I am enrolling my four part series on Maharashtra de-radicalisation programme which was published in The Indian Express newspaper from August 1- 4 in 2019. In the series, we talk about how Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad has managed to trace, counsel and convinced 120 people who were radicalised by Islamic State against terrorism in Maharashtra. We have looked into different aspects of the counselling sessions that the radicals underwent and Anti-terrorism Squad also helped them in setting their career by providing them skills training under several government schemes to ensure that the youths aren’t misled again by the IS recruiters.
Several other states in India started writing to the Anti-Terrorism Squad to take details on the de-radicalisation programme, so that they could built their own.
I majorly used recorders in my mobile phone to record my coversation with these de-radicalised youths.
Besides that I did not have to use much technology as I had a field job majorly.
What was the hardest part of this project?
Initially the officials from the Anti-Terrorism Squad remained tight lipped about the project as they were worried that the identity of the youths may come out, but once they were assured that none of the youths shall be identified, they started divulging details on their programme. But the next and the toughest task was to get the de-radicalised youth and their family member to talk. Many youths and their family members knocked their doors on my face, but later with the help of my sources and the common people we (me and the de-radicalised youth) knew, I managed to get some of them to sit on the same table and we discussed. Still many people were scared as these youths have their whole career ahead, I managed to convince five of them and talk with them at lengths.
However as I was looking for granular details, they did not divulge much information at first meeting. I had to make several visits to different places in Maharashtra, meet them multiple times and after almost seven months of hard work, I managed to get the accurate information following which these four parts were published.
What can others learn from this project?
Socially it sends a very strong message to the readers, after reading this four part series, people learned that God doesn’t want you to kill someone to make them happy. The 120 youths realised after they underwent the de-radicalisation programme. I spoke with many people who said that they have realised that the terrorist organisation are just using them to keep their own agendas alive and they won’t ever fall for their claims.
While for the journalist, who wants to tell stories through data, I would want to share that this de-radicalisation programme was earlier discussed as a one day story but later after conversation with my superiors, I started chasing this as a four-part series. As nobody that includes the de-radicalised youths and the officers talked about the de-radicalisation project and as many times I was insulted and turned away by these youths and their family members, I started losing hope and gave up many times. Because I thought nobody will talk about the counselling session, they gave or underwent. But somehow, I kept working hard and I kept chasing different de-radicalised youths and eventually, I managed to find a way out to get them talking.