An Islamic organisation that says it fights discrimination against minorities in India has disbanded after the government declared it and its affiliates unlawful, accusing them of involvement in terrorism.
The government of Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) accused the Popular Front of India (PFI) group of having been involved in “terrorism” and “anti-national activities”.
The ban, under a strict anti-terrorism law, came amid a crackdown in which 300 PFI leaders and activists have been arrested.
The PFI branch in the southern state of Kerala said that it had worked only “for the socio-economic empowerment of the downtrodden people”.
“But as law-abiding citizens of our great country, we accept the home ministry’s decision (to ban the PFI). We also inform all that the PFI has been disbanded,” the statement said.
PFI leaders have previously said that the terrorism accusations were baseless.
“These cases against us are all fabricated. We are victims of a political vendetta by the BJP-led government,” Anis Ahmed, the general secretary of PFI, said just before he was arrested last week.
Muslims, who make up more than 15% of India’s 1.4 billion population, often complain of persecution in the Hindu-majority country, and note that the marginalisation of the community has been increasingly prominent under the BJP. The BJP and the government deny the accusations.
Founded in 2006 in Kerala, the PFI claims to fight for the rights of minorities and low-caste Hindus.
On its website, the organisation calls itself a movement that aims to establish an “egalitarian society where everyone enjoys freedom, justice and a sense of security”.
The PFI supported the protest against a 2019 citizenship law that according to its critics discriminated against Muslims. It also supported this year’s protests in the southern state of Karnataka by Muslim girls who demanded their right to wear hijab in educational institutions.
India’s home ministry said in a statement that the organisation had “been found to be involved in serious offences, including terrorism and its financing, targeted gruesome killings, disregarding the constitutional setup of the country”.
The PFI “encourages extremism”, “disrupts the communal harmony” and “has ties with the banned groups like Simi [Students Islamic Movement of India] and [Bangladeshi terrorist group] Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh”, a government gazette that declared the ban said.
According to the gazette notification, “there is evidence that the group has a connection with the international terrorist group Isis”.
PFI leaders rebutted the charge. “There are mainstream media reports describing how our top leaders condemned the Isis. The allegation that this organisation had links with the Isis is ridiculously false,” one Kerala-based leader said on condition of anonymity.
“We are confident, all major charges against the PFI and its leaders will be found to be false if the trials in the court are conducted properly.”
Security expert Swaran Ram Darapuri, a retired police services officer, said the allegations against PFI seemed to be preconceived as “no related specific charge or crime has been investigated or proved” in the cases.
“Only some general allegations have been made against the PFI. The organisation has been accused of being involved in terrorism-related activities, among other charges. Those serious charges should have been thoroughly investigated and proved in a court of law before taking any action like banning the organisation,” said Darapuri, who is also a human rights activist.
“The widespread raids and arrests accompanied by diatribes were carried out to malign the organisation. The whole exercise of the crackdown seems to be biased and motivated.”
Condemning the ban, the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) – the PFI’s political wing – called it a “direct blow to democracy and human rights”.
“Freedom of speech, protests and organisations has been ruthlessly suppressed by the regime against the basic principles of the Indian constitution. The regime is misusing the investigation agencies and laws to silence the opposition and to scare the people from expressing the voice of dissent,” the SDPI statement said.