A spate of recent arrests of suspected Islamic State (IS) sympathizers, coupled with a growing threat of the terror group targeting the sub-continent for recruitment has prompted Indian authorities to devise an educational strategy aimed at preventing Muslim youth from being lured by radical outfits.
As part of a two-pronged educational program, titled ‘Nai Manzil’ (New Goal), the government will provide financial help to Muslim youth who have studied in madrassas, or religious seminaries, to acquire modern education and vocational training to increase their chances of finding a job.
The ambitious skills and development program, which aims to shield nearly 30 million Indian Muslims studying in roughly 300,000 madrassas across the country from radicalization, is being funded by the World Bank with a $50 million credit line, officials said.
India is the world’s third most populous Muslim nation, with about 172 million followers of Islam, according to the 2011 census. The report also stated that the minority group has the lowest share of working people – about 33 percent – of all religious communities in the country.
The educational project was initiated keeping in mind the threat of IS targeting the Indian sub-continent for recruitment, an official of the Ministry of Minority Affairs told BenarNews on condition of anonymity.
“The idea of the initiative is to provide training to the youth studying in madrassas so that they get good jobs,” the official said, adding, “Two programs – skill development and Nai Manzil – have been initiated in this regard to ensure that unemployed youth stay away from adverse anti-social activities.”
The skill development program, in which students are provided with hands-on vocational training, has been launched in madrassas in the states of Bihar and Maharashtra on a trial basis, the official said.
The government had also tied up with minority institutes such as Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) in Uttar Pradesh and Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi for its Nai Manzil project.
“So far, around 100 students have enrolled in the program at AMU,” he said.
But many are skeptical of the success of such a scheme, calling it mere lip-service.
“In the past, too, the government has announced several schemes for Muslim youth. But the success rate of such schemes is zero. I am yet to see any scheme getting implemented on the ground,” Maulana Mohammad Qasim Rahimi, founder of the Delhi-based Madrassa Taleem al-Quran, told BenarNews.
“To implement any such scheme successfully you have to first create equal opportunities for Muslims in the country,” he added.
The government initiative follows a string of recent arrests and detentions of Indian Muslims, at least 10 of them minors, allegedly with leanings toward the IS.
Last month, the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) in Pune, Maharashtra, detained a 16-year-old girl, who was allegedly radicalized online by IS operatives.
Security officials said the IS was trying to lure her to Syria with promises of funding her higher education.
The girl has since been put under a deradicalization program with help from local Muslim clerics.
Just days after the girl’s detention, security forces in disputed Jammu and Kashmir state arrested nine juveniles for alleged leanings toward IS.
Security officials said the nine boys had been in touch with an IS recruiter in an African nation via the messaging application Whatsapp.
Since late 2014, at least 20 suspected IS sympathizers and operatives have been detained or arrested in India, which for long had denied the militant outfit’s existence in the sub-continent.
Kashmiri separatist accused
On Dec. 27, three youths from south India’s Andhra Pradesh state were arrested while trying to board a flight to Srinagar, from where they were to allegedly travel to Syria to join the IS.
The youths, all in their early 20s, reportedly told interrogators they were traveling to Srinagar to meet Kashmiri separatist leader Asiya Andrabi, who would facilitate their initiation into the extremist group.
Andrabi, who heads the Dukhtarani-Milat, the first women-only separatist group in Kashmir, denied the allegation.
“The claim that I was helping those youths join the IS is simply ridiculous and unfounded. I am solely concerned with the ongoing movement aimed at liberating Kashmir from Indian occupation,” she told BenarNews.
According to an intelligence report, at least 23 Indians have traveled to Iraq and Syria to fight alongside the IS. Among them, six have been killed in battle.
However, speculation is rife that the figure may well be higher than that stated by Indian intelligence agencies.
Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Walid al-Moaulem confirmed during his state visit to New Delhi last week that four Indians who had arrived in Syria via Turkey with the intention of joining IS were being held in a prison in Damascus.
Intelligence officials said they had prevented nearly 30 Indian youth from traveling to Iraq and Syria to join IS, while another 150 were under online surveillance for showing sympathy toward to the group.
‘Indian values will triumph’
During a meeting in Delhi Saturday with top security officials from 13 Indian states to assess the IS threat in India, Home Minister Rajnath Singh said the traction that the terror outfit has got in India is “extremely limited and almost insignificant to other countries.”
He, however, emphasized the need to “keep up vigil on all fronts” and not let the guard down in any manner.
While noting that most Muslim organizations in India had come out against the IS and other forms of terrorism, Singh said: “India’s traditions and family values will triumph over even this evil.”
With reports suggesting the IS is targeting potential recruits in India via the Internet, the country’s minority educational institutes, too, are keeping a close watch on what students are surfing.
“We are surveilling our students’ online activities closely to ensure they don’t get influence by the propaganda of terrorist organizations,” Zahir Kazi, president of Anjuman-i-Islam, which operates about 90 educational institutes in India, told BenarNews.
“We have fire-walled all computers in our institutes as we have reason to believe Indian youths are being radicalized online. It is our responsibility to take preventive measures,” he said.
Amin Masoodi contributed to this report