It's a tag any town would not like to have. But unfortunately for the 100,000 living in the coastal town of Bhatkal, 150 km from Mangalore, this has become a bane. And the recent arrest of India's most-wanted terrorist Muhemmad Ahmed Siddibappa Zarar, alias Yasin Bhatkal, is making it worse.
Said a businessman in this sleepy town: "Our children, out of town for studies and work, do not get houses on rent when they tell they are from Bhatkal. Our town has nothing to do with terrorists or terrorism."
In addition to the most-infamous export of the town, Yasin Bhatkal, there are two of his friends, Riyaz Bhatkal and Iqbal Bhatkal. Both are brothers, have alleged terrorist outfits and are still at large.
Yasin Bhatkal, one of the key masterminds of the Indian Mujahideen (IM), allegedly had direct involvement in as much as 11 ghastly terrorist acts (see table) targeting innocent people. Even his younger brother Abdul Samad was one of the accused in the German Bakery blast case in Pune, before being acquitted.
Yasin Bhatkal, 30, is the eldest son of the three born to Darar Siddibappa and Rehana, who work in Dubai and had recently come to Bhatkal to celebrate Ramzan. They were in the town when news broke their son had been nabbed.
"We believe in the judiciary and the cardinal principal that anyone, unless proven guilty, is innocent. Let the law take its course. My son is innocent. If found guilty after a fair trial, let him be punished," was all the father had to say.
The family of Yasin in this town do not like the media visiting their house in Mugdum colony. Accompanied by his brother Yaqoob, the father issued a statement to the media saying he would fight the legal battle for his son, arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and Bihar Police. In fact, the arrest had brought a sort of relief to the family: At least they now know Muhemmed is alive.
*According to charge sheets and cases filed in various courts across the country
"We did not know his whereabouts since he had disappeared from Dubai in 2006. We were worried he had been killed in a fake encounter. Now we are relieved to know he is alive," a family member said.
Muhemmed Darar Siddibappa is the actual name of the founder of Indian Mujahideen and Yasin is the name given to him by the police and the media, the family claimed. However, a senior police officer said the terror mastermind could have had a passport in the name of Yasin Bhatkal.
Born on January 15, 1983, in Bhatkal, Muhemmed studied at Naunihal Centre, Bhatkal, from class one to seven, before enrolling in class eight at the english-medium section of the Islamia Anglo-Urdu High School. He had failed in SSLC and was not an engineer as media reports claimed. He had friends from Darbhanga in Bihar who were studying in Anjuman Engineering College in Bhatkal.
Yasin had not been considered a hard-core fundamentalist during his school days. Perhaps he was attracted to jihad after he came in contact with fundamentalist organisations during his stay at Dubai from 2004 to 2006. He reportedly developed differences with his father and disappeared from Dubai in 2006. He must have come in touch with fundamentalist outfits during his visits to Darbhanga also, said a neighbour not willing to be named.
The town is paying a heavy price for the acts of three of its infamous sons. On the coast of the Arabian Sea, the town is known for selling imported and smuggled goods. The Dubai Market in the heart of the town has small shops selling "foreign goods".
Nearly 70 per cent of the population comprises Nawayat Muslims. The Nawayats were Jains who had been converted to Islam 1,000 years ago, said a senior citizen. They speak Nawayati, a mix of Parsi, Hindi and Konkani. They do not worship in dargahs or graves unlike Indian Muslims. The remaining population comprises Namdharis, Jains, Konkanis, Brahmins, Mogers, Harikants and Daccani and Malbari Muslims.
Bhatkal derived its name from a Jain ruler, Bhattakalanka. Today, the town has become a commercial hub, thanks to the funds flowing in from the Gulf. Almost every Muslim family here has a member in the Gulf. While the youngsters work abroad, the elders stay back. The main businesses here are fisheries, textile, jewellery and agriculture. Of course, there are hawala and other illegal activities, too. More than 50 per cent from Bhatkal are in Dubai and Saudi Arabia.
The town has good education facilities, with Anjuman-E-Islam running schools and colleges, along with an engineering college. The place became communally hyper-sensitive after a clash in 2004 during a fair. But for the fact that Yasin, Riyaz and Iqbal are from Bhatkal, the town is not known to harbour terrorist activities.
The name of Bhatkal being highlighted as a terror hub in the media has not gone well with the residents here.