A new lurking danger
by Sandhya Jain on 21 Jan 2020 24 Comments

Few would have missed the videos of children (under 10 years old) chanting “azadi” and abusing the Prime Minister and Home Minister for alleged animosity and evil intent towards one community. Since one cannot expect children of such tender age to have knowledge or understanding of the Citizenship Amendment Act and National Population Register (also called National Register of Citizens), it is safe to conclude that family elders tutored them to express such visceral anger towards the Government.


A dangerous radicalization of the Muslim community is being fostered, with deliberate intent, the consequences of which are yet to unravel. Barring perhaps Saudi Arabia, it is doubtful if even Islamic countries make girls of such tender age wear full abaya (head and neck covering). Certainly, it has not been seen in India before. This points to deep indoctrination of every family within a targetted area and does not bode well for the future.


On one hand it will intensify the ghetto mentality within the community, on the other it will make other citizens wary of dealing with those who wish to leave or avoid the ghetto. This is a double-edged sword that can only harm the Muslim community in the long and short run, and it is sad that the secular radicals who are egging them on cannot see it.


Doubtless, a powerful section of the community is behind the radicalization agenda, for reasons unknown. The first indication of this phenomenon came during the three-day Ijtema organised by Tablighi Jamaat (Nov. 30-Dec. 2, 2018), when fifteen lakh Muslims gathered at Bulandshahr, though permission was given for only two lakh persons. Many guests came from abroad.


The proceedings of this gathering are not known. It attracted national attention when some cows were killed in a village on the road to Bulandshahr. Police inspector Subodh Kumar Singh died in the violence that followed, but managed to contain the situation within the affected village. The Ijtema concluded peacefully, but analysts said such a large gathering should not have been permitted in such a sensitive state, and by such an orthodox body. Tablighi Jamaat exhorts Muslims to strictly follow practices adhered to during the lifetime of the Prophet, especially in matters of dress and ritual. All traces of non-Islamic (syncretic) behaviour are to be erased.


This converges with a larger trend of home grown radicalism within the country. After Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and Indian Mujahidin (IM) were banned, the Kerala-based Popular Front of India (PFI) emerged as successor militant body and spread to Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Telangana, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Bihar.


Experts expect ISIS to formally tie up with PFI to entrench itself in India and reach Nepal, Bangladesh, and Myanmar. Sri Lanka has already been radicalized by persons who visited southern India before the Easter blasts in 2019. Several youth from Kerala have travelled to Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan to join Islamic State; others have been caught doing online propaganda for it. Intelligence agencies are aware that Islamic State is attracting youth in India, and in May 2019, ISIS announced a new “Wilayah of Hind” (Hind Province) without specifying its geographical limits.


The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) Analysis & Intelligence Report (November 2019) states that after being driven out of Syria and the Middle East, Islamic State asked its leaders to move to Southeast Asia, as almost every country in the region has deep ties to the Middle East. Its focus is on female domestic workers in Hong Kong and Singapore, who are vulnerable on various counts; Malaysia, Indonesia, and The Philippines are next.


Female migrant workers are chosen because of their low (but stable) incomes, familiarity with English, and wide network of international connections. Typically, they earn around $1.00 to $1.50 per hour and often need financial help, for which they agree to join the caliphate. English-speaking workers help ISIS reach other demographics and regions, and help it acquire resources and intelligence from areas its members normally don’t frequent.


The migrant workers are easy to manipulate as they are poorly educated, live in alien environments, and are lonely. Radicalization usually begins after a traumatic event, such as divorce, financial hardship, or culture shock. The recruiter contacts the most vulnerable and offers a secure, romantic, and loving relationship; soon the migrant is invited for training via online chat rooms. Often migrants are recruited by fellow workers at a prayer group or social gathering on their day off. Some workers have been known to reach out to militants; they are quickly inducted into radical groups and groomed to become militants.


In a survey of radicalized domestic workers, the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) found that at least 50 Indonesian women working overseas as maids, nannies, and caretakers for the elderly, were radicalized by ISIS and its affiliates. A study between 2013 and 2018 found that around 800 domestic workers from Southeast Asia tried to enter Syria or Iraq to join ISIS after being radicalized abroad; this shows the efficacy of Islamic State’s recruitment methods. IPAC has asked governments to create mandatory training modules to educate migrant workers about the signs of exploitation, and to help exploited victims.


In September 2019, Singapore arrested three Indonesian women domestic workers who promoted ISIS online in their spare time, donated money to militants overseas, and became so committed that at least one was ready to die as a suicide bomber in Syria. One Indonesian maid revealed that she listened to Salafi podcasts while working, and an Indonesian butcher she met online encouraged her to go to Syria to join ISIS; however, the Singapore authorities discovered her plans and deported her back to Indonesia in 2017.


Zachary Abuza, expert on ISIS in Southeast Asia at National War College, Washington, says the real stuff happens in dedicated chat rooms on encrypted apps, from bomb designs to active coordination. The female recruits serve as financers, recruiters, and coordinators; they collect funds from radicalized maids and sent them to domestic jihadist groups.


India is sitting on a tinderbox. When elementary school children chant obnoxious slogans against the nation and its top leadership, the masterminds behind the scenes should ponder what poison harvest they will reap from these toxic seeds. ‘Azadi’ cannot hide behind the Tiranga; India will never submit to further loss of territory.


(The author is a senior journalist)

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