Kerala's missing youths: Spate of conversions, ‘love jihad’ cases hint at more disappearances

Five of the 21 young men and women who have disappeared from Kerala to apparently join the Islamic State (IS) had recently converted to Islam.

Bekson, a Christian, is a 32-year-old MBA graduate. His brother Betson is 10 years younger. Sometime last year, they grew beards and announced to their parents that they had converted to Islam. Bekson changed his name to Easa, and Betson became Yahiya. Then Bekson married Nimisha, a Hindu girl who had just converted and became Fathima. His brother married Merin, a Christian girl who became Mariam. And Abdul Rasheed, an engineer in Palakkad, married Sonia, also an engineer, after she had converted and took the name of Ayisha.

It’s not clear whether the case of Rasheed and Ayisha was a “love jihad.” The two marriages of the brothers aren’t. Despite the elements of “love” and “jihad” in them, they don’t come under the definition of “love jihad.” A “love jihad” means a Muslim man enticing a non-Muslim girl into Islam with feigned love and then dumping her or doing with her anything other than what a normal husband would do.

 Keralas missing youths: Spate of conversions, ‘love jihad’ cases hint at more disappearances

Easa and Fatima had converted to Islam a year back. News 18

But there have been some classic cases of “love jihad” in Kerala before and plenty of conversions to Islam — a conservative estimate is 10,000 in the last 10 years.

That’s what makes us wonder whether the number of people reported to have disappeared from Kerala — 21 so far — is only a tip of the iceberg.

And just as you wonder about this comes the report on Tuesday in The New Indian Express which says that about 50 other people have disappeared under mysterious circumstances from the Muslim-dominated northern Kerala in the last two years. The police are still investigating to find whether the missing persons have any links with terror groups.

The report quoted an official as saying that many families, who didn’t report the disappearance of their children earlier because of the “stigma” attached to “missing" cases are now coming forward to complain.

It’s nobody’s case that all these 50 or so people who have fled India have joined the IS or any other terror outfit, but considering the present circumstances and the well-known vulnerability of Kerala’s youth to falling into terror traps, the police are ruling out nothing. Investigators can’t forget the significant numbers of Hindus and Christians converting to Islam and the few cases of “love jihad” that shook the state in the past.

On 25 June, 2012, Oommen Chandy, then chief minister of Kerala, tabled some numbers in the state Legislature:

- 7,713 people converted to Islam between 2006 and 2012.
- 2,195 Hindu women converted to Islam between 2009 and 2012
- 492 Christian women converted to Islam during 2009-2012

It’s another matter that Chandy gave no figures for those who converted to Christianity.

Another report in The New Indian Express said on Tuesday that two “authorised conversion centres” of Muslims, one in Kozhikode and the other in Ponnani, registered a total of 900 conversions during 2015.

With no details available for 2013 and 2014 and adding up Chandy’s figures for 2006-12 and the new statistics for 2015, we won’t be far off the mark if we say that Kerala has seen a total of close to 10,000 conversions to Islam in the last 10 years.

Nobody can — and nobody should—jump to the conclusion that all those who embraced Islam took to guns and militancy.

But the “love jihad” cases that came to light around the time Chandy gave those figures and the latest disappearances only make people suspicious. At that time, Chandy, however, denied that any “love jihad” was going on. That didn’t surprise many. The Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) is the second biggest party in the United Democratic Front (UDF) led by Chandy’s Congress. But just two days after he reeled off the conversion figures, the Kerala High Court had directed the police to investigate the alleged elopement of a 20-year-old Hindu girl with a Muslim boy from a Kochi hospital.

And a month after that came the case of Deepa Cherian, which shook the state’s Christian community. According to the police version, which reads like a thriller, Deepa was in Dubai with her husband and children when an Indian driver called Noushad befriended her. Leaving her family, she came to Kerala with Noushad, converted to Islam, changed her name to Shahina and married him. The story came to light when the police arrested her for handing over a few international SIM cards to Noushad which he, in turn, passed to one T Nazir, a Lashkar-e-Taiba criminal.

After investigation, police found other cases of alleged “love jihad" to be baseless. This prompted Muslim politicians to condemn what they called attempts to vilify the community with a “myth called love jihad.”

The number of conversions and the alleged “love jihad" cases are not huge in a state with a population of 3.3 crore (2011 census). Hindus constitute 54.73 percent of the population, while Muslims are 26.56 percent and Christians, 18.38 percent. In the past, Christian community leaders alleged that “love jihad” was a diabolical, global conspiracy, Kerala being no exception.

The good thing about the latest case of disappearance of young men and women is that no community is hurling charges at the other. That’s because the parents who have lost their children belong to all communities, and they are seized by one common fear: will this happen again?

And at family and social gatherings and office canteen discussions, Hindus, Christians and Muslims ask one common question: how to stop young people from falling into terror traps.

But they have no answers. There is one from Jason Burke, the Africa correspondent of The Guardian.

Burke says in the latest issue of Outlook: “Looking at the mechanics of radicalisation — spotting networks early, noticing changes in behaviour among key individuals and monitoring their effect on others, using community leaders or other trusted individuals to intervene rapidly and effectively to divert young people who are at risk of radicalisation, are all more practical, and probably more effective, than grandiloquent rhetoric or so-called global solutions to what is often a very particular, local problem.”

Also read: Burqa revolution in Kerala was an early sign of Islam radicalisation in the state

Author tweets @sprasadindia

Updated Date: Jul 13, 2016 09:35:52 IST