[sacw] The Muslim Rightwing in Kerala

Harsh Kapoor aiindex@mnet.fr
Sat, 13 Feb 1999 01:17:06 +0100

(South Asia Citizens Web)
From: India Today, February 15, 1999

Fettered by Dogma
With fatwas and punishments, a clutch of radical Muslim leaders holds
the entire community to ransom.

By M G Radhakrishnan
* For 12-year-old Safa Mariam Ahmed and her family the celebrations
before they even began. Having won several prizes at the annual cultural
competition at her Vocational Higher Secondary School at Payyanakkal,
Kozhikode, she had just been chosen the festival's best artiste. To add
to the family's delight, her elder sister Ofean also won prizes in the
dance and drama competitions. Two days later came the bad news: a letter
from the local Ihya-Ul-Ulum Madarsa informed the two girls that they
could no more pursue Islamic studies at the madarsa. The crime:
performing on stage, considered to be against Islamic tenets by the
local mahal committee. Their father Ahmed Koya approached the courts for
justice after his pleas for mercy were rejected.
* Elsewhere in North Kerala, Tasnibanu, 20, a student of Manchery in
Malappuram, wanted to marry Abdul Nasser under the Special Marriage Act
instead of the traditional Islamic rites. It was then that the local
masjid committee and some fundamentalist groups moved in. Banu was
dismissed from her college by its Muslim management, confined to home by
her father and tortured by her relatives. A worried Nasser filed a
habeas corpus petition in the Kerala High Court.

Targeted by fundamentalist organisations, Tasnibanu and the Ahmed family
at least looked up to the courts for justice. But in Kerala's
Muslim-dominated Malappuram district and parts of Kozhikode, there are
scores of others who submit to the tyranny in silence. The trend is
alarming. The local masjid/mahal committees, backed by some Muslim
extremist groups, have taken it upon themselves to impose Islamic law on
the Muslims and punish those who are "wayward". The fundamentalist
groups, led by the National Democratic Front (NDF), have particularly
targeted the liberals in the community: those who do not strictly follow
Islamic laws like abstaining from liquor, fasting during Ramzan and
wearing the makhna or the purdah.

The consequences for those who violate these orders can be disastrous:
social ostracism and even attacks and arson. "The Muslim community is
being terrorised by these fundamentalists as there is a
well-orchestrated attempt to Talibanise it," says S. Jabbar, district
secretary of the Kerala Uktivadi Sanghom (Rationalist Association). For
his outspoken views, Jabbar had to pay a price: last month, his house
was attacked. Says K. Natarajan, sp, Malappuram: "The extremist groups
have taken over the role of the moral police in many places."

Ahmed Koya, father of the girls expelled from their madarsa for
participating in a cultural festival, says the masjid committees have
been hijacked by fundamentalist bodies like the NDF. "I am a devout
Muslim and do not have to be told what is Islamic by them." But the
masjid committee is adamant: "It is against Islam for girls or women to
perform on stage," says P.K. Mohammed, president of the Madarsathul

"NDF activists imposed a strict vigil on her movements and even tried to
molest her."
Abdul Nasser, fiance of Tasninbanu, 20

Case: Banu dismissed from college as she wanted to marry as per the
Special Marriage Act. Recourse: Nasser filed a petition in court.

The NDF, a Kozhikode-based organisation, is currently said to be in the
forefront of the extremist outfits working among the Muslim community.
But unlike other fundamentalist groups like the Progressive Democratic
Party and the Islamic Sevak Sangh, which are virtually defunct now, the
NDF functions openly and has offices in several districts. Most of its
office bearers are respected professionals in various fields. Says O.M.
Abdul Rahman, NDF chairman and professor at Cochin University: "We are
an organisation committed to campaigning for the civil rights of the
minorities and Dalits." Last year, Chief Minister E.K. Nayanar informed
the state Assembly that the NDF was among the many organisations having
links with extremists. According to an Intelligence Bureau (IB)
official, three years after its formation in 1993, the NDF started a
clandestine wing. "The overt wing organises seminars and holds adult
education camps, while the covert wing is responsible for bomb attacks,
stockpiling arms, training cadres and so on." It has also been charged
with receiving huge donations from Gulf countries.

Most liberal Muslims, the Indian Union Muslim League, the Kerala Police
and the IB concede that NDF is the main force behind the sudden increase
in Muslim radicalism in the state. Police also say that some of the
attacks against so-called violators of Islamic laws have been engineered
by the NDF. The group has been behind the campaigns against school
uniforms, singing Vande Mataram in schools and lighting of traditional
lamps. "We have no evidence to show that NDF has been involved in this,
but its emergence has certainly radicalised the psyche of the
dissatisfied young people," say K.A. Siddique Hassan, the genial ameer
(state chief) of the Jamaat-i-Islami.

"I am a devout Muslim and don't need to
be told what is Islamic by them."
Ahmed Koya, father of Safa Mariam, 12 and Ofean, 14

Case: Mariam and Ofean were expelled from their madarsa for performing
on stage in school. Recourse: Father moved court.

The victims too point an accusing finger at the NDF. Tasnibanu's fianc
Nasser says the group was most active in Banu's persecution. "They
imposed a strict vigil on her movements and also tried to physically
molest her," he says. Tasnibanu also invited the extremists' ire by
refusing to cover her head. But K.M. Ashraf, NDF Supreme Council member,
denies NDF's involvement in the matter or in other incidents of violence
against Muslims. Admitting that some NDF members were involved in the
murder of godman Siddhan and in attacks on some prostitutes in
Malappuram last month, Ashraf, however, says, "They acted on their own
and not under our direction. Action has been taken against them."

The virtual Talibanisation of the community has, however, not elicited
much response from the state's major political parties. They seem keen
not to offend the Muslim groups. "The CPI(M) and the Congress want to
appease the minorities and do not dare say a word," charges Jabbar.
However, Syedalikutty, the CPI(M)'s Malappuram district secretary, says,
"We have been campaigning against the NDF and related extremist groups
for long. But we do not want to meddle in religious and family disputes
like that of Tasnibanu." When self-styled champions of a faith impinge
on fundamental rights and hold an entire community to ransom, however,
it's no longer a family dispute.


Fathima Suhara and her mother ostracised and prevented from drawing
water from the community well in January after Fathima converted to
Christianity to marry a Christian. She was back with her mother after
her husband abandoned her. The two women have now moved court.
Two muslim women, accused of prostitution, abducted by a mob, tonsured
and paraded naked in Malappuram last month. Cases filed against members
of some extremist organisations.
Godman Fakir Uppappa or Siddhan, killed in November last year for
indulging in "un-Islamic spiritualism". Some NDF members arrested.
Three hindu youth, killed last year for allegedly maintaining liaisons
with Muslim women. No headway in the investigation.
Popular reformist, the Moulvi of Chekannur, abducted by Muslim
extremists some years ago, still missing. Believed to have been killed.
A CBI inquiry is on.
Senior RSP leader of Kannur ordered to be socially boycotted by the
local jamaat committee for videographing a wedding ceremony in the
Muslim homes raided during the Ramzan month to make sure every Muslim
observed fast and attended the Subah namaz at the local masjid.
Liquor shops in Muslim areas ransacked and Muslims caught drinking
thrashed. Hindu hotels which were open during Ramzan shut down forcibly.

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