Articles and Commentaries |
January 4, 2024

Does India need a De-Radicalisation Strategy?

Written By: Anmol Mahajan

In my article titled The Psychology of Radicalisation[1], I attempted to broadly cover why and how individuals and groups become radicalised. Here, I will attempt to explore the concepts of de-radicalisation and counter-radicalisation in the context of the internal dynamics of India. The word radicalised in this article will refer to individuals who meet the following criteria:

  1. The individual must have an extremist mindset.
  2. The individual follows, practices and/or advocates for a certain set of beliefs with an extremist mindset.
  3. The individual finds violence to be justified in the process of following, practising or advocating for her/his beliefs.
  4. The internal justification of violence extends to anyone or any group that doesn’t practise, follow or advocate for the same or similar beliefs as that of the radicalised individual.

Most individuals don’t become fully radicalised overnight and a lot of the groups and individuals who provide support to extremist organisations aren’t fully radicalised but meet one or more of the above criteria. In the Indian context, the discussion on de-radicalisation and counter-radicalisation is a difficult one due two major reasons:

  1. The collectivistic nature of Indian society as well as its demographic profile is such that even radicalised individuals prefer not to engage in outwardly violent acts if there is a chance of getting caught and if the act will impact their immediate community or family in a negative manner. This is especially true in places where the community is not dominant or powerful.
  2. To have a discussion on effective de-radicalisation and counter-radicalisation measures for India, experts first need to come to terms with the extent to which the problem of radicalisation has grown in India.

According to an article published by Pew Research Centre[2], the median age of the India population as a whole is 28. More than 40% of the Indian population is below the age of 25 years. Shafqat Munir, Head of Bangladesh Centre for Terrorism Research at the Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies (BIPSS) in a 2020 article[3], explains that younger individuals tend to lack any criminal records, they are much more active and they are easier to indoctrinate due to their age as well as lack of experience. Jacob Ware, a research associate for counterterrorism at the Council on Foreign Relations and an adjunct assistant professor at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, in his 2023 article[4] highlights how the new generations are radicalising themselves via online platforms. Constant exposure to hate, negative and outrage provoking content on social media and some key “role models” taking matters into their own hands and fighting for “justice” is enough to make most youngsters extremists. The ability to constantly get validation for a view by joining online echo chambers just adds fuel to the fire. This is especially concerning in a post pandemic age where socialising predominantly over the internet is not only normalised but also at times preferred over in person interactions. This setup provides a prime group of targets for extremist organisations to indoctrinate into their ideological framework.

Studies on youth radicalisation in India have mostly focused on Islamic or Jihadist radicalisation but the present and future reality is that with the growth of social media, extremist thought is not limited to Islamic ideologies. For instance, with the present Israel-Palestine conflict, we see a large portion of the online extremist discourse focusing solely on taking sides for a war that has nothing to do with India. These extremist groups, use any and every world event to formulate a them vs us environment online, leading their members further down the rabbit hole of radicalisation. Which is why you will find articles like “Pro-Khalistan group donates $21,000 to Palestinian refugees[5] circulating in Indian left wing extremist circles as an example of solidarity in the fight against the injustice and the same article in Indian right wing extremist circles as an example of how the entire left wing justifies actions of Hamas and supports separatist movements in India. This brings forth a situation where youth get radicalised without any particular ideology or movement being involved in the process. Michael Hameleers & Desirée Schmuck’s[6] 2017 paper, ‘It’s us against them: a comparative experiment on the effects of populist messages communicated via social media’, provides further insight into the build-up of this us vs them mindset online.

Indian society is collectivistic in nature; in most cases those born in Indian society form their identities in context of their family, friends, neighbourhood, community and so on. More often than not individuals within Indian society have a tendency to seek acceptance and validation for their actions from their inner social circles and they seek assistance from the same circle at times of need. This makes family, friends and communities an important part of life and sometimes even survival. Therefore, even a radicalised individual is less likely to overtly or obviously commit violent acts if their immediate circle will be impacted by the action. Conversely, when looking at the terrorists recruitment processes, the whole idea, as it is sold to the targets is, “individual risk and sacrifice in service of the promotion of group intentions[7]. In India, we get to see both dynamics play out. In those places where extremist groups are less influential, we see advocacy of their goals and movements via non-violent means and in areas where the groups have more power, we see higher willingness to engage in violence.

Due to the current demographic distribution of India, most radicalisation driven violence is restricted to a select few areas. However, with the rise of the social media age and the new outrage culture seeping into day to day lives of the present and future generations, we are looking at a future where young people may be more willing to engage in violent acts. Therefore, counter-radicalisation strategies in India need to be implementable in the short-term such that they are relatively cost effective as well as effective on the masses.

