With evidence of PFI’s involvement in the violent anti-CAA protests across the country emerging, here’s a look at the history of this Islamist outfit.
Radicalization in India: An Exploration. Abhinav Pandya. Pentagon Press, 2019. Pages 236. Rs. 671.
Formally, PFI is an organization that claims to engage in social work. However, in essence, it is an Islamist organization which firmly believes in political Islam.
It is based in Kerala but rapidly expanding to the other states of India such as Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Manipur. PFI came into existence in 2006 but its origins go back to 1993.
After the demolition of Babri mosque, National Development Front (NDF) was created in Kerala to protect the interests of the Muslim community. In public domain, NDF portrayed itself as an organization devoted to socio-economic reform work for Muslims, but its extremist and violent nature was exposed when some of its members were arrested for rioting and murdering eight Hindus on Marad beach in Kozhikode in 2003.
There were allegations of it having links with foreign intelligence agencies, but these could not be proved.
NDF’s activities were limited to Kerala. It was decided to create a nation-wide organization. In 2006, PFI was established by merging like-minded Karnataka Forum for Dignity and Manitha Neethi Pasarai (Tamil Nadu).
Over the next three years, Goa Citizen’s Forum, Rajasthan’s Community for Social and Educational Society, West Bengal’s Nagarik Adhikar Suraksha Samiti, Manipur’s Lilong Social Forum and Andhra’s Association for Social Justice merged with PFI.
However, it remained most active in Kerala. PFI’s other units are (1) All India Imam Council (Religious Scholars’ unit) and (2) Satya Sarini, educational and charity organization based in Malappuram, actively engaging in conversions.
PFI’s links have been established with the banned terrorist outfit Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), an extremist organization formed to counter western materialistic influences in India and to encourage Muslims to live according to the Islamic code of life.
A large number of PFI office-bearers had strong links with SIMI, before it was banned in 2001.
PFI has been strongly communalizing the social space in Kerala. Intelligence sources maintain that PFI actively promotes jihad through campaigns and lectures in jihad. It encourages its cadres to kill right-wing Hindu activists in return for the rewards in afterlife.
However, it has not staged large-scale terrorist attacks against civilians like Indian Mujahiddin. It is still regarded as an extremist outfit, not a terror outfit.
Involvement of PFI in attacks and murder cases
1) In 2010, Professor TJ Kurien’s hands were chopped off for setting up a paper, allegedly offensive to the Prophet Muhammad. In this case, a charge-sheet was filed against 37 PFI members.
2) According to a Kerala government report submitted to the Kerala High Court in 2012, PFI cadres were involved in 27 murder cases, mostly of RSS and CPI-M cadres.
3) Another report of the Kerala government (2014) stated that 86 “attempts to murder cases” were registered against PFI.
4) Furthermore, PFI members have indulged in the murders of RSS cadres in Mangaluru, Bengaluru, and Mysuru (all in Karnataka).
Forced Conversions and Links to Terrorism
A “sting” operation by a national television channel claimed that AS Zainaba, President of National Women’s Front (PFI’s Women Wing) facilitated and organized forced religious conversions to Islam at Satya Sarini, a charity trust run by PFI. A Kerala police report submitted to NIA alleges the involvement of PFI in 97 cases of forced conversions.
NIA is conducting investigations into the cases of forced conversions.
In the course of interrogation of Shahjahan, an IS sympathizer from Kajiranghode in Kannur (deported from Turkey after a failed attempt to cross into Syria), it was revealed that ten members of PFI had gone to Syria to participate in the jihadi wars of ISIS. Later, PFI clarified that its members who had joined ISIS had left PFI as the organization had differences of opinion with them.
According to an NIA report (Kannur PFI Case, Case No. RC-05/2013/NIA/KOC), PFI had organized a terror training camp in the forest of Kannur. NIA seized swords, country-made bombs and ingredients for IEDs. PFI has actively aided the emergence of Kerala as the breeding ground of terrorists, extremists and radicals. The well-known Wagamon camp of SIMI was held in Kerala in 2007 and PFI backed it. The camp charted out the strategy to beat the ban on SIMI, and after the meeting, Indian Mujahiddin was born.
Since 2017, Ministry of Home Affairs has been considering banning PFI because of the number of cases against PFI under Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). However, PFI has categorically denied any links with terrorist organizations.
Nevertheless, the organization is under heavy scrutiny for its alleged involvement in suspicious terror activities. However, it has been difficult for the intelligence agencies to substantiate its allegations against PFI with concrete and admissible evidence. Besides, the PFI and its political wing Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) have substantial social and political clout in the state. With a dedicated cadre of 25,000 members and 300,000 sympathizers, it can swing the Muslim vote. Mainstream politicians in the state have either been in an appeasement mode for electoral reasons or in the denial mode.
