerala and countless other attacks, all carried out with jihadi precision. According to a top political leader, PFI’s jihadi hits started way back in 1995 with the murder of Rajeev of Vadanappally, Thrissur.

However, the attack on Prof TJ Joseph was the one act that got it the most attention, mainly because of it was disgustingly brutal and carried out in full public view.

PFI’s predecessor — the National Development Front (NDF) — was constituted in 1993 by activists of Students Islamic Movement of India, when it was facing a virtual split. The NDF planned to cash in on the anger and frustration of a section of the Muslims, especially the youth, in the backdrop of the Ayodhya demolition. There could not have been a more appropriate time for its formation as various Islamist groups, inspired by the pan-Islamic movement, were calling for a jihad in the aftermath of the Ayodhya incident.

However, despite the blood trail of NDF and its nexus with terror groups backed by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, it did not face much trouble till the massacre at Marad, a fishing village near Kozhikode, in May 2003, in which eight Hindus were hacked to death.

In 2007, the NDF rechristened itself as the Popular Front of India after a merger with the Karnataka Forum for Dignity (KFD) and the Manitha Neethi Pasarai (MNP) of Tamil Nadu. Not long back, the organisation launched its political wing, the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI). It has feeder organisations in all areas of society – like the Campus Front for students, Junior Front for children, the Media Research and Development Foundation and the National Confederation of Human Rights Movements. all these fronts get funds from overseas.

Politically incorrect

Both fronts that have ruled Kerala for years (Congress-led and Left-led) unanimously passed a resolution in the Assembly back in February, 2006 to save Madani from the Coimbatore prison where he was being sent after a ruthless terror strike in which 60 people were killed.

Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan

When stories of “love jihad” started raising concern, he backed police denials saying “love jihad” was a myth.

Recently, admitted on the floor of the House that the PFI’s objective is to turn Kerala into a Muslim-majority State in two decades. He also admitted that the Islamists are, indeed, giving money and Muslim girls in marriage to youth from other religions to meet this end.

The Left has had the Jama’at-e-Islami prop
throughout the past decade. Party secretary Pinarayi Vijayan only recently chose to call them jihadis after they decided to field own candidates in elections. The Marxists had an open alliance with Madani’s party in the last Lok Sabha election.

Muslim League’s Kunhalikutty
is yet to convincingly deny the allegation raised by Madani that the League had requested his electoral support when he was in prison. The League still enjoys the direct and indirect support of PFI.

Kunhalikutty tried to strike a secret poll pact with the Jama’at as recently as this May.

The PFI has supported Congress-led UDF in the past several elections.

Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan faces allegations that PFI activists had campaigned for him in Thalassery in the 2006 Assembly election.

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