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Kerala village fights to erase Caliphate stamp

As Islamic State forts crumble, parents of coastal state’s missing people want them to come back and face the law

india Updated: Nov 08, 2017 07:53 IST
Ramesh Babu
Ramesh Babu
Padanna (North Kerala), Hindustan Times
Caliphate stamp,Kerala village,Islamic State
The Islamic State tag hangs like a millstone around the necks of almost everyone in Padanna village of Kerala’s Kasargode district. (HT Photo)

The Sunday sahora, or congregation, is almost a must for the men, women and adolescents of an affluent, wind-swept coastal village in northern Kerala’s touristy backwaters. Mehfils, cultural programmes, book readings and discussions on current issues are activities they dabble in general.

But authorities suspect the villagers, many of them flush with cash sent by relatives working in oil-rich West Asian countries, are preoccupied with more than simple amusement to forget their daily drudgery.

That’s because nine of the 21 people who slipped out of Kerala and believed to have joined the Islamic State terrorist group last summer are natives of Padanna in Kasargode district, around 500km north of state capital Thiruvananthapuram and close to the Karnataka border.

The IS tag hangs like a millstone around the necks of almost everyone in the village, where 80% of the 21,000 inhabitants are Muslim. The terrorist outfit’s so-called caliphate is crumbling under sustained military assaults and its base in Syria and Iraq has shrunk, but it continues to haunt Padanna.

The stamp of terrorism was recently acquired. The village was an example of amity and brotherhood, not so long ago. People still speak of Muslims standing guard to protect an ancient temple in the village when communal hatred singed the country after Hindu radicals demolished the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in 1992.

Padanna slowly, but not quietly, lost its secular credentials.

Salafi preachers swarmed the area and ear-splitting religious discourses were heard from every corner of the village. Outsiders were viewed suspiciously.

Visible Changes

A year-and a half after the disappearance of Padanna’s terrorism suspects, changes are visible. Loudspeakers fixed to imposing minarets are silent.

At Peace International School in neighbouring Thrikkaripur, there were strict gender divisions for students, and Islamic history and Arabic were compulsory subjects. Now girls and boys study together. It’s a co-education school and has switched to the CBSE syllabus.

And nobody likes to talk about the “missing” people.

In one of the many oversized houses in the village, 64-year-old Parambhath Abdul Rehman is lounging on a sofa and reading a newspaper.

He gets nervous and irritated when strangers come to his house. He suffered the most. His two sons, their wives, a grandchild, and a nephew and his wife are among those who disappeared in July last year.

“I disowned my two children when I came to know they are on the IS front. But I was very close to the grandchild. I wish they had spared him.” Tears roll down the Mumbai hotelier’s face as he recalls his two-year-old grandchild.

Education a Window?

Rehman seldom visits Mumbai these days. He has lost interest in business.

“I never had access to education. So I gave my children good education,” he said. Eldest son Ijaz Rehman, aged 32, is a doctor. Shiyas Rehman, who is 26, is a business graduate.

“I feel their education was a window to their evil designs,” the father lamented.

Daughters-in-law Rafeela, a dentist, and Ajmala, who has a postgraduate degree, were not aware of their husbands’ ill-doings. He said his sons took them along pretending to go on a pilgrimage in Sri Lanka and Iran. The man said the law awaits them if they ever return, not his house.

“Chances are bleak. I was told they destroyed their passports. They brought much disrepute to the community and country. I will accept them only after they go through the law of the land,” he said.

A block away from Rehman’s house stands the home of 24-year-old Hafisuddin, another suspected IS recruit who reportedly died in a US drone attack last year.

“His father Hakkim was a car mechanic in Qatar and had a heart attack recently. The family refused to do the last rites (of his son),” said his uncle, TK Abdul Raheem, a Moppila singer.

Hafisuddin was the eldest of four children and dropped out of college. He tried to take his newly-wed wife, but she refused.

He was the least educated as most of those who allegedly went to join the IS were from prosperous families with good educational qualifications — doctors, engineers, management professionals and postgraduates. Some of them left highly paid jobs in West Asia and India.

Trouble Began 3 Years Ago

The bungalows and minarets of Padanna reflect the prosperity from backwaters tourism at home and petro-dollars from West Asia. Every household has someone working in West Asia.

Family members said the first sign of trouble was visible three years ago when youngsters started growing beards and wearing long white gowns. Some of them even cut the cable TV connection to their homes, saying it was not Islamic. They remained aloof and started going for long religious trips.

  • Hafizuddin (college dropout)
  • Ijaz Rehman, 32, doctor. He studied medicine in China
  • Rafeela Rehman, 28, dentist and wife of Ijaz
  • Shiyaz Rehman, 26, business graduate
  • Ajmala Rehman, 24, a postgraduate and wife of Shiyaz
  • KP Ashfaq, 28, a postgraduate
  • Shamsiya, 26, postgraduate in microbiology and wife of Ashfaq
  • Mohamed Murshid, 28, engineer
  • K Sajjid, 28, business graduate

Parents blame Salafi ideals and radical online literature for their indoctrination. “In early 2000, an extremist Salafi ideal emerged from the Arab region. It also took roots here. Religious heads and others failed to notice this,” said PC Ashraf, a college teacher.

But there isn’t any evidence to blame the Salafis. A Salafi centre in Malappuram used to train people in rearing sheep and camels.

When police raided Salafi centres, they couldn’t get anything substantial to prove their links with the “missing” people of Kerala.

Some of the so-called terrorists have contacted their families back home through Telegram, an encrypted messaging app. They apparently say they are happy and won’t return.

Relatives and intelligence agencies believe they are in the tribal-dominated Nangahar province of eastern Afghanistan, working for the IS’ back office.

“For affluent youth there was a spiritual vacuum. There were two extremes and a middle-path was missing. Sad, some fringe elements exploited this and pushed them to the extreme,” said P Hashim, a Padanna native who runs a small business in Qatar.

Police suspect at least 100 youth from northern Kerala may have slipped out through various countries. “We have definite information about two-dozen youth are fighting in Syria and Afghanistan,” said Kannur deputy superintendent of police PP Sadanandan.

The recent arrest of five people, who were deported from Turkey, reaffirms Kerala police’s suspicion that many people working in West Asia might have joined the IS and gone to fight in the war-ravaged region.

First Published: Nov 08, 2017 07:50 IST