Twenty-four-year-old Yusuf Ansari (name changed) drives a taxi to earn a precarious livelihood for his family, which includes his wife and aged parents. Ansari, who dropped out of school in Std III and now lives in a ghetto in Indore, describes how he was approached by the proscribed outfit of the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI).
SIMI has always been active in Madhya Pradesh, Ansari told HT, and has the resources to spot a potential recruit from a tender age. SIMI’s Shaheen Force was its wing that trained young children, while another wing, Tehreek Tulba-e-Arabiya (Movement of Students of Arabic) focused on teenagers. The Shaheen Force now focuses on women recruits, says Ansari.
He is reluctant to reveal who approached him, but believes that he was tracked for over a month before he was approached. “Last year, after I offered prayers at a local mosque, two people I know came up to me at the masjid for a casual chat,” says Ansari. The chat was neither inflammatory nor provocative, he adds. “They asked me about my brother who is serving a jail term for murder. Also, if I visited any other masjid, to which I replied in the negative,” he recalls.
The chats continued for over a month and once in a while, the duo would make passing references to the Babri Masjid's demolition and the atrocities on Muslims during the 2002 riots in Gujarat.
“I did not understand what they were aiming at so I never bothered to counter them. But when the talk gradually moved towards Kashmir and terrorism, I started feeling uncomfortable,” says Ansari. He then stopped visiting that particular mosque.
But the duo tracked him down and asked him why he had stopped offering prayers at the earlier masjid. “I told them I was not interested in their talk of terrorism or jihad,” claims Ansari.
The duo, says Ansari, tried to influence him, stating that “Jihad should be the motto of a true Muslim”. “When I still refused, they said they were looking for someone who could drive cars fast. ‘All you have to do is to drive cars when required. We will pay you a handsome sum,’ they told me,” recounts Ansari.
Ansari claims that he refused yet again. “From all our talks, I learnt that they had their representatives posted at various madrasas to spot ‘talent’. They keep a tab on children, closely observe their activities, and evaluate them on the basis of their toys and games,” reveals Ansari.
With teenagers, the activists keep a more detailed watch, he says. “Then, gradually, the teenager is asked to attend religious meetings. The meetings usually discuss atrocities on Muslims and the theory that he should fight these atrocities against his brethren, is slowly but carefully hammered in,” says Ansari.
Once a youngster is fully dedicated to SIMI, his family is told to forget about him. Says Ansari, “They tell the family that their child has chosen a way pleasing to Allah.”