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Explained | What Is The PFI and Why Has It Been Banned Under the UAPA?

The Centre declared PFI and its affiliates "unlawful associations" under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.

Updated
Explainers
5 min read
Explained | What Is The PFI and Why Has It Been Banned Under the UAPA?
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The extremist Islamic organization the Popular Front of India (PFI) is back in the news after the Centre banned the organization and its affiliates as "unlawful" on Wednesday, 28 September.

This came after the National Investigation Agency arrested over 100 leaders of the group from states across India on Thursday, 22 September.

Earlier, in February 2022, Karnataka witnessed communal tensions over the killing of 28-year-old Bajrang Dal activist Harsha Hindu in Shivamogga district. In a statement, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and leaders of other right-wing groups openly accused the PFI and its political arm Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) of carrying out the murder.

Following the killing, there were renewed demands for banning the PFI from India.

But, what is the PFI? How did the organization come up? And why is it seen as a controversial organisation with extremist leanings?

Explained | What Is The PFI and Why Has It Been Banned Under the UAPA?

  1. 1. Origins of PFI

    The PFI describes itself as an organisation that works towards "the achievement of socio-economic, cultural and political empowerment of the deprived and the downtrodden and the nation at large".

    But it was born out of the controversial National Development Fund (NDF) that was set up in Kerala in 1994 – two years after the Babri Masjid demolition incident – to protect the interest of the Muslim community.

    As the NDF's popularity surged in Kerala, so did allegations of communal activities. In 2003, some of its members were arrested for rioting and murdering eight Hindus in Marad Beach in Kerala’s Kozhikode.

    Pinarayi Vijayan, who was then in the Opposition, particularly came down heavily on the organisation, accusing the NDF of "masterminding the violent attack." Later, the BJP went onto allege that the NDF had ties with Pakistani intelligence agency ISI – but their claims couldn't be substantiated.

    On 22 November 2006, the NDF merged with Tamil Nadu's Manitha Neethi Pasarai (MNP) and the Karnataka Forum for Dignity (KFD) to form the Popular Front of India.

    Both MNP and KFD were founded with the agenda to work on issues related to minority rights and other social causes, but both the groups have occasionally been alleged to have terror links.

    Expand
  2. 2. PFI's Growth Over the Years

    Over the next few years, the PFI grew in strength as several other organisations – Goa-based Citizen's Forum, Rajasthan's Community Social and Educational Society, West Bengal's Nagarik Adhikar Suraksha Samiti, Manipur's Lilong Social Forum, and Andhra Pradesh’s Association of Social Justice – merged with the organisation.

    After broadening its base, it also shifted its headquarters from Kozhikode, Kerala to New Delhi. But what triggered concern over the PFI's growth was that a lot its leaders came from banned outfit Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI).

    In 2009, it launched its political arm – the SDPI – to fight "for the advancement and uniform development of all the citizenry, including Muslims, Dalits, Backward Classes and Adivasis." It was headed by E Abubacker who used to be the Kerala Zone president of SIMI between 1982-84.

    That same year its student wing, the Campus Front of India (CFI), was also founded.

    Expand
  3. 3. PFI's Many Controversies

    Since its inception, there have been various allegations against the PFI over inciting violence, possessing arms, and propagating extremism.

    One particular incident of violence that caught the country's attention was when PFI activists chopped off the right hand of TJ Joseph, a professor of Malayalam on 4 July 2010, for allegedly insulting Prophet Mohammed in an internal question paper that Joseph had set.

    Then, in 2013, 21 alleged activists of the extremist organisation were arrested after three country-made bombs and a sword were seized in a raid at Narath town of Kannur district in Kerala.

    In 2018, CFI and SDPI activists were also accused of murdering Abhimanyu, a Students' Federation of India (SFI) leader inside Maharaja's College, in Ernakulam. As per the chargesheet, Sahal Hamsa, a CFI leader, had stabbed Abhimanyu during a clash between the left-leaning SFI and the CFI over a graffiti.

    In an article published in 2017, The Quint quoted Intelligence Bureau sources as saying that the PFI has been actively promoting jihad, adding that classes on jihad were being conducted by some of its members.

