Today’s The Indian Express published an article, more correctly to say an analysis on the mounting violence across Northern Kerala for various socio-political reasons. Read, share and comment your views on the issue.
“Riots of late which break out for insignificant reasons have started spreading out to areas hitherto untouched by these communal problems. The most recent riots which have taken place in Kanhangad in October 2011 are a pointer in this direction. Over the last 10 years, we had the same situation which has been termed as political but the accused, victims and witnesses are clearly demarcated on communal lines in Kumbla, Kasargod, Badiadka, Adhur, Hosdurg and Bekal.
“It is high time that the authorities started identifying the problems rather than attempting to shroud glaringly communal problems under political cloud. The analysis of 10 year cases also shows that any place in the coastal belt of Kasargod district is a potential volcano for communal clashes and large scale riots are possible anywhere along the labyrinthe roads and bylanes along the coast.”
—Excerpts from “Overview of the Communal Situation in Kasargod district”, a report submitted by Kannur Range DIG S Sreejith in November 2011 to the Director General Police, Kerala, that paints a grim picture of the social fabric of the north Kerala district, torn by an emerging culture of communal violence.
As north Kerala boils and seethes in fundamentalist frenzy, it has come as no surprise that investigators tasked with cracking open the attack on an Israeli diplomat in New Delhi on February 13 have zeroed in on Kerala to seek those behind the blast. High on the radar of a joint National Investigation Agency (NIA) and Intelligence Bureau (IB) team is the Popular Front of India (PFI), an Islamist outfit that has created a nationwide network in just a few years, with a political wing to boot. In late January, a ‘National General Assembly’ of the PFI had bitterly criticised the deepening Indo-Israeli relationship, saying in a resolution that it “will be a catalyst to the communal and terrorist agenda of Hindutva fascist outfits…”
Depending on who one believes, the PFI, now headquartered in the national capital, is either a sister organisation of the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), or an offshoot of it, or the same stuff in a new bottle, or even a little of all. Only one thing’s for sure in the shape-shifting and identity-mutating world of Islamic fundamentalism: nothing can be ruled out. Within the NIA, there is consensus that the PFI’s secret agenda is a ‘state within a state’ for Muslims, and that it could morph into the biggest internal security threat very soon, if allowed to grow freely. The PFI hit the national headlines in 2010 with the forced amputation of college professor T J Joseph’s arm on charges of blasphemy, and ‘love jihad’ allegations in Karnataka and Kerala of the year before.
The communal virus is raging in the streets now, ranging across the spectrum from murder to plain old street thrashing. On February 4, a student of LBS Engineering College, Kasargod, was severely beaten up when he went to the railway station to see off his classmate, a Muslim girl, who was to attend an interview in Ernakulam. Another such incident occurred on January 17 on the occasion of the Kasargod Mahotsav, when a youth named Viswanathan was severely attacked for talking to a Muslim girl, his family friend. Viswanathan was abducted, beaten up and later dumped on the roadside. Six men were arrested in the case. A couple of weeks ago, a Muslim youth was badly thrashed in Kasargod for walking along with his classmates, Hindu girls all.
The Bend of History
The PFI security headache and the communally charged situation in the district of Kasargod are only the latest from the north Kerala hotbed. This region of Kerala, home to a majority of the state’s Muslims, also includes Kannur, the old face of political vendetta between the CPI(M) and RSS, and Kozhikode districts. The same region witnessed the violent Moplah rebellion almost a century ago, an event that most regard as having laid the foundation for the sectarian friction that has only thrived since. And it is through Kannur and Kozhikode districts that one must travel back in time to understand how north Kerala got to where it is today.
Our first stop is Marad Beach, Kozhikode on May 2, 2003, when a group of extremists hacked to death eight Araya fishermen. North Kerala had run into the communal dimension of intolerance. “From more than one direction rushed this rabid rascal gang, with lethal arms and killer plan, stabbed the defenceless Araya gossip group, a devotee returning from the temple and a neighbouring petty tea shop dealer and spread terror by throwing bombs which did not explode. Had they burst, the number of the dead would have multiplied,” former Supreme Court Judge Justice V R Krishna Iyer wrote about the incident.
It took only five years before the world got to see Kerala’s deepening links with global jihad when four young Keralites en route to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir for training were killed in an encounter with security forces in Kashmir in October 2008. For those unfamiliar with the story, five Malayali youth — Abdul Raheem, Mohammed Fayaz, P Fais, Mohammad Yaseen and Abdul Jabbar — were sent to Kashmir by Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) operative Thadiyantavide Nazeer, hailing from Kannur, for training in an LeT-run camp near Lolab valley. They were shortlisted for arms training under LeT at a meeting held in Kannur on August 14, 2008.
Investigations revealed that Nazeer along with the help of a Gulf-based Malayali Sarfaraz Nawaz, who was based in Muscat, Oman, hatched the conspiracy behind the Bangalore blasts in 2008. North Kerala had been well and truly etched into India’s terror map.
“North Kerala is slowly turning into a hub of communal intolerance and fundamentalism, which often manifests in the form of militancy and terrorism. The communal intolerance is directly proportional to the level of terror which could evolve at a latter point of time. And these disturbances make the region a breeding ground for extremists,’’ says DIG S Sreejith.
The NIA, in its chargesheet submitted against 18 men, including Nazeer, noted on February 9, 2012: “Nazeer had joined hands with the banned LeT to indulge in anti-national activities, that he had conducted study classes and terrorism camps in different places in Kerala. Last heard, Nazeer was trying to convert inmates at the Central Prison, Thiruvanathapuram.” Confirming this, DGP (Prisons) Alexander Jacob, says, “Thadiyantavide Nazeer has been preaching his religious philosophies in prison.”
