Muffled progressive voices and echoes of gunshots in Kupwara

“It is an apolitical group; well-established doctors, lawyers, professors and businessmen are part of it,” she clarified. 

Published: 13th October 2022 06:50 AM  |   Last Updated: 13th October 2022 06:50 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

KOCHI: Last Sunday, I got an invite to join a WhatsApp group titled ‘Hindu Self-Help Group’. Getting bombarded by such groups is not unusual, but this one was sent by a good-old friend and former HR honcho of a global IT company. Bizarre, I thought. 

Lavanya (name changed) is certainly not the ‘WhatsApp University’ type. And the last time we spoke, she was a Congress fan. Now, why this Sanghi-sounding group? 

“It is an apolitical group; well-established doctors, lawyers, professors and businessmen are part of it,” she clarified. 

“Apolitical, really?” I chuckled. “Is there anything apolitical these days?”

Lavanya remained phlegmatic. “You very well know I am not part of the NaMo fan club. But I have had some realisations,” she said. “There is nothing wrong in community building, being there for each other. We need to learn....”

The moment the conversation meandered into the “we” and “them” saga, I interrupted her: “That sounds very apolitical, indeed!” 

“No re, it’s not about being against anyone,” Lavanya maintained. “It is about safeguarding our interests. And I see nothing wrong in it.” 

As I told her, Lavanya’s problem seemed to be frozen anger. Not against any community, but anger that stemmed from the perception of being orphaned at a time when political Islam was on the rise in Kerala. The easy word in such cases the system.

Another friend I bumped into during a recent atheists’ meet in Kochi offered a more distilled view of the scenario. Let’s call him Dinil. An old firebrand SFI/DYFI comrade who is now a well-known artist-designer.

“Kerala failed to keep a check on political Islam. Both, the Congress and the CPM have been playing appeasement politics for votes,” he said.

“I am especially disillusioned with today’s CPM. By handling subjects like jihad with kid gloves, the system here has actually helped Sangh Parivar grow. What happened now? With the ban on PFI, the BJP has positioned itself as the only party that can take on political Islam.” 

Dinil’s anger is directed at his party as well as the media and the so-called social critics. “One thing that right-wingers keep ranting about is the near absence of progressive voices against Islamic fundamentalism,” he observed.

To a large extent, local media is responsible, he accused, citing the case of a news anchor infamously admitting that several stories against Islamic fundamentalism were suppressed due to the apprehension that they would “benefit the BJP”. 

“It is not that there are no progressive voices; they are muffled due to politics, which has gained prominence over society, the human at the centre. Social critics and a large section of the media thrive on maintaining BJP as the bugbear. In effect, it’s the Muslim community that suffers. Think about it,” Dinil concluded.

Academic C Ravichandran, who led the atheists’ meet in Kochi, has been a victim of selective targeting, stifling. “There was a time when I was called a communist,” he told TNIE. 

“But as I started criticising Islam, I have been branded a Sanghi. In Kerala, you cannot criticise Islam. That’s when hands start trembling.”

These discussions took me back to a bloody October, back in 2008. Kerala woke up to gunshots over 3,800km away, in Kashmir’s Kupwara sector, where an Army patrol team encountered two LeT terrorists. Both were Malayalis. 

Until then, the state had vehemently denied the presence of terror modules in God’s Own Country. The gunshots were a wake-up call. 

Exactly five years later, on October 4 (a coincidence), a National Investigation Agency special court in Kochi sentenced to life 13 Malayalis for running a terrorist recruitment camp in the state. 

Ruling out the death penalty, then special judge S Vijayakumar noted: “We must always try for reformation. Even those who were sentenced today were not born terrorists.”

I recall visiting the house of one of the slain terrorists, 20-year-old Muhammad Fayas, in Kannur. “Uncomfortable silence,” I had jotted down in my diary.   

Though unwell with high blood pressure, Fayas’s mother, Safiya, agreed to talk. “Silence... smiling,” I had noted.

“How can a happy-go-lucky youth turn into a terrorist in 20 days?” Safiya asked.

“He was never a social nuisance. He was jovial with everyone even Hindus and Christians in the locality, and participated in their festivals.”

Fayas’s brother-in-law, Noufal, a CPM activist, blamed the NDF and the state’s approach towards such outfits. In the wee hours of one fine day, Fayas had left home. The family was told he was heading to Bangalore on a job hunt. As his mobile phone got switched off, Safiya dialled his friend Faisal (who was later convicted in the case). He told her Fayas had “been sent to Hyderabad for learning the Quran and reforming”.  

“He told me I could not talk to Fayas, as it would distract him,” wailed Safiya. “And then in two weeks, I hear that he was shot down in Kashmir.” Safiya had made headlines, as she said she did not want to see her son’s body. She also maintained that all those involved in the case should have been hanged.

“Some people warned me of repercussions. What more can they do to me?” she asked me with a stoic smile. “No one should ever again dare to create another Fayas.”

Lavanya’s frozen anger, Dinil’s frustration, and Safiya’s forlorn state have a common link. Erosion of humanism, and entrapments of politics.


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