Radical Islam in Kerala: Perilously Persistent!
In June 2021, the then outgoing Kerala state police chief Loknath Behera, just two days before his retirement, observed that "Kerala is a recruiting ground because the people here are educated, and the [Islamic State] IS requires engineers and doctors. But we have dealt with it systematically, and it has come down." Perhaps, many Indians took that statement lightly. Many might have thought that the former police chief must be aspiring to join the politics by making such remarks.
Two months after that statement, Mar Joseph Kallaranghatt, Bishop of Pala Diocese of the Syro-Malabar church in Kuravilangad (Kottayam), re-confirmed what Behera revealed. Joseph on September 10 said that after "love jihad", Catholic girls and youth were reportedly becoming victims of a "well-orchestrated narcotic jihad" operated by specific Muslim organizations. Joseph's statement sparked controversy in Kerala. The statement was directed towards the Muslim communities of the state, who have been allegedly using ‘soft powers’ to radicalize non-Muslim youths-Hindus and Christians. Instead of using arms, drugs were used to lure women belonging to the community for extremist activities.[i]
Many Muslim organisations protested the priest's statement, alleging that it was meant to create a communal divide in the state. The Kottayam Mahallu Muslim Coordination Committee (KMMCC) organized a protest march against the statement. Over 200 people participated in the rally. Another organization called the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), a political arm of the Popular Front of India (PFI), also carried violent protest marches.[ii] The earlier form of PFI is the National Development Front (NDF), an extremist Islamist organization formed in 1993 and responsible for spreading radical Islam in Kerala. The PFI, in fact, recently hailed Taliban success in Kabul against the US occupation.[iii] PFI leader and National Executive Council Member Parappurathu Koya has been an activist of the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI).
Funding for conversion
Media reports in July 2021 indicated that many Islamic groups are operating in Kerala on behalf of the IS. According to Kerala-based news outlet Marunadan Malayali, an audio of a Clubhouse conversation featuring journalist MP Basheer revealed details about the international funding to advance radical Islam in India in general and Kerala in particular. Basheer claimed that the Islamist organization Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JeIH) had received funds from Saudi Arabia universities to 'Islamise' India.
Basheer further claimed that he had accessed a letter written by Jamaat-e-Islami Hind requesting the King Abdul Aziz University, an Islamic university in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to increase the financial grant to the radical Islamic organization so that they could create awareness and promote the Islamic dress code in Kerala and India. He also said that many top Muslim journalists were employed to assist them in this nefarious design, which King Abdul Aziz University allegedly paid.
Moreover, a recent investigation by India Today had revealed that several madrasas in Kerala are preaching Wahabism, a Saudi-sponsored creed of extremist Islam linked to global terror. These madrasas reportedly receive funds through hawala networks and use Indian labourers' salary accounts to transfer money from Islamic countries in the Gulf.
Not just rich Gulf States, even Turkey has been forefront at funding radical Islamic thought in India, especially in Kashmir, Kerala, Bihar, and bordering of Nepal. Turkey, Pakistan and certain groups in Malaysia operate jointly anti-India activities and extend support to radical Islamic organizations in India. The Turkey based IHH, also known as Humanitarian Relief Foundation, has an alliance with radical Islamist organisation Popular Front of India (PFI).[iv]
Unlike other religious-related violence-prone provinces of India, Kerala has been relatively free from that, barring a few cases like Marad (2003) and Thiruvananthapuram (2009). The state is the topmost state in India in terms of human development. The literacy rate is the highest in India. The human development parameters in Kerala is much impressive than in other provinces of India. Unlike other Indian states, the Muslims in Kerala are highly educated. They consist of 26.56 per cent (2011 census) of the total population.
Unfortunately, the state has failed to generate meaningful employment for its skilled manpower as per the high literacy rate. Therefore, Kerala sends the largest volume of immigrants to the Gulf countries. Nearly 2.28 million Keralites work in different Gulf countries. As a result of migration, Kerala has witnessed a series of various economic and social changes.[v] At the same time, some of these migrant populations are exposed to radicalism in West Asia. This population is susceptible to the propaganda of various Islamist groups in the region, some of whom are affiliates of Al-Qaeda and ISIS. For example, in 2017, the Kannur police have arrested five people who were ISIS sympathizers and who had undergone training in Syria and had come back. In 2016, 21 youths left the country and joined ISIS in Afghanistan and Syria.[vi]
The NIA investigation revealed that IS has been most active in Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Jammu & Kashmir".[vii]As per the NIA information, of the 177 Islamic State sympathizers arrested in India since 2014, 24 from Kerala as of March 2021. In fact, some of the arrestees have disclosed that the Kerala module wanted to link with Jammu and Kashmir's ISIS-linked terror groups. A case was registered after intelligence agencies gave inputs of an ISIS-linked group radicalizing youth online.
Since Muslims are the dominant community in Kerala and a major vote bank of the ruling communist political parties in the state, the ruling parties often ignore the issue. However, the state police, especially the anti-terrorist squad identified vulnerable people and gave them counselling with the help of their parents. The state police became serious after the departure of 21 people (including women) to IS-controlled areas. The police have mounted surveillance on the suspected sleeper cells of terrorist groups. Other than actions from the state enforcement agencies, the growing tentacles of radical Islam in Kerala can be checked by breaking the nexus between radical Islamic groups and politics.
[i] “Kerala Bishop’s comments on ‘narcotics jihad’ fan controversy”, Hindustan Times, September 10, 2021, https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/kerala-bishop-s-comments-on-narcotics-jihad-fan-controversy-101631215014927.html
[ii] “Narcotic Jihad remark: Cong urges Kerala Govt to convene all-party meeting to end row”, Deccan Chronicle, September 14, 2021, https://www.deccanchronicle.com/nation/current-affairs/140921/narcotic-jihad-remark-cong-urges-kerala-govt-to-convene-all-party-mee.html
[iii] “Kerala's Popular Front Hails Taliban's 'Resistance' Against US Occupation in Afghanistan”, News18.com, August 24, 2021, https://www.news18.com/news/india/keralas-popular-front-hails-talibans-resistance-against-us-occupation-in-afghanistan-4121732.html
[iv] “Kerala-based journalist reveals Islamist organisation Jamaat-e-Islami is receiving funds from Saudi Arabia universities to ‘Islamise’ India” OpIndia, https://www.opindia.com/2021/07/jamaat-e-islami-is-receiving-funds-from-saudi-arabia-islamise-india/
[v] Ginu Zacharia Oommen,“Gulf Migration, Social Remittances and Religion: The Changing Dynamics of Kerala Christians”, MEA, September 16, 2020, https://www.mea.gov.in/images/pdf/GulfMigrationSocialRemittancesandReligion.pdf
[vi] “NIA probe reveals active presence of ISIS in Kerala’: Ministry of Home Affairs”, Times Now News, https://www.timesnownews.com/india/article/nia-probe-reveals-active-presence-of-isis-in-kerala-ministry-of-home-affairs/653583
[vii] “Man from Bhatkal held for terror links; wave of arrests sounds IS alarm in south India”, Hindustan Times, August 11, 2021, https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/man-from-bhatkal-held-for-terror-links-wave-of-arrests-sounds-is-alarm-in-south-india-101628679090306.html