There is a pattern in Nazeer’s behaviour. Superintendent of Police T K Rajmohan, who investigated the Kashmir recruitment case, says, “Nazeer had been taking tareeqat classes in different parts of the state, before being arrested by the security agencies. This is a religious class used by Nazeer to persuade youth for jihad.”
The Road to Radicalisation
The radicalisation of the northern districts began in the 1980s when SIMI, which was formed in Aligarh during the late 1970s as a student outfit of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, carved out a support base in Malabar.
In July, 1993, reformist Islamic scholar Moulvi Abdul Hassan Chekannur was abducted from his home and murdered, allegedly by extremist forces. The conspiracy is yet to be unravelled. Earlier, in 1991, Abdul Nasar Madani had formed the Islami Sewak Sangh (ISS). After the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992, when the government banned the ISS, Madani dissolved the ISS and formed a new party People’s Democratic Party (PDP). In 1993, another militant outfit, the National Development Front (NDF) was formed.
The NDF together with the Manitha Neethi Pasarai (MNP) of Tamil Nadu, and the Karnataka Forum for Dignity (KFD) merged at Kozhikode in December 2006 to form the new entity known as the PFI. Later, in 2009, it merged with Association for Social Justice (Andhra Pradesh) Citizens Forum (Goa), Social and Educational Forum (Rajasthan), Nagarik Adhikar Suraksha Samithi (West Bengal) and Lilong Social Forum (Manipur) at the National Political Conference in Kozhikode.
Justice Thomas P Joseph Commission which probed the Marad massacre found that several activists of the Muslim League and the NDF “were actively involved in the planning and execution of the (second) massacre” and that it was unlikely that their activists were involved thus “without the blessings of their respective leaderships, at least at the local level”.
“Post Babri Masjid, one witnessed the direct confrontation of Hindus and Muslims as fundamentalist organisations began to spread their wings in the district. The clashes were becoming an open display of each other’s prowess and dominance. Kasargod was a major working area of PDP leader Madani. Youths started buying cassettes of his speech and started leaving Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) to join PDP,” says V V Prabhakaran, a Kasargod-based social activist.
NDF emerged as the protector of Muslim community in 2001 with the murder of Eethullathil Binu, a jeep driver and DYFI activist who was booked by the police for an alleged attack against a Muslim woman, Nabeesa. “He was hacked to death by a gang of NDF activists at Kallachi taxi stand on June 2, 2001. The police investigation found that the attack was planned and executed by the annihilation wing, one among the five organisational divisions of the NDF,” says retired superintendent of police Subash Babu.
Slowly, NDF activists began to force themselves into all political parties especially the Muslim League. “This infiltration proved to be crucial in the slew of communal fights Kasargod and Kozhikode was to witness. The senior leaders of the IUML failed to draw a clear boundary for the NDF which boosted their influence. In the daylight they posed as IUML activists; by night they took to their true selves. IUML leaders were thus forced to back the NDF,” says social critic and author Hameed Chennamangalloor.
Former Kannur SP Anoop Kuruvila John has another perspective on the relationship between the two Muslim outfits. “In Kannur, the NDF is trying to occupy the same space as the IUML. This has led to tensions between the two groups,” he says.
During the last 10 years (2001-2011) as many as 1,113 cases have been registered in Kasargod district, where the complainants belonged to one community and the accused to another community. As per data, none of the accused was convicted in any of the 1,113 cases. Of the 11,444 accused, only 4,833 could be arrested. While 427 cases have been chargesheeted, as many as 65 cases were withdrawn. The scene is similar in Nadapuram, Kuttiyadi and Valayam regions of Kozhikode district. Over the last few decades, these regions have been witnessing riots and blast cases unlike other parts of the state.
Says Sreejith: “Communal enmity is evident in 1,113 cases in the last 10 years in Kasargod but the number of cases registered under Section 153 (A) (Promoting Enmity between Two Communities) and other relevant sections are just under 300. Despite having communal overtones, the police as well as the political parties were in unison to term these clashes political violence.”
Following Sreejith’s report, the state government has taken cognisance of the emerging danger, and police have begun registering cases under Section 153 (A). However, the IUML, the second largest ally in the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) in Kerala, challenges these findings and is at loggerheads with the police for calling these clashes acts of communal violence.
Irked by the police report, IUML leaders of Kasargod and Kozhikode met Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and have been pressuring police officials to withdraw Section 153 (A) from the cases against the accused in the riots. “Of late, the police are deliberately giving a communal colour to political clashes. In the police reports, it is noted that a section of Hindus and Muslims clashed against each other. By doing so, police are evoking a communal feeling among the people who hardly have a communal feeling at present. We won’t allow labelling the place as communally sensitive just like regions in north India. Even if a communal colour prevails there, the authorities should play down the issue. Otherwise, people will start thinking on religious lines instead of political views,” says IUML Kasargod district president and former minister Cherkkalam Abdulla.
The CPM and the BJP have a different take on the issue. CPI(M) Kozhikode district secretary T P Ramakrishnan says they are not against charging Section 153 (A) but the police have to ensure that no innocent is punished. “The situation is so critical that every single issue is dealt on communal lines. Whenever an issue arises, they are not addressing the real problem. Instead, people array themselves on the communal basis and the issue widens beyond control. This has to stop at any cost,’’ he says.
BJP national executive member and former state unit president P S Sreedharan Pillai admits that the violence in Kasargod is communal. “BJP has always stood against Muslim fundamentalist organisations that are working against national interests, but the IUML is yielding to extremist elements. Political parties should set aside their vested interests and support the endeavour for attaining sustained peace in the region,’’ he says.