Despite media reports, it is hard to believe that educated and well-to-do people from ‘God’s Own Country’ Kerala have left their families to be part of a frightfully uncertain future in a war-ravaged wasteland. Some of them are converts to Islam from Hinduism and Christianity. Why should the Islamic State recruit these new entrants to the faith, who may not even be Muslims in the true sense, instead of hard core believers from a state where Muslims account for 26.56% of the population?
The mysterious case of 17 missing men, women and children from different parts of Kerala state has raised suspicion of young Indians being trained by Islamic State (IS) to spearhead terror in the country.
Indian intelligence fears that there can be deadly strikes in the country — the attacks akin to the one we saw earlier in July at the Holy Artisan Bakery in Dhaka (Bangladesh). Twenty people were mercilessly killed there, one a young Indian woman.
It is believed that the IS recruits men and women from India, trains them in Syria and Iraq, and sends them back to create chaos and mayhem.
So it was only given that the parents and families of those 17 went to police stations to file a missing report.
Although organizations like IS operate without boundaries — their loyalty lies with their religion and not any country — and they are on a head-hunting drive, the Kerala case raises more questions than answers.
To begin with, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said: “There are extremist elements in all religions. (We saw that in 1992, when the 300-year-old Babri Mosque at Ayodhya in the central Indian state of Uttar Pradesh was demolished, brick by brick, by Hindu fundamentalists.) The intention of those who are trying to flare up Islam phobia is clear. Vast majority of people in our state are against terrorism.”
Vijayan may have a point, but although he did say that the government by itself cannot tackle terrorism, one must not forget that India has state-of-the-art intelligence agencies whose prime task is to counter an evil before it happens — and not start floating theories after that. And the police — most importantly the ordinary cop on the beat — is an extremely valuable source of information, whose input can work like magic in foreseeing a crime.
Sadly, the police in India seem to have lost their ability to play this vital role in society. A long-term resident of Palakkad district (where some of the missing people hail from), Delip Nair, says that when he was a college student, cops had their eyes glued to the ground or scanning beyond the horizon.
“When some friend of mine working in the Gulf would return home for his vacation, the policeman who I would run into on the street would pick up a conversation with me and ask me about his guy. ‘I say your friend is getting married,’ he would aver. This was of course true — the uniformed man’s information-gathering skills were remarkably accurate. Such policing has completely disappeared now,” Nair said.
This is all the more disturbing in a state like Kerala because it is completely ‘rurban’ — the new terminology for rural-urban continuum. It has a high density of population. It is in many ways a 24/7 state, where people go to bed very late and get up very early as well, and they are a curious lot. Everyone knows what everyone else is up to, particularly in places like Palakkad, Kannur and Kasaragod — the towns where the 17 have gone missing.
The question being flung about is have these 17 joined the IS.
But why would the IS recruit these men, most of whom are converts to Islam from Hinduism and Christianity? Would not a hard core and rabidly religious outfit like the IS zero in on men and women who have been Muslims all their lives, and not new entrants to the faith? Was the IS not taking a huge risk in engaging people who may not even be true Muslims — in a certain sense — let alone fanatical? Could such people be truly indoctrinated into extremism?
Admittedly, unlike in the early days of Kashmir insurgency, when rebel groups from across the border took advantage of people’s poverty and lack of employment opportunities as well as economic activity to induct young men into a rebellious way of thinking, today’s terrorist is educated, cultured, suave and socially well-behaved — hiding behind the veneer of respectability with a venomously destructive plan. We saw this as long ago as 9/11, and we saw this as recently as in the case of the Dhaka cafe attack.
The missing men from Kerala have all been well-to-do — doctors, engineers, executives, and so on. Although this does suit the profile which the IS may be looking for in its recruitment drive, it is still not easy to say with any definitive means that the 17 have indeed left their families, their home, their hearth and their birth place to be part of a frightfully uncertain future. Vijayan’s words do seem to make some sense here. There is indeed a kind of fear — baseless to an extent — about Muslims.
A couple of things come to my mind here. Bollywood actor Shahrukh Khan’s 2010 movie, My Name is Khan — where he plays a differently-abled person who keeps mouthing a single line, “My name is Khan, but I am not a terrorist.” World over, Islamic names have begun to cause unease, and ask any of the Indian actors whose name has even the faintest of Muslim sounding syllable, and they are in for scrutiny, certainly in the US. Tamil superstar Kamal Hassan is an upper caste Hindu, but his name gets him into a spot at immigration desks in the West.
Also, I know some Muslim friends who find it difficult to rent or buy a flat in southern India. Often, their Hindu pals have to step in to convince Hindu landlords or owners that all Muslims are not bad.
All this, however, is not to deny that we are living in dangerous times — where violence is often seen as a means to find easy solutions, and Indian cinema shamelessly and irresponsibly glorifies this. But instead of floating theories and falling into pits of prejudice, India must get its policing to tuck in its tummy, pull up its socks and sharpen its sleuthing skills.
Gautaman Bhaskaran is an author, commentator and movie critic, who has worked with The Statesman in Kolkata and The Hindu in Chennai for 35 years. He now writes for the Hindustan Times, the Gulf Times and Seoul Times.
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