Here the distinction between de-radicalisation and counter radicalisation becomes important. The table below, derived from a 2017 paper by Bajpai G. S. and Kaushik A.[8], clearly illustrates the distinction:

Strategy Targeted Behaviour Aim of Program Main Objective
Deradicalisation Insurgency Rehabilitation Cessation of Violence
Terrorism Reintegration
Counter Radicalisation Transition to terrorism Mitigation Disengagement
Violent Extremism Reintegration
Rehabilitation

Bajpai G. S. and Kaushik A.[9] also mentioned another term, ‘Anti Radicalisation’ which was targeted at those vulnerable to risk from radicalisation and violent extremism. However, as explained in my article on radicalisation, everyone fits into this category and anti-radicalisation as such is more of a social responsibility.

Each state of India differs in the type and degree of extremism within its population. Therefore, the type of strategy to counter efforts of extremist groups must also differ accordingly. This is what we observe in current practice as well. For instance, one of the policies that the central government has been collaborating with the state governments on, is the surrender-cum-rehabilitation policy. According to the Ministry of Home Affairs[10], “Surrender-cum-Rehabilitation policy is part of the overall policy to build consensus and evolve an acceptable and peaceful solution to violence perpetrated by extremist groups, to usher in peace and development, especially in the disturbed regions. Though policies for rehabilitation of militants have been successful in J&K and North Eastern States, implementation of similar policies in Naxal affected States has not been impressive for various reasons. This policy has been evolved, keeping in mind the specific geographical and social landscape to help those Naxalites who want to abjure violence, surrender and join the mainstream. As the Naxal problem has arisen on account of real and perceived neglect, deprivation and disaffection, mainly towards the downtrodden, the solution should aim at providing gainful employment and entrepreneurial opportunities to the surrendered Naxalites so that they are encouraged to join the mainstream and do not return to the fold of Naxal movement.” Keeping in line with this, one may note that this policy is not targeting the separatists in Punjab. This could be because the Khalistan movement doesn’t have actual support from the local population in Punjab, making a hard crackdown[11] on extremist groups a better approach. Another approach towards deterrence of violence, that is used in Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Uttarakhand and Punjab, is confiscation/destruction of assets that are acquired/built illegally by members of extremist groups or extremists inciting violence, especially the ones found engaging in violent acts such as destruction of government property.

The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence published a policy report[12] on Prisons and Terrorism Radicalisation and De-radicalisation in 15 countries. In the report, it is argued that “prison regimes for terrorists need to be informed by a sophisticated understanding of the motivations and behaviours of politically motivated offenders, who, unlike ‘ordinary prisoners’, may want to mobilise outside support, radicalise other prisoners, and (in the case of terrorists) recreate operational command structures”. It also notes that, “terrorist groups differ in relation to their internal structure and cohesion. Terrorist groups are no longer always coherent, firmly structured entities, but – like al Qaeda – they may constitute loose networks which revolve around personal relationships rather than military hierarchies. Some of these groups are said to have implemented the idea of ‘leaderless resistance’ whereby a movement’s leadership and its followers have no direct contact”. While India is not one of the countries sampled in this study, it might not be a far reach to assume that some of the findings are applicable to our approach when it comes to dealing with extremists as we see in a 2020 report[13] by Dr V Balasubramaniyan on Jihadist Recidivism in Tamil Nadu.

While some states have found a range of counter radicalisation measures such as the ones mentioned above, there are some states that have found potential in counter-radicalisation programmes that are similar to the de-radicalisation programmes popularly discussed in international circles as well. One promising case is that of Maharashtra Police deradicalisation project[14], which has helped pull back 120 youth, including six women, from the brink of jihadi recruitment. The programme, the only one being run by a state police force, is being looked at closely by J&K, Punjab, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. This project involves short-term monitoring of individuals suspected of being radicalised based on inputs from family, friends and/or field officers. This model is different from the ones in Indonesia, Singapore, Saudi Arabia etc., in the fact that the candidates are not prison convicts as the program is preventative in nature. The deradicalisation program is built on four prongs – the candidate, her/his family, psychologists, clergy and the police. Another structured program similar to this which seems to have produced promising results[15] is, ‘Sahi Raasta’ programme[16] in Kashmir. As part of this initiative, young people who have been radicalised or have become inclined towards violent extremism (identified based on inputs from Jammu and Kashmir police, senior army officers and others), are brought back and integrated into the mainstream through a 21-day residential programme run by experts from various fields and several senior army officers interact with them.

