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In 2014, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared the creation of a “caliphate.” Thousands of youth from around the world made their way to Iraq and Syria to fight for Caliphate. India, the third-largest Muslim population in the world next only to Indonesia and Pakistan, was expected by the analysts to have a high number of pro-IS cases. But fewer Indians have joined ISIS which is lesser than expected. Data published at ORF suggests that the number of pro-IS cases reported in India from 2014 to 2018 is between 180-200.
Nimisha alias Fathima Isa, Sonia Sebastian alias Ayisha, Reﬀeala, and Merrin Jacob alias Mariyam are expressing willingness to come back to India. All these four concerned women are from Kerala. Kerala has been found to have the highest number of pro-IS cases in all of India, with about 40 of the 180 to 200 cases. It raises a question about the increasing footprints of ISIS in the southern part of India. In 2020, the UN report on terrorism warned India about the ‘significant numbers’ of ISIS terrorists in Kerala, and Karnataka.
Kerala as a hotspot for ISIS in India
Kabir Taneja answers this question in his book ‘The ISIS Peril – The World’s Most Feared Terror Group and its Shadow on South Asia.’ First, Kerala has a large diasporic community, starting from the 1950s and 1960s when Malayalis from the state started to migrate to the Middle East illegally in dhows (small boats). Second, All individuals from Kerala who were attracted to the Islamic State have been members of the Mappila Muslims. In the pre-independence year, they demanded a separate Mopilistan and support for Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s Muslim League.
Third, Historical trade from west Asia brought the idea of Islam to northern parts of Kerala. Communal feelings for their own religion attracted them toward becoming terrorists. Fourth, In March 2020, Stratnewsglobal.com, a strategic affairs website published a video of the interrogation of the three women. They spoke the reason that they wanted to live in and fight for Islamic Caliphate. Apart from these things, the rise in communal tensions in India, cheap mobile data, and the formation of the south wing of Al-Qaeda and ISIS–Khorasan Province added fuel to the fire.
Why fewer Indians have joined ISIS?
Mohammed Siyech in his study finds some reasons behind it. First, Logistical issues are one of the main cause which deterred terrorism. As per the business today report, only 5.5.% of Indians have a passport in 2017. In India, only 14% of the Indian population is Muslims. NCAER survey suggests that nearly 31% of Indian Muslims live under BPL. Expensive travels and lengthy documentation deters from flying to the zone of ISIS. Second, Unlike Muslims from other countries, Muslims in India have a civilizational connection with India.
Third, The government of India had also launched operation chakravyuh where the Indian intelligence agency secretly tracked people who wanted to join ISIS by concealing real identity. It has created confusion among people about real and fake recruiters. Fourth, the family structure in the Muslim community is still communitarian. Extended families stopped their relatives from joining ISIS. Fifth, Muslim society in India has also posed ideological opposition to terrorism. For example, In 2015, 70,000 clerics issue fatwa against terrorism.
Why they are willing to return back to India?
In 2019, after the US raid, the founders of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed who announced the creation of a “caliphate” in areas of Iraq and Syria in 2014. It has created a leadership crisis and posed the thrust against ISIS. The decline of ISIS has led to the killing of many who went to join ISIS. For example, In August 2019, the family of Muhammed Muhsin, an engineering student from Malappuram, got a message that their only son had been killed in a US drone attack in Afghanistan. It has made these women to surrender before the Afghan security forces.
Apart from this, an interview of three Indian ladies who joined ISIS reveals that they didn’t get as per expectation. The ground reality of ISIS was totally different. Areeb Majeed disclosed how he was completely sidelined by the terror group and had been asked to carry out menial tasks like cleaning toilets. The logic behind such things is that Arabs don’t deem Indian and Pakistani Muslims as pure Muslims. Purity Vs pollution gave birth to racial discrimination abroad. It forced them to come back.
Should India accept them back?
This question is not a dilemma to choose between two goods or two bad. It is a simple question where negativity should be rejected. First, These women left India of their own volition and joined an Islamic Caliphate. Section 10 of the Citizenship Act, 1955 says that a citizen can be deprived of citizenship if he/she has shown himself by act or speech to be disloyal or disaffected towards the Constitution of India as by law established. Pledging allegiance to the separate Caliphate is not only disloyalty but a fraud with the constitution.
Second, Shamima Begum, a U.K. citizen who left the U.K. at the age of 15 to join the IS. After the IS fell, the U.K. government said she cannot return and stripped her of citizenship. She didn’t feel any remorse for the work she had done. It would set the wrong precedence in society if they are accepted back in India. It is an opportunity for the government of India to express zero tolerance and effective deterrence against evil acts like Terrorism. In 2019, even Australia has also refused to rescue and repatriate the Australian wives and children of ISIS fighters in Syria.
Third, It is being argued by K.P. Fabian in his interview at the Hindu with Suhasini Haider that they should be brought back and trial in the Indian justice system. In Arif Majeed’s case (an IS recruit who returned from Iraq in 2014) who went through the trial and is now out on bail because the court said it’s very difficult for the prosecution to come up with concrete evidence as all the acts committed were outside India’s geography. The same issue would be faced by the legal system in these four women’s cases too.
Fourth, In case they are released from jail, there is certainly national security risk involved in bringing back those who have been radicalized and have been associated with a terror group, possibly involved in terror attacks in other countries. K.P. Fabian argues – “I do not accept the argument that India cannot handle the threat posed by these four women.” Why India should open up new threats unnecessarily? In the London Bridge case 2019, a man who stabbed two people to death and wounded three others in a “terror-related” attack was released from jail. But he repeated the same crime.
Fifth, K.P. fabian misquotes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which says everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights says no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country. It should be understood that joining ISIS is very different from people going to gulf countries for employment opportunities. There should be differentiation on the basis of the crime committed.
Sixth, Mr. fabian also argues that India is obliged to accept them since Afghanistan has the right to deport under international laws. If Afghanistan has the right to deport these women then why India has been deprived of the right to deport illegal migrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Myanmar?
Seventh, There are other issues like when foreign fighters would sign up for the IS, they would destroy their own passports and have no papers to prove their claims. In such cases, preparing their documents and bringing them back is too much an idealist act. It proves the argument of Gunnar Myrdal who described India as the soft state in his Asian Drama. The state would be seen as very soft on even evil acts like terrorism if it accepts them back.
Eighth, Accepting them back in India would be an injustice to those 39 Indian workers killed by ISIS who went missing in June 2014 from Mosul, Iraq, after ISIS took over the city. The women, accompanied by their children were interviewed by Indian security agencies in Kabul in December 2019, a month after their surrender. However, their interview revealed that they are highly radicalized. Let them face the consequences of their decisions in spite of too many alerts by the people, society, and the state.
- ORF | The Islamic State in India’s Kerala
- Strat News Global | The Journey Of Indian ‘Islamic State’ Widows
- The Economic Times | UN report says ‘Significant numbers’ of ISIS terrorists in Kerala
- Business Today | Only 5.5 percent of India’s population have passports
- Hindustan Times | 31% Muslims live below the poverty line, NCAER survey
- Times of India | 70,000 clerics issue fatwa against terrorism
- BBC | Who is Shamima Begum and how do you lose your UK citizenship?
- The Hindu | Should India accept Islamic State returnees?