India arrests hundreds of PFI members in raids on alleged terror group

More than 250 Popular Front of India members detained across at least eight states including Delhi overnight

Central Reserve Police Force members stand guard in Bangalore, India on September 22 as the National Investigation Agency raids the offices of the Popular Front of India over terror-funding charges. EPA
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Hundreds of members of an alleged extremist organisation in India were arrested in an overnight swoop on Tuesday during a nationwide clampdown by federal and state anti-terror agencies.

More than 250 people were arrested as India’s National Investigation Agency and police units raided the homes and offices of alleged Popular Front of India members across at least eight states, including the capital Delhi, overnight.

Authorities last week arrested more than 100 members of the group in a similar campaign over allegations its members were involved in terror activities.

The anti-terror agency has accused the organisation of promoting enmity among communities, terror funding, providing weapons training to Muslim youths and radicalising them to join terrorist organisations.

Police along with the federal agency detained 30 people linked to the group, including a key female leader, Shaheen Kausar. She led months-long protests in Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh district against a controversial asylum law that excluded Muslims from seeking refuge in India.

“It was a joint, co-ordinated action against PFI suspects. Thirty persons detained so far. We will provide further details,” Delhi Police spokeswoman Suman Nalwa said.

The latest clampdown continued in at least eight states, including Assam, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat.

Police in Delhi imposed prohibitory orders in some parts of the Muslim-dominated Jamia Nagar area and deployed paramilitary forces to maintain calm.

Last week, street protests broke out in Kerala and Karnataka against the clampdown on the group.

The Popular Front of India was founded in about 2007 in southern Kerala state. This came after several smaller organisations merged to form one of the largest socio-religious groups that claims to fight for the rights of minorities including low-caste Hindus.

The group claims to function similar to right-wing Hindu groups such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh — the ideological parent of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

The organisation is largely active in southern states and has increased its street power over the years. It has an estimated tens of thousands of members across the country.

Indian authorities have claimed the group is a threat to country’s internal security. They have accused it of being instrumental in organising mass violent street protests and radicalising youth to join terror groups such as ISIS.

The group was also accused of provoking violence during the inter-communal Delhi riots in 2020. It was also alleged to have attempted to stir up violence over the rape and murder of a low-caste Hindu woman in Hathras in northern Uttar Pradesh the same year.

But over the years, several state governments have accused the group of supporting terror activities, sectarian violence and Islamic extremism.

It was banned by the eastern Jharkhand state in 2019 over “anti-national” activities.

The group denies the allegations and accuses the Indian state of a witch hunt against Muslim voices.

The Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party has historically taken a tough stance against fundamentalist Muslim organisations. It banned the Students' Islamic Movement of India in 2001 and Jamaat-e-Islami Kashmir in 2019.

Updated: September 28, 2022, 5:02 AM