Conclusion:

  • Radicalisation is a complex and ongoing phenomenon which doesn’t immediately translate to violence but increases the risk of violence.
  • The collectivistic nature of Indian society as well as its demographic profile, provides a natural environment conducive to counter-radicalisation strategies.
  • With more people exposed to and even dependent on social media platforms, the risk of radicalisation has become greater, especially for the younger generations.
  • There is a difference between counter-radicalisation and de-radicalisation. This difference is mainly in the groups targeted and the aim of the program. The aim of a counter-radicalisation strategy is mitigation and prevention.
  • Counter-radicalisation strategies are more suited for India than wide scale de-radicalisation programmes as they are less costly, easier to implement and require less human resource as well as infrastructure.
  • The nature and situation surrounding the phenomena of radicalisation differs in each part of the country. Counter-radicalisation strategies must be made based on what is most effective for the situation in the particular area of concern and its people.
  • There is a need for each state to identify radicalisation hotspots, the reason for emergence of these hotspots and effective long term counter radicalisation programmes to prevent violent extremism in these areas.
  • Any approach to counter-radicalisation or de-radicalisation in India must be holistic and address the root cause of radicalisation.

Author Brief Bio: Anmol Mahajan is a Research Fellow at India Foundation.

References

[1]              Mahajan, A. (2023) The Psychology of Radicalisation. Chintan https://chintan.indiafoundation.in/articles/the-psychology-of-radicalisation/#:~:text=Group%20radicalisation%20arises%20when%20extremism,or%20any%20other%20such%20aspects.

[2]              Silver, L., Huang, C., and Clancy, L., (2023) Key facts as India surpasses China as the world’s most populous country. Pew research Centre https://www.pewresearch.org/short-reads/2023/02/09/key-facts-as-india-surpasses-china-as-the-worlds-most-populous-country/

[3]   Ashok, A., and Munir, S., (2020) Radicalisation: Perspectives from India and Bangladesh. Centre for Land and Welfare Studies https://www.claws.in/radicalisation-perspectives/

[4]  Zee Media Bureau (2023) Punjab Police Crack Down On Locations Linked To ISI-Backed Khalistani Extremist Landa, Detain Several Suspects. Zee News https://zeenews.india.com/india/punjab-police-crack-down-on-locations-linked-to-isi-backed-khalistani-extremist-landa-detain-several-suspects-2667079.html

[5] Shah, M., A., (2023) Pro-Khalistan group donates $21,000 to Palestinian refugees. The News https://www.thenews.com.pk/latest/1120074-pro-khalistan-group-sikhs-for-justice-donates-21000-to-palestinian-refugees

[6] Hameleers, M., and Schmuck, D., (2017) It’s us against them: a comparative experiment on the effects of populist messages communicated via social media. Information, Communication and Society, 20(9) 1425-1444. https://doi.org/10.1080/1369118X.2017.1328523

[7] Paterka-Benton, D., and Benton, B, (2014) Effects of Cultural Collectivism on Terrorism Favorability https://www.researchgate.net/publication/271673099_Effects_of_Cultural_Collectivism_on_Terrorism_Favorability

[8] Bajpai, G., S., and Kaushik, A., (2017) Thwarting Radicalization in India: Lacunae in Policy Initiatives.  Sociology and Criminology, 5(1). https://www.longdom.org/open-access/thwarting-radicalization-in-india-lacunae-in-policy-initiatives-2375-4435-1000166.pdf

[9] Bajpai, G., S., and Kaushik, A., (2017) Thwarting Radicalization in India: Lacunae in Policy Initiatives.  Sociology and Criminology, 5(1). https://www.longdom.org/open-access/thwarting-radicalization-in-india-lacunae-in-policy-initiatives-2375-4435-1000166.pdf

[10] Ministry of Home Affairs, Guidelines for surrender-cum-rehabilitation of naxalites in the naxal affected States. https://www.mha.gov.in/sites/default/files/surrrenderPolAendments070909_0.pdf

[11] Ware, J., (2023) The New Online Radicals: The Third Generation of Online Radicalisation. Global Network on Extremism and Technology https://gnet-research.org/2023/10/04/the-new-online-radicals-the-third-generation-of-online-radicalisation/

[12] Prisons and Terrorism: Radicalisation and De-Radicalisation in 15 Countries. The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence https://www.clingendael.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/Prisons-and-terrorism-15-countries.pdf

[13] Balasubramaniyan, V., (2020) Rising Jihadist Recidivism in Tamil Nadu: A Red Flag. Indian Defence Review https://www.indiandefencereview.com/news/rising-jihadist-recidivism-in-tamil-nadu-a-red-flag/

[14] Rajput, S., and Shaikh, Z., (2019) Maharashtra Police deradicalisation project: Core curriculum step by step. The Indian Express https://indianexpress.com/article/india/maharashtra-police-deradicalisation-project-core-curriculum-step-by-step-5873952/

[15] Dutt, K., (2022) Visible change seen in radicalised youths after ‘Sahi Raasta’ programme: Army. The Print https://theprint.in/india/visible-change-seen-in-radicalised-youths-after-sahi-raasta-programme-army/1202224/

[16] Philip, S., A., (2023) Kashmir sees ‘drastic fall’ in terror recruitment after Army & police launch de-radicalisation drive. The Print https://theprint.in/defence/kashmir-sees-drastic-fall-in-terror-recruitment-after-army-police-launch-de-radicalisation-drive/1606418/

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