PFI banned in India for alleged terrorist activity

Group declared unlawful amid accusations of murder and stirring sectarian violence

Supporters of the Popular Front of India protest as counter-terrorist police raid its offices Bangalore on Tuesday. The group has accused the Indian government of trying to silence Muslim voices. EPA
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India has banned an alleged extremist group for five years after hundreds of its members were detained this month.

On Wednesday, Ministry of Home Affairs said the Popular Front of India, which has now been classed as unlawful, had been "involved in serious offences".

These included "terrorism and its financing, targeted gruesome killings, disregarding the constitutional set-up of the country, disturbing public order etc, which are prejudicial to the integrity, security and sovereignty of the country".

The Popular Front denied the accusations on Tuesday after more than 250 people linked to the group were arrested overnight, and said the Indian state was carrying out a witch-hunt against Muslim voices.

Police and India’s National Investigation Agency raided the homes and offices of alleged PFI members across at least eight states, including the capital, Delhi.

The authorities last week arrested more than 100 members of the group in a similar operation amid accusations that PFI members were involved in terrorist activities.

What is the PFI?

The PFI was founded in 2007 in the southern state of Kerala. Several smaller organisations merged to form a large socio-religious group that now claims to fight for the rights of minorities, including low-caste Hindus.

The organisation has been accused of promoting enmity among communities, funding terrorists, providing weapons training to Muslim youths and radicalising them to join extremist groups.

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

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

Police stand guard as a counter-terrorist task force raids PFI offices on Tuesday. EPA

Muslims account for 13 per cent of India's 1.4 billion people and many have complained of marginalisation under the rule of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist BJP.

Mr Modi's party denies the accusations and points to data that all Indians, irrespective of religion, benefit from the government's focus on economic development and social welfare.

The PFI has supported causes such as the 2019 protests against a citizenship law that many Muslims said was discriminatory. It also backed demonstrations in the southern state of Karnataka this year that demanded the right for female Muslim students to wear the hijab in class.

Why has the group been banned?

The government said it found a "number of instances of international linkages of PFI with global terrorist groups".

It said some of its members had joined ISIS and participated in "terror activities" in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Indian authorities have claimed that the group is a threat to country’s internal security, accusing it of being instrumental in organising mass violent street protests and radicalising young people.

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

Over the years, several state governments have accused the group of supporting terrorism, stirring sectarian violence and backing Islamic extremism.

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

The government said it had also banned several PFI affiliates": the Rehab India Foundation; Campus Front of India; the All-India Imams Council; the National Confederation of Human Rights Organisation; the National Women’s Front; the Junior Front; the Empower India Foundation; and the Rehab Foundation, Kerala.

Updated: September 28, 2022, 6:26 AM