In May 2016, after over 25 people from Kerala fled to Afghanistan to join the Islamic State (IS), Padanna, a village in the north Kerala district of Kasargod, earned the uncharitable tag of being the “IS’s recruitment hub” — a majority of those who left were from Padanna.
Now, nearly 100 youngsters from the same Muslim-majority village are among the many such groups who are playing a major role in helping Kerala recover from the devastation of the recent floods. At least five of these youngsters said they trimmed their beards and avoided other “obvious symbols” before coming to Central Kerala since they didn’t want any unwanted attention.
On August 15, over 30 youth from Padanna have been working on the ground in flood-hit areas while about a dozen others have been travelling up and down, ferrying supplies. Back in the village, a team of 60 people and about seven local clubs have also been working round the clock to source items and raise funds for the relief work, mainly to Ernakulam, Chengannur and Alleppey.
Shabeer Ali, a Gulf-based businessman who is coordinating the relief work and raising resources online, said at least 25 trucks with supplies have left Padanna since August 17. The main collection centre for these supplies is at at Edappalli in Ernakulam, where a native of Padanna has turned his hotel into a godown for relief items.
One of the 30-odd volunteers from Padanna who are working on the ground is Zuhair Ismail, a 31-year-old who works for a Qatar-based radio station. Ismail says he flew down on August 17 after seeing the magnitude of the disaster. “I was personally very upset. Since it was difficult to get a ticket to airports in Kerala, I flew down to Goa and reached Kozhikode by train,” he says. He then borrowed a friend’s and drove down on August 18 to Changanassery, where he set up a base camp.
Over the last 10 days, Ismail and team have managed to get four trucks from Padanna through Ernakulam. “We have distributed some 25,000 litres of drinking water in Chengannur, Kolenchery and Thiruvalla. We managed to mobilise several local people to assist us in the distribution of items,” says Ismail, who has been staying in a small lodge in Changanessery with four others. He has also managed to source truck loads of provisions from Malappuram district.
On Sunday, Ismail’s team had just returned after delivering food and drinking water in areas such as Pandanadu near Chengannur. “The water is receding but still it is knee deep in many places. So we have been carrying items in small boats,” he says.
At Ernakulam, at least five of the 18 men from Padanna who are camping to coordinate the relief work, said that before leaving their village, they did something unusual — they trimmed their long beards that they had been keeping as part of their faith.
Mohammed Salih, a 27-year-old construction engineer from Padanna who has been volunteering at the camp in Edappalli, said he joined the relief mission on August 18. “Almost every household in Padanna has contributed money or materials for the flood victims. For the mistake done by a handful of people in 2016, we suffered a lot in the last two years. Probably that is what forced some of us to trim our beards before coming here. We were conscious not to display any banner or religious symbol. Most of the people involved in the relief work are Muslims because ours is a largely Muslim area,” Salih said.
Another volunteer, Mohammed Ali, 34, who deals with surgical equipments in Ernakulam, says they are not here “to become heroes”. “I don’t want to tell you about the work we have done. But people should know that Padanna is not a terror factory. Irrespective of religion, we celebrate our temple festival in Padanna once every three years. Padanna has never had any communal tension. But I have been stopped at different airports for being a Muslim with an address in Padanna,” he said.