    “They preach to their cadre to attack the right-wing organisations in the country. The attacks are either communal or political. However, unlike the Indian Mujahideen and LeT, they have not taken up any large-scale terror attacks against a general civilian target. Regardless, they have been under constant surveillance for several years now,” said an intelligence bureau officer deployed in Kerala, on condition of anonymity.
    Expand
  4. 4. PFI's Views on Recent Events

    On its website, the PFI has published several press releases opining its views over recent events.

    In response to RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat's comments on four types of Hindus – ‘proud, reluctant, unfriendly, ignorant,’ the PFI wrote that such a categorisation comes from an "inherent intolerance towards India's diversity."

    "It's basically a proclamation that anything that is not Hindu is unwelcome."
    PFI website

    Commenting on the verdict in the 2008 Ahmedabad serial blasts, which awarded death penalty to 38 people, PFI Chairman OMA Salam said, "The special court verdict in the Ahmedabad bomb blast case is a result of a tainted process, questionable investigation, and draconian laws."

    In the past few months, as tensions rose over Karnataka's hijab row, the PFI said, "The hijab ban and related controversies in Karnataka constitute another aggression on Muslim identity and denial of religious freedom to minorities."

    As hijab-clad students in Udupi were prevented from entering classrooms, the CFI was also accused of radicalising and stirring up the ongoing protest against the hijab ban.

    Senior advocate S Naganand, who is representing Government PU College for Girls, has been quoted accusing the CFI of instigating students and parents over the issue.
    Expand
  5. 5. Demands for Banning PFI

    There have been several calls for banning the PFI in the past years over its alleged role in instigating protests against the state.

    As the citizen-led agitation against NRC-CAA spread across the country in 2020, Uttar Pradesh's Yogi Adityanath government recommended a ban on the PFI, claiming that protests in the state were orchestrated by the organisation.

    Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya had termed the PFI to be the “incarnation” of the banned outfit SIMI.

    “The PFI’s role has been established in vandalism in the state… Previously, members of the PFI have also been a part of the banned organisation SIMI. Now, the PFI will be banned."
    Keshav Prasad Maurya, Deputy Chief Minister, UP

    Following these allegations, a report sent by the Enforcement Directorate to the Ministry of Home Affairs had also accused the organisation of funding NRC-CAA protests.

    However, the UP government was criticised of trying to pin the blame on the PFI with unsubstantiated claims.

    But, as the state of Karnataka remains on an edge over the murder of Harsha Jingade alias Harsha Hindu and the ongoing hijab row, there have been renewed demands to ban the organisation.

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

Origins of PFI

The PFI describes itself as an organisation that works towards "the achievement of socio-economic, cultural and political empowerment of the deprived and the downtrodden and the nation at large".

But it was born out of the controversial National Development Fund (NDF) that was set up in Kerala in 1994 – two years after the Babri Masjid demolition incident – to protect the interest of the Muslim community.

As the NDF's popularity surged in Kerala, so did allegations of communal activities. In 2003, some of its members were arrested for rioting and murdering eight Hindus in Marad Beach in Kerala’s Kozhikode.

Pinarayi Vijayan, who was then in the Opposition, particularly came down heavily on the organisation, accusing the NDF of "masterminding the violent attack." Later, the BJP went onto allege that the NDF had ties with Pakistani intelligence agency ISI – but their claims couldn't be substantiated.

On 22 November 2006, the NDF merged with Tamil Nadu's Manitha Neethi Pasarai (MNP) and the Karnataka Forum for Dignity (KFD) to form the Popular Front of India.

Both MNP and KFD were founded with the agenda to work on issues related to minority rights and other social causes, but both the groups have occasionally been alleged to have terror links.

ADVERTISEMENT

PFI's Growth Over the Years

Over the next few years, the PFI grew in strength as several other organisations – Goa-based Citizen's Forum, Rajasthan's Community Social and Educational Society, West Bengal's Nagarik Adhikar Suraksha Samiti, Manipur's Lilong Social Forum, and Andhra Pradesh’s Association of Social Justice – merged with the organisation.

