The writing on the wall is clear that to have a society without fear, there is an urgent need to recognise the growing threat of radicalisation amongst Indian Muslims and find a permanent solution for it
The killing of Kanhaiya Kumar in Udaipur betrays a deeply disturbing trend of the growing influence of Islamic radicalisation. The indications were always there but we as a society have tried to probably overlook them deliberately as this is an inconvenient truth especially for the urban middle class, most of our policymakers and a significant number of lawmakers.
Ironically, Abhinav Pandya had specifically pointed out Wahhabi radicalisation in Udaipur and other parts of Rajasthan in his scholarly work Radicalization in India: An exploration (2019). Pandya had mentioned (pp 34), “Lately, changes even in the hinterland of India are hard to miss. Sleepy and laid-back towns like Udaipur(Rajasthan) have witnessed huge protests and agitations in favour of Myanmar’s Rohingya refugees, not out of rational and enlightened concerns of internationalism but out of the feeling of being an inalienable part of the Ummah, the global Islamic brotherhood. The Persian ‘Khuda Hafiz’ and the holy ‘Ramzan’ are gradually giving way to Arabic ‘Allah Hafiz’ and ‘Ramadan’ as a wave of Wahhabi proselytisation sweeps across the country.”
Pandya further adds, “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) recruiters have been caught in cities like Jaipur and Ajmer and several youngsters from relatively prosperous states like Kerala, Karnataka and metro cities like Hyderabad have travelled to Syria to join ISIS(caliphate). In small cities like Udaipur, there have been violent clashes between the Deobandi and Barelvi-Sunni Muslims. In the border areas of Rajasthan, several new foreign-funded mosques have sprung up and the hardline Deobandi preachers can be seen engaged in intense proselytization.”
In this context, it is worth pondering the origins of this radicalisation. Hilal Ahmed underlines an interesting point in Siyasi Muslims: A Story of Political Islams in India (pp38), “Contemporary Islamic religious debates, especially among Sunnis, are more concerned about the growing worldly outlook of Muslims. The decline of Islamic pre-eminence in the contemporary world is seen as a direct outcome of non-Islamic values and practices. Although the meanings of the true Islamic path and the modes to achieve it have been an unsettled issue, there is a consensus that to ‘go back to the original Islam’ would be the ultimate solution. Take for example Tablighi Jamaat, which has emerged as one of the most powerful forms of ritualistic Islam in the last three-decades.”
India has several schools of Islamic thought. The most prominent amongst them are Wahhabism, Deobandi and Barelvi schools of Islam. The common thing among all three is the ‘puritan’ approach. They want Islam to return to its purest form. All three are extremely conservative and have similar views about the status of women and infidels in society.
Wahhabism was imported to India by Syed Ahmad (1786-1831) after he returned from Mecca in 1824. In the name of ‘jihad’, he waged a war against the Sikhs in an attempt to restore the Muslim rule in Punjab. He was killed in Balakot.
He was killed in 1831 in a battle against Sikhs at Balakot which is now in Pakistan. Wahhabis consider him to be a martyr.
‘Wiki Cables suggested that Saudi Arabia is uncomfortable with the rising Shia influence in India and Tehran’s overtures. So, in order to counter that Saudis are pumping in money to promote Wahhabism in India. According to a report attributed to Intelligence Bureau(IB), from 2011 through 2013, 25,000 Wahhabis visited India, conducted seminars in several states of the country. For these activities $17 billion were spent.’ (Radicalisation in India: An exploration, Pp46)
Deobandi School of Islam is another source of radicalisation of Islam in India. The notorious Haqqani network that is active in Pakistan and Afghanistan as the fountainhead of terrorism, as well as the Taliban, have originated from Deobandi school of Islam. Jaish-e-Muhammad, another terror outfit based out of Pakistan also adheres to Deobandi school. Deobandis in India have tried at times to distance themselves ideologically from these and many such other outfits but the fact remains that Deobandi ideology is one of the key sources of radicalisation of Muslims in the Indian subcontinent.
According to Pandya, “Deobandi school of thought is generally regarded as the South Asian cousin of Wahhabism. Their attitude towards Shias and infidels is closer to that of Wahhabis. In social and religious domains, they are very conservative… Their missionary arm Tablighi Jamaat (TJ) engages in religious proselytisation. In many quarters, it is believed that TJ plays an indirect role in Jihadi radicalisation.”
The Barelvi movement started by Ahmed Raza Khan in the 1880s at Bareilly (in present day Uttar Pradesh), is often considered to be relatively less radical school of Islam. But that might not be the case. There are around 200 million Barelvis in South Asia and they constitute almost half of the Muslim population of Pakistan. The rise of Tehreek-e-Labbaik in Pakistan, an extremist and aggressive group, as one of the biggest political and ultraradical forces betrays the extent of radicalisation originating from Barelvi school of thought.
It is clear that radicalisation amongst Muslims in India is a complex and multi-dimensional issue. It cuts across socio-economic profiles. It isn’t linked anymore with poor education standards, poverty or other social and economic indicators. This was amply demonstrated during the ‘Hijab’ row in Karnataka.
Most of us have already forgotten that a Hindu youth and Bajrang Dal activist Harsha was brutally killed in almost a similar manner in February 2022 at Shivmoga in Karnataka. He was also a tailor and was stabbed to death by a group of Muslims for wearing saffron shawls during the hijab row. Now Kanhaiya Kumar has been beheaded.
The writing on the wall is clear that to have a society without fear, there is an urgent need to recognise the growing threat of radicalisation amongst Indian Muslims and find a permanent solution for it. But no government can do this alone, we as a society have to come together to deal with this. And it would be ideal if the progressives amongst Muslims lead from the front to do this.
The writer, an author and columnist, has written several books including The Taliban: War and Religion in Afghanistan. Views expressed are personal.
The Insidexpress is now on Telegram and Google News. Join us on Telegram and Google News, and stay updated.