Recently, CPI (M) maintained silence on the SDPI’s alleged involvement in the murder of student leader Abhimanyu. On the question of banning PFI, CM Pinrayi Vijayan stated that it is not the policy of the government to ban any communal or terrorist outfit.
“Any outfit that creates riots in India and divides society, then it should be banned and that organization is the RSS,” he said. Furthermore, he argued that organizations like PFI could not be dealt with a ban, but with legal action. However, India’s legal arsenal to tackle radicalization and extremism is woefully inadequate.
Columnist Vicky Nanjappa, an expert on Islamism in Kerala, in a telephonic conversation stated that PFI was infiltrating into the feeder outfits of the mainstream political parties. Their clear agenda was propagation of Political Islam, and that they are trying to run a parallel government.
In July 2009, PFI’s Dar-ul-Khada asked Muslims to approach only Sharia courts, not the judicial courts.
In the pursuit of the agenda of Political Islam, PFI has intensified its activities in the university campuses, through its student wing Campus Front of India (CFI).
In the above context, a review of Rashid Abdullah’s video-tape on PFI can be very useful in understanding the real intent and nature of the organization and its operations. Rashid Abdullah was the chief recruiter of IS in Kerala. Currently he is believed to be in Afghanistan with IS Khorasan. He hails from Kasargod and was the mastermind of the mass escape of 16 people from Kasargod and Palakkad to join IS.
In the 70th edition of the voice message, he informed that NDF, the precursor of PFI was formed to wage jihad against the oppressors of Muslims in CPI (M) and RSS. The aim of NDF was jihad-fi-Sabillah (jihad in the path of Allah) and the lectures of the NDF classes included exposure to alleged instances of tortures that Muslims underwent in different parts of the country.
NDF lectures also prepared the cadres to make sacrifices and pledge strong loyalties to the organization.
However, according to Rashid, NDF lost its Islamic character after the formation of SDPI, the political wing, which wanted to bring Sharia rule through democracy. He added that due to the dilution of its Islamic character, many PFI cadres shifted loyalties to IS.
Currently, there are many IS supporters in PFI, but they are lying dormant. PFI leadership knows about it and is trying to bring them back or prevent them from joining IS by issuing circulars stating that PFI will return to its original Islamic nature.
PFI leadership is also convincing them by saying that PFI will join IS later, and that PFI is the Islamic State of India.
From the views of Rashid, it becomes clear that the real agenda of PFI is political Islam and the organization is inherently at the crossroads with liberal values, secularism, democracy and multiculturalism.
It also becomes clear that the boundaries between non-violent and violent extremism in PFI are very fluid. Furthermore, it also becomes clear that in the event of any major religious upheaval in West Asia or the rise of a transnational terrorist organization like IS, PFI can be a reliable and effective platform for its induction in India.
With its expanding network across the country, PFI was likely to emerge as an efficient conduit for the dissemination of religious/ideological extremism across the country.
Its efficiency is also strengthened by the fact that it has strong links with Maoist and Dalit organizations, and it has many front organizations doing social work in the form of NGOs.
One such entity, the Green Valley Foundation, was used for secret meetings for planning anti-national activities. As already mentioned, PFI’s camouflaging as an entity working for social welfare and human rights imparts it a robust shield of deniability.
Finances and Gulf Links
A 19-page dossier prepared by the NIA and submitted to the Home Ministry gives in-depth information about the financial networks of PFI. PFI has collected funds from various frontal and religious organizations based in Gulf countries. It has used organizations like India Fraternity Forum (IFF) and Muslim Relief Network (MRN) to receive funds from Gulf countries.
The dossier also mentions that PFI leaders like Abu Backer A. Sayed and EM Abdul Rahman camouflage their visits to Gulf countries as visits undertaken for Haj/Umrah or meeting their expatriate relatives, but the real aim is to collect discreet funds.
MRN, a PFI NGO received funds from Islamic Development Bank (Jeddah) and has links with World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) and National Confederation of Human Rights Organizations.
Besides, PFI has also received donations from Muslim business people in Karnataka and Kerala.
PFI also collects membership fee (INR 10-1,000) and Ramadan donations. The funds raised were used for setting up its studio “Thejas” at Bangalore PFI office and to publish books and magazines.
The funds were also used for organizing terror training camps and train its cadres in martial arts, indoctrination camps, religious conversions, IEDs and making crude bombs.