After broadening its base, it also shifted its headquarters from Kozhikode, Kerala to New Delhi. But what triggered concern over the PFI's growth was that a lot its leaders came from banned outfit Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI).

In 2009, it launched its political arm – the SDPI – to fight "for the advancement and uniform development of all the citizenry, including Muslims, Dalits, Backward Classes and Adivasis." It was headed by E Abubacker who used to be the Kerala Zone president of SIMI between 1982-84.

That same year its student wing, the Campus Front of India (CFI), was also founded.

ADVERTISEMENT

PFI's Many Controversies

Since its inception, there have been various allegations against the PFI over inciting violence, possessing arms, and propagating extremism.

One particular incident of violence that caught the country's attention was when PFI activists chopped off the right hand of TJ Joseph, a professor of Malayalam on 4 July 2010, for allegedly insulting Prophet Mohammed in an internal question paper that Joseph had set.

Then, in 2013, 21 alleged activists of the extremist organisation were arrested after three country-made bombs and a sword were seized in a raid at Narath town of Kannur district in Kerala.

In 2018, CFI and SDPI activists were also accused of murdering Abhimanyu, a Students' Federation of India (SFI) leader inside Maharaja's College, in Ernakulam. As per the chargesheet, Sahal Hamsa, a CFI leader, had stabbed Abhimanyu during a clash between the left-leaning SFI and the CFI over a graffiti.

In an article published in 2017, The Quint quoted Intelligence Bureau sources as saying that the PFI has been actively promoting jihad, adding that classes on jihad were being conducted by some of its members.

“They preach to their cadre to attack the right-wing organisations in the country. The attacks are either communal or political. However, unlike the Indian Mujahideen and LeT, they have not taken up any large-scale terror attacks against a general civilian target. Regardless, they have been under constant surveillance for several years now,” said an intelligence bureau officer deployed in Kerala, on condition of anonymity.
ADVERTISEMENT

PFI's Views on Recent Events

On its website, the PFI has published several press releases opining its views over recent events.

In response to RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat's comments on four types of Hindus – ‘proud, reluctant, unfriendly, ignorant,’ the PFI wrote that such a categorisation comes from an "inherent intolerance towards India's diversity."

"It's basically a proclamation that anything that is not Hindu is unwelcome."
PFI website

Commenting on the verdict in the 2008 Ahmedabad serial blasts, which awarded death penalty to 38 people, PFI Chairman OMA Salam said, "The special court verdict in the Ahmedabad bomb blast case is a result of a tainted process, questionable investigation, and draconian laws."

In the past few months, as tensions rose over Karnataka's hijab row, the PFI said, "The hijab ban and related controversies in Karnataka constitute another aggression on Muslim identity and denial of religious freedom to minorities."

As hijab-clad students in Udupi were prevented from entering classrooms, the CFI was also accused of radicalising and stirring up the ongoing protest against the hijab ban.

Senior advocate S Naganand, who is representing Government PU College for Girls, has been quoted accusing the CFI of instigating students and parents over the issue.
ADVERTISEMENT

Demands for Banning PFI

There have been several calls for banning the PFI in the past years over its alleged role in instigating protests against the state.

As the citizen-led agitation against NRC-CAA spread across the country in 2020, Uttar Pradesh's Yogi Adityanath government recommended a ban on the PFI, claiming that protests in the state were orchestrated by the organisation.

Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya had termed the PFI to be the “incarnation” of the banned outfit SIMI.

“The PFI’s role has been established in vandalism in the state… Previously, members of the PFI have also been a part of the banned organisation SIMI. Now, the PFI will be banned."
Keshav Prasad Maurya, Deputy Chief Minister, UP

Following these allegations, a report sent by the Enforcement Directorate to the Ministry of Home Affairs had also accused the organisation of funding NRC-CAA protests.

However, the UP government was criticised of trying to pin the blame on the PFI with unsubstantiated claims.

But, as the state of Karnataka remains on an edge over the murder of Harsha Jingade alias Harsha Hindu and the ongoing hijab row, there have been renewed demands to ban the organisation.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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