If one believes the Government of India [ Images ] the Students Islamic Movement of India is an internal security threat. Others variously call them from 'paper tigers' to a group of 'angry young men'.
A few are emphatic that SIMI [ Images ] is an Islamic version of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.
Whatever the description, one thing about the outfit is clear. It is banned.
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On Monday, the media spotlight shifted on to the shadowy outfit when a Prevention of Terrorism [ Images ] Act court in Delhi [ Images ] sentenced two activists of the outfit to seven years in jail.
Yasin Patel, a US national, and his brother-in-law Ashraff Jaffrey were convicted for pasting anti-national posters issued by SIMI in 2002, and also on charges of sedition.
They were arrested for pasting posters in Jamia Millia Islamia, a predominantly Muslim institution in south Delhi.
Last month, intelligence agencies submitted a report to the home ministry saying SIMI was getting reactivated despite a ban being imposed on it under POTA.
The report said there were distinct indications that SIMI in its 'different clandestine manifestations' was 'still deeply involved in terrorist and disruptive activities', and had links with Islamic outfits in Bangladesh.
Many of its leaders, who were arrested after the outfit was banned on September 27, 2001, are still in jails across the country. Most of them were arrested for having 'incriminating' anti-national literature and posters.
The police also regularly claim that many of the accused in terror activities in India have links with SIMI. Ever since the ban SIMI activists have gone underground.
But is SIMI really a threat to India's national security?
No, say many scholars, students and former members.
Rizwan Qaisar, who has been teaching history in Jamia Millia Islamia for the last 13 years, defines SIMI as 'paper tigers'.
"SIMI has been an unaffective (sic) organisation with small band of following among Muslim students and youths. In a population of 160 million (Muslims in India), SIMI is a microscopic and fringe element with no support in the community," he said.
"I don't have any respect for SIMI because it inculcates backward looking attitude in the youth. But SIMI acting against the state is a difficult proposition. I have hardly seen their posters in the campus," he added.
He said the threat of SIMI has been has been used by the government to consolidate the Hindutva vote.
"Crackdown on such organisations helps the present regime to give an impression that the government alone is the repository of national security," Qaisar said.
He, however, did not rule out SIMI's involvement in terrorist activities.
Ejaz Ahmed Aslam, editor of Jamat-e-Islami mouthpiece Radiance, said SIMI has been 'demonised' by the government.
"I don't justify the ban (on SIMI) because the government has not come out with clear evidence (against SIMI)," he said.
"SIMI is a group of angry young men. Their crime is that the leaders have been making irresponsible statements. They (SIMI) should understand this. Otherwise, there is nothing wrong in supporting one's own community," he added.
Aslam said Jamat-e-Islami was closely associated with SIMI in the early years of its formation, but parted ways after 'disturbing trends started creeping into SIMI'.
But SIMI leaders say the Jamat wanted to patronise SIMI and when it failed, it launched its own students' wing, Students Islamic Organisation, in 1982.
SIMI has its roots in the Aligarh Muslim University. It was officially established on April 25, 1977, slowly spreading its roots across Uttar Pradesh [ Images ] and then establishing outposts in Maharashtra [ Images ], Kerala [ Images ] and West Bengal [ Images ].
S Q R Ilyas, spokesman of All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) said, "SIMI had its branches in all major universities like Delhi University, Jawaharlal Nehru [ Images ] University, AMU, Jamia. It attracted very bright people and concentrated on the character-building of the students."
Ilyas was associated with SIMI from 1978 to 1985 and was its president in '83.
SIMI, before it was banned, had a president and a working committee. They were elected every two years. The president had the power to nominate a general secretary.
Ilyas said the organisation got its funds from members and donations within the community.
It had two kinds of memberships -- the basic members or Ansars (Friends of God) and general members or Ikhwans (Brothers).
During Ilyas's time, there were 500 Ansars and about 50,000 Ikhwans. The membership had remained almost same since then, he claimed.
Ilyas left the organisation when he crossed 30 years of age, as per the rules of the organisation.
One poster of SIMI that has attracted a lot of flak says: 'Destroy Nationalism and Establish Khilafat'. The poster defines the ideology of the outfit. One such poster was also found in the possession of the two accused, who were convicted on Monday.
Special Judge S N Dhingra in his order said the accused 'believed in an international Islamic order'.
"Patel (one of the accused) did not deserve leniency, (as) he works for the destruction of Indian nationalism," the order said.
But Ilyas claims there is nothing wrong with the poster.
"Islam has always been against nationalism. Nationalism divides people in different categories. It is also a form of extremism. We don't believe in any nationalism. Whether it is Muslim nationalism or American nationalism. It is fascist in content," Ilyas said."And Khilafat means establishment of God's will. Even Gandhiji supported Khillafat movement."
"Above all, what is wrong if one is propagating any ideology peacefully, and not with violence," said Ilyas.
Another SIMI poster, which was in media spotlight, was titled 'Islam to prevail'. Pasted in Aligarh Muslim University in November 1997 during an all-India convention the poster read, 'Islam doesn't carry a single instruction on how to live peacefully under an un-Islamic regime. Islam has described clearly that the way to dominate is jihad. Doesn't this prove that Islam will dominate if the iron is used and the blood is shed?'
Sociologist Faizan Ahmed of New Delhi-based research institute 'Sarai' calls SIMI a terrorist outfit and justifies the ban.
Ahmed, who studied in AMU and got the opportunity to interact with SIMI activists, says: "They were very fanatic in their views. Their speeches were full of armed struggle."
"The organisation was terrorist is its notion and content, but I don't know if they (SIMI members) were physically involved in terrorist activities like bomb blasts or anything of that sort."
Mohammad Sajjad, lecturer of history at JMI who is also a product of AMU, echoed similar views.
"SIMI's ideology is of course pernicious and a threat to any modern society. But its influence has been exaggerated by communal Hindu groups to derive legitimacy for Hindu extremism," he says. "SIMI was born in AMU but none of its candidate ever won any Students' Union election there. It was a non-entity and was declining everyday."
"It was an aggressive outfit and spoke of militant Islam. But there are many Hindu outfits engaged in spreading hatred in the country. SIMI was a Muslim version of the VHP. All these organisations need to be tackled sternly," he says
"But then why was SIMI targeted and outfits like Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad and the VHP getting state patronage. They (Hindu groups), in my opinion, are more dangerous to the internal security of the country due to their numerical strength," he adds.
Trying to explain the ideological content of SIMI, Ilyas contends, "SIMI acquired an aggressive tone in the last three years as a reaction to the growth of Hindu communalism."
"Majority communalism is being protected, and SIMI has been projected as a threat," he claims
"SIMI has been blown out of proportion. There is nothing wrong in SIMI's concepts (ideology). The police have to catch somebody to show its efficiency. And they found SIMI an easy prey. The government is also benefiting out of it," he says.