The village of Padanna, in Kerala’s Kasargod district, is famous for being the home of successful businessmen who travelled to Mangalore, Mumbai, Rangoon, Kuala Lumpur and the Gulf countries to earn their fortunes.

Today, the village is battling fame of a different, unwelcome, kind. Of the 21 missing people from Kerala, who are believed to have left the country to join the Islamic State, 11 are from Padanna.

News of their disappearance emerged early this month after relatives lodged missing person complaints at the Chandera police station in Kasargod district, around 500 km north of the state capital.

The missing 11 include doctors, engineers and management professionals, a few of whom had turned down well-paying jobs in Gulf countries. Though media reports suggest that they have already joined terror organisation, the Islamic State, central or state investigative agencies haven’t confirmed these claims.

Competing Islam

Muslims are the majority community in Padanna but they are, in turn, divided into followers of different Muslim movements, which are largely hostile to each other. Prominent among these are the EK Sunni, AP Sunni, the Kerala Nadvathul Mujahideen, the Tabligh-e-Jama’at and the Jama’at-e-Islami.

All outfits have their own mosques, madrassas and even libraries. According to rough estimates, the village has 35 mosques of different sizes just along a four-kilometre stretch.

Foreign remittances, mainly from Gulf countries, have enabled the people of Padanna to build palatial houses that dot either side of the village’s narrow, metalled roads, and buy high-end cars and the latest electronic gadgets.

BCA Rahman, a social worker and a close relative of Hafeezuddin, one of the 11 people missing from the village, said Padanna made her fortune thanks to enterprising businessmen. “Migration is in the DNA of Padannites,” he said. “The first generation of migrants set up successful business ventures wherever they went, and it resulted in our prosperity.”

However, he lamented that recent developments had given his village a bad name. “With 11 of the 21 missing persons hailing from Padanna, we have to live with a new epithet – the IS hub in India,” said Rahman. “But people in this village hate violence in the name of religion. We are all against IS and its ideology.”

He added: “Muslims and Hindus have been living amicably here. The temple in our village that lies in the middle of a Muslim-dominated locality stands as testimony to this harmony.”

A moderate Padanna

Jaleel Padanna, a media professional, who has co-authored a book on the history of Padanna, titled Bellothi, said that religious extremism had never managed to find a foothold in Padanna. “The youngsters, who are at the centre of a storm now, were born and brought up in a moderate Islamic environment,” he said. “They began to pursue religious studies seriously just five years ago after a joyful teenage life. Their radicalisation might have happened through the internet.”

Jaleel Padanna said that the residents of the village did not believe reports linking the village’s missing residents with the hated Islamic State. “They are god-fearing, and well-behaved youth,” he said. “That is why people like to believe that they had gone to learn Islam, and not to be part of IS.”

But he added that he had observed a major shift in Padanna’s cultural space during the last decade. “The space of public libraries and discourses are being hijacked by religious organisations these days,” he said. “We have to win it back for the next generation of Padannites.”

Rahman recalled meeting and interacting with some of the missing men at the mosque. “They were reluctant to talk religion in public, but they did it inside their close-knit community,” he said.

Yasir, president of Eleven Star Arts and Sports Club, who also knew some of the missing 11, said that people had noticed subtle changes in their behaviour over time. “Many of us noticed their behavioural changes as they began to grow long beards and wear clothes that adhere to strict Salafist traditions,” said Yasir. “It seemed to me that they were not comfortable with their surroundings.”

Communal tension averted

The Sangh Parivar is trying to capitalise on the issue. Recently, the Bharatiya Janata Party and its affiliates organised protest marches against institutions where some of the missing persons had worked or studied in the past, alleging that they were breeding grounds of terrorists.

But local political parties and the people’s representatives handled the situation deftly.

Before approaching the police with a compliant, the relatives of those missing had consulted P Karunakaran, Member of Parliament from Kasargod, and M Rajagopal, Member of the Legislative Assembly from Trikaripur, as well as leaders of the Indian Union Muslim League, the dominant political party in the village.

“At the meeting, it was decided that no one would be allowed to flare up communal passions,” said Karunakaran. “We have succeeded in it.”

Karunakaran, who belongs to the Communist Party of India (Marxist), said that the issue shouldn’t affect the socio-cultural fabric of the village despite attempts by the Sangh to create trouble.

His party colleague and district panchayat member VPP Musthafa said that the missing people neither disturbed religious harmony in the village, nor incited violence.

“It is learnt that they had associated with Mujahid [Salafi] movement some time ago before being attracted to ultra-religious ideology,” said Musthafa. “Let the investigative agencies find the truth. We will not allow the Sangh Parivar to use this issue and divide the people.”