When security forces in Kashmir claimed two young men from Kerala were among those killed in separate encounters in the remote Lolab Valley early in October, the state police did not give the information much credence.
According to the Kashmir police, the two were members of a group, which was trying to cross the line of control to train with a Pakistan-based militant organisation.
On the basis of voter identity cards found on the bodies, they identified one as a resident of Kovalam and the other as a resident of Malappuram.
Initially, the Kerala police assumed that if there was a Kerala link at all it must be with the small community of Kashmiri traders based at the tourist spot of Kovalam, not with the local people.
When preliminary investigations showed that the men whose names appeared on the cards were alive, they assumed they had no cause for worry.
They theorised that militant organisations operating in Kashmir had asked their cadres to carry forged voter's identity cards, purportedly issued by governments of southern states, to mislead the authorities and create the impression that they received support from all over the country.
Their theory collapsed last week when the Kashmir authorities placed before a visiting state police team the evidence in their possession.
Local investigations in the light of material received from Kashmir led them to acknowledge that the two men killed in Kashmir were indeed from Kerala.
Although contradictions abound in the information made available to the media by the authorities, it is now generally agreed that the two are Muhammad Fayaz of Kannur and Abdul Rahim of Parappanangadi in Malappuram district.
On Sunday, the police said they had identified two more persons killed in Kashmir recently as Keralites.
One of them was from Kannur and the other from Kochi Apparently, they were in Kashmir for their date with death even as half a million Muslims, gathered at a dozen congregations in Malappuram, took a pledge to work for peace and against terrorism on the 27th of Ramadan.
Ma'dinu Saquafathil Islamiyya, which runs a number of schools, colleges and orphanages in the State, has been organising such congregations regularly for the last 22 years.
According to the Kashmir police, they were part of a large group operating under the banner of Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT).
They believe it is possible that the group includes other Keralites as well.
LeT, formed in 1990 in Afghanistan, later moved its base to Lahore and was reported to be running terror training camps. Its presence in Kashmir was first noticed in 1993.
LeT is a banned organisation in both India and Pakistan. It also figures on the US government's "terrorist exclusion list."
According to Fayaz's mother, Safiya, he left home in early September with Faisal, also of Kannur, who had offered to find him a job in Bangalore. She did not hear from him subsequently.
When she checked with Faisal, she was told he was receiving religious instruction in Ahmedabad.
The police say Faisal, who is in custody, was looking for recruits for LeT. Under questioning, he reportedly admitted to sending some others, too, to join the militants' ranks.
They are trying to ascertain the whereabouts of several young men who are away from home.
They are specifically looking into the activities of some persons who were associated with the National Democratic Front and the banned Students Islamic Movement of India.
The NDF, formed in the wake of the demolition of Babri Masjid, has been the major constituent of the Confederation of Human Rights of Kerala.
On its initiative, two national organisations were set up recently: the Popular Front of India and the National Confederation of Human Rights Organisations.
While coming to terms with the tragic end of Fayaz and Rahim, their families have shown no interest in getting the bodies home.
They have informed the police that the bodies may be buried in Kashmir. Media reports quoted Fayaz's mother, Safiya, as saying, "If he worked against the country, he must pay for it. For me, the country is greater than son." State Muslim League President Syed Mohammed Shihab Thangal has said her words echo the sentiments of the Muslim community.
Hindu communal groups claim their warnings of the growing influence of extremist elements in Kerala have been proved right. The political parties are engaged in a blame game on the basis of electoral calculations. Sadly, there is no attempt to identify the factors that render young men prey to terrorist influence, let alone counter them. --Gulf Today, October 27, 2008.