The southern state of Kerala is an enigma of sorts. Breathtaking natural beauty blended with a progressive society makes for an ideal state. Kerala is best known for its high literacy rate, estimated to be about 94 percent by the 2011 census. Another reason that this state stands out among the others is its religious tolerance. With about 54 percent Hindus, 26 percent Muslims, and 18 percent Christians, the state finds adequate representation and prides itself in its inclusive, celebratory approach.
Despite being the stronghold of socialism and communist ideology, the state has chosen a strong democratic outlook in its functioning. A recent trend has, however, caused serious concern in what would otherwise be deemed a model state.
Missing Youth From Kerala
In July this year a number of disturbing news reports suggested that young men and women from the state were increasingly joining the terrorist organization ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) or simply the IS (Islamic State). About 17 young men and women were reported missing from the state that month, confirmed Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to the State Legislative Assembly. About 17 of them were reportedly from the Kasaragod district and the rest from Palakkad district. While the CM did not confirm the whereabouts of these missing persons, media reports claimed that they had imbibed radical Muslim ideologies in the days prior to their disappearance and had left to join the militant camps of ISIS in Iraq.
The fact that there were four women and three children among these missing persons suspected to have joined the ISIS, comes as a nasty surprise, since only men were assumed to have hitherto been enticed by the militant ideology of the terrorist outfit. ISIS is well-known for its objectification and oppression of women and one can only stop to wonder what led these young Indian women to embrace the organisation’s values.
Why Kerala – God’s Own Country?
What is it that makes Kerala conducive to ISIS recruitment activity. Is the environment not keeping the Muslim populace content? What makes the youth of the state fall prey to the Jihadi ideology? The answers to these questions are not easy ones.
Traditionally, Islam and Christianity have both been celebrated in the state of Kerala and the inter-religious harmony of the state is legendary. There has always existed, in the state, an environment of fierce debate and nascent rebellion – the kind that allowed the Communist Party of India (Marxist) to ascend and maintain its dominion for decades. Radical elements are now using this charged intellectual environment to fester the divide between religions and even moderate and extremist Islam.
Add to this the large number of Malayali diaspora in the Gulf and in Islamic countries of the world. This increases the exposure of young men and women to radical Islamic ideology. While such extremism is alien to the harmonious practice of Islam back home, it becomes much easier to convert a young man or woman who lives far from his/her family and country to the cause of terrorist outfits such as the ISIS.
According to a 2014 survey, about 23.63 lakh people from Kerala live and work abroad. This includes a great number of vulnerable youngsters from the state.
Let us also consider the historic lack of sectarianism in the state of Kerala. Muslims in the state are a largely peaceful lot and festivals of all religions are celebrated universally. The younger generation, in an effort to find an identity of its own, has started to focus on religious learning. This is the opportunity sought by Jihadi elements seeking to create a “them and us” divide.
World Wide Web, Social Media, and Jihadi Propaganda
While it is easy to uproot operatives of ISIS in the state of Kerala or for the matter, in any part of the country, the role of Social Media in IS recruitment is much more difficult to curtail. A proliferation of Jihadi literature on the World Wide Web along with vernacular blogs, sites, and groups are responsible for herding youth in the state into such outfits.
Deciphering, monitoring, and keeping a tab on web activities comes as a huge challenge more so when it is in Malayalam.
In recent days, Kerala youth have been deeply influenced by blogs such as Muhajirun. The Malayalam weblog was recently reported to be full of IS ideology based articles. It was also reported that the blog instigated Kerala youth to carry out an attack similar to the one in Bangladesh.
“Yes, I am a Terrorist”
“People may call me a terrorist. If fighting in the path of Allah is terrorism, yes I am a terrorist…How can I sit comfortably at home when the Muslim ummah (community) is attacked,” wrote Mohammad Marwan, one of the missing young men from Kerala to his family. This message is indicative of the silent wave of terrorist activity and recruitment happening in this southern state.
An Alarming Trend
According to a news report, the South Asia Terror Portal mentioned about 22 incidents related to terrorist activities in the state of Kerala in the early months of this year. An IS recruiter from the state was also arrested during her attempt to leave the country. Funding of radical Islamic sleeper cells has increased in the state in recent times. The trend is an alarming one but it may be curbed with adequate vigilance on the part of both the security agencies and common people. What is necessary is a more cohesive, a more compassionate approach to the people and for a humane agenda to be placed over religious education.