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God’s own badlands

india Updated: Dec 15, 2008 22:39 IST
Lalita Panicker
Lalita Panicker
Hindustan Times
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The theory industry has gone into overdrive as always following a terror attack. Mumbai has seen an overflow of theories in print, television, among people on the streets, and, of course, the twitterati. All of them have a ring of truth. That this is a war on India hatched on neighbouring soil — let’s not pretend it is the handiwork of some nebulous non-State actors; that such attacks had local support; that the perpetrators were largely of the Islamic persuasion; that they meant to cripple India economically and create communal divisions. Therefore, for some time now, all eyes will be on the Pakistan border.

Now that the Prime Minister has conceded that a systemic review is needed, let us also not confine ourselves to only one part of India. Such has been the public revulsion and demand for change that this would be a good opportunity to look at the sources of terror in all its dimensions across the country. We have now seen that the scope of the attacks are widening. The South, once considered insulated from such evils as overt communalism and terrorism, seems to be gradually drawn into the vortex of terror. In the past few years, we have seen that no place and no one is immune. But it still comes as a surprise that places like Kerala could actually produce terrorists who are willing to go for training in an alien land and are ready to die for a cause like Kashmir that has very little bearing on their lives.

Some years ago, while covering elections in Kerala, I travelled down the spectacular Malabar coast. Looking at the oyster white sands on the beaches fringed with emerald palm trees and dotted with little thatched huts selling the local brew, it is hard to imagine that anything evil could touch this tranquil land. Talk to the locals and they are vocal in their political opinions and a popular cartoon strip in one of the Malayalam magazines. Their idea of discourse is to shout each other down. But at the end of it all, the men stagger off to grab a drink and the women get back to their homes to cook the evening meal.

But alongside, a peculiar phenomenon had taken place. As you drive along, you cannot escape that every half a kilometre or so, a spanking new mosque has sprung up. The women, once clad in traditional cream and gold Kerala handlooms and adorned with exquisitely crafted jewellery, were now wearing the flowing black abaya, alien to this hot and humid countryside. Around the mosques, unemployed youth loitered perking up only to listen to the imam’s discourses. Nothing wrong with all this, you might say.

But where does the money come for these mosques and madrasas when people are staggering under huge rates of unemployment? From Saudi Arabia that has been assiduously exporting its rigid Wahhabi Islam that has slowly supplanted the syncretic and tolerant homegrown variety. Of course, politicians have played a huge part in this, from the comrades to the Muslim parties. As the CPI(M) MP T.K. Hamsa said, “We are a democratic party and we have all the right to play vote-bank politics, come what may.” At least the man is honest.

Some of the terrorists from Malabar who were caught trying to sneak into Pakistan recently for training were not motivated by some jihadi zeal or the liberation of Kashmir. It would seem that the trainers and recruiters who dragged them into the net did not play the communal card. Muslims in Kerala are socially and educationally progressive. They do not harbour any notions of alienation or deprivation. Rather, jihad could have been portrayed as a get-rich-quick scheme in a state where employment has generated economic deprivation. Sadly, for the fledgling terrorists, they did not live to enjoy the promised rewards.

The worrying part about these madrasas and mosques and their unemployed hangers-on is that they have become recruiting grounds for those who have a very different and very destructive concept of jihad. All attempts are being made to radicalise communities that have traditionally lived in harmony and that have no interest in the destruction of India. The same virus has infected neighbouring Tamil Nadu and Karnataka where a potent combination of money power and persuasion has created artificial jihads tailored to tap into local grievances. In effect, what we are seeing is supermarket jihad where you can sell the concept in different packaging as a means of redressing all sorts of perceived and real situations. It is important for the mentors to call these small rebellions ‘jihad’ so that the money keeps flowing in.

As always, the politicians are never far away from such volatile situations. Though they are usually seen as the ones who fan the flames of terrorism through communal politics, this is to give them far more importance than they deserve. What we do need to worry about is the shadowy recruiters who have infiltrated all corners of India peddling their poisonous wares, perhaps with the help of the venal politician. If we are asking Pakistan to dismantle terror structures, it would serve us well to keep a sharper eye on some of these breeding grounds for homegrown terror. In a terrible way, it is far easier to deal with a rogue Pakistan and bring international pressure to bear on it than it is to explain why this bogus ‘jihad’ is finding more takers in places within which were considered havens of peace until now.