Portents of radicalisation

What runs common between a middle class Indian mother of three and a Delhi college student, as also an obscure religious group based in a Goan village and a militant group in the northeast? They are all manifestations of a renewed radicalisation that is gripping major religions, as old divides come to life and new gashes open. Afsha Jabeen, who was deported to India for her evangelisation efforts, and some youngsters from Kerala who were sent back by the UAE for sharing radical posts on social media, do not represent isolated instances of a new acceptance that Islamist fundamentalism has found among many Indians. There have been reports of several Indian youth joining Islamic State, and more wanting to do so. The latest is the case of a young woman from the national capital, a Delhi University graduate and daughter of a retired Army officer, who wanted to join the ranks of the regressive, violent movement in Syria that is behind one of the biggest humanitarian catastrophes of our times. These could still be cited as isolated instances for now, but they could well turn into a tide. India’s experience with radical religious tendencies is still far better than that of many other countries that have seen hundreds of youngsters leaving modern comforts and heading for the ‘battle-front’. What Indian society at large should worry about is also that the fundamentalism is not limited to Islam. Obscure groups such as Sanatan Sanstha are trying to impose their irrational arguments, often through violent means, infringing upon the fundamental rights and seeking to subdue India’s celebrated diversity. In the northeast and in Kashmir too fanaticism is finding new life and vigour, its ripples felt beyond immediate geographical boundaries.

The signals are clear: religious radicalisation is not a distant threat anymore but a reality closer home. Forces of obscurantism are feeding on global and local discontent to create narratives that appeal to even those brought up on a liberal education. Religious fanaticism has found new vigour not just in the clash of civilisations being played out across continents, but also in the dangerous political atmosphere created by some mainstream parties domestically. The vigour of movements in one religion feeds similar ones in others. Their misleading messages find roaring life on the information highway. As governments, political leaders, and society at large reap the benefits of globalisation, they cannot ignore its dark underbelly where obscurantist ideas flourish. One of the fallouts of the information revolution propelled by the Internet is that messages of fanaticism could also spread like wildfire, and governments could be overwhelmed by their power. India needs to wake up to this threat.

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