A road had been their long-cherished dream. So when the 15 families who live along the narrow T S Colony road at Thuruthi village in Kerala’s Kasaragod district pooled in their money to turn the 158-metre-long colony walkway into a concrete road, they decided on a new name for it: Gaza Street.
Little did they realise that their road would catch the attention of intelligence agencies, bring the media to their doors, and earn them the “terror” tag. For, the name they chose for the road evoked images of farway Gaza, the swathe of territory between Israel and the Mediterranean Sea which is administered by Palestine and is blockaded by Israel and Egypt.
Four-and-a-half-km from Kasaragod town is Thuruthi, a village on an island on the Chandragiri river. It’s a village of 150 families, all Muslims and a majority of them traditional voters of the Indian Union Muslim League, a major constituent of the Congress-led United Democratic Front. It has no bus service or post-office. The only government institution is a creche run by the state Social Welfare Department.
The local masjid runs a primary school, aided by the government. The road in question lies here, starting at a point opposite the masjid and ending at a house on the banks of the Chandragiri. Of the 15 families who live along this road — mostly daily workers, traders and small businessmen — five of them trace their lineage to Thuruthi Seethi, a well-known family in these parts. Hence, the walkway was known as T S Colony Road.
“During the monsoons, the narrow path would get flooded. We had to wade through water to reach our houses. We had been planning to build a concrete road, over which a car or a mini-truck could go. All the families here finally decided to widen the walkway into a small road,’’ says T S Sainudeen, who runs a small eatery near Kasaragod and lives in a house along this road. Sainudeen says the 15 families raised money and spent Rs 4 lakh to widen the road. They then approached the local councillor, who got Rs 6 lakh sanctioned to get the road concretised.
Local IUML leader Ashfaq Aboobacker says, “Though the road work was completed in 2016, it could not be officially inaugurated because the Assembly elections were on and the code of conduct was in place. It kept getting delayed and we decided to club the inauguration of the road with another small bridge in the same locality.” The inaugural date was finally fixed for May 26 and a few notices were printed. Some families residing along the road objected to the notices where the road had been called ‘T S Colony Road’.
Rasheed Thuruthi, general secretary of Youth League, the IUML’s youth wing, in Kasaragod, who lives in Thuruthi, says: “On the eve of the inauguration, some of the families along the new road objected to the road being called T S Colony Road. They argued that they had all contributed money for the road and didn’t want it named after one family — Thuruthi Seethi. That night, they decided to name it Gaza.’’
Muneer, a colony resident, says, “We toyed with the name Madeena, but later agreed on Gaza, which, in Arabic, means ‘strong’. We had no religious or political angle in mind. We were shocked to see media reports that said the village was a breeding ground for terrorists,’’ says Muneer, a construction worker.
Two weeks after the board announcing ‘Gaza Street’ came up, news reports said the area was under ‘intelligence radar’. The reports also mentioned that Padanna village, which is home to a dozen youths who allegedly moved to Afghanistan to join the Islamic State, is close to Gaza Street. In fact, Padanna is 45 km away from Thuruthi. Besides, there were unsubstantiated reports of ‘love jihad’ in Thuruthi.
Following this, intelligence sleuths visited Thuruthi to ascertain the true story behind Gaza Street. An intelligence source said they didn’t suspect any ulterior agenda behind the naming of the road. “Though the district has several communally sensitive areas, Thuruthi has always remained peaceful; there hasn’t even been a petty crime reported from the island in the recent past. To avoid any further controversy, on the police’s direction, the villagers erased the board,’’ says an officer.
The Madrasathul Muhammadiya Aided Lower Primary School, managed by the masjid at Thuruthi, has eight non-Muslim teachers out of 11. Headmistress Usha Kumari, who has been teaching here since 1992, says, “The village is very peaceful and people are very cordial. Of the 147 students in the school, 26 are non-Muslims from outside.” Sources say it is common for political parties and communities to name places in the district.
“We have places with names such as Shivaji Nagar, Kuwait, Tipu Sultan Nagar etc in the district. In fact, we have a place called Gaza at Chemmanad in the district. But nobody ever associated them with terror,’’ says a police officer. Rasheed, the Youth League leader, says the Thuruthi village too has always enthusiastically taken to naming its roads and bridges. “We have an Ustad Road, where the house of a Muslim scholar is located. And after India won Kargil War, we named a small bridge after Kargil. But we have never faced a controversy like this one.’’