Bhatkal's Navayathis- Torn between terror and tradition

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When a call is made to Pakistan it is bound to catch the attention of the Intelligence Agencies. Now Bhatkal has a practical problem. While on one hand it has been termed as a terror town, there is also a culture that exists in this place where there are several marriages that take place with people settled in Pakistan.

Take the case of Syed Islmail Afaq a resident of Bhatkal who has been arrested in connection with an alleged terror plot. He is married to a girl from Pakistan and made frequent calls to that country which caught the attention of the agencies in the first place.

Torn between terror and traditions

While Afaq is one such case there are several others from Bhatkal who are married to people settled in Pakistan and the several residents that we spoke to tell us that this is part of a tradition and culture that has existed over the past several decades.

The Navayaths of Bhatkal

On National Highway 17 you will find this picturesque town of Bhatkal in coastal Karnataka. The town has a blend of Hindus, Muslims, the Navayaths and the Jains. The town also plays home to 60 Mosques, Temples and Basadis.

The Jain culture does exist to a large extent still in this town and naturally so since it was dominated by them 1000 years back. The coast line and the influx of the Persian Arab traders gave this town a commercial tag. The Arabs came in with their horses and took spices in return.

It was during this time that the Arab traders decided to settle down in Bhatkal and gradually a sect called the Navayaths was formed. Navayaths loosely translated would be newcomers.

The presence of the Navayaths has also been found in Paksitan, Sri Lanka, Nellore and Arcot.

The emergence of the Navayaths

The Navayaths of Bhatkal are considered to be different. They have a different culture and many would say that unlike the rest of their sect settled in other places, the Navayaths of Bhatkal have not taken to the local tradition. They follow their own tradition and culture.

They live in a cluster called the Navayath Keri on the old side of Bhatkal. Their houses have an antique to feel to them. Their language which is called the Navayathi is a combination of Persian, Arabic, Konkani, Urdu, Kannada and Malayalam.

However these characteristics cannot be found in the Navayathis settled in other places. Those Navayathis have completely adopted to the local tradition, culture and language.

Rigid tradition

Many would say that the Navayathis are a relative closed sect. They very rigidly follow their own traditions. The other interesting fact is that there are a lot of marriages between the Navayathis or Bhatkal and those in Pakistan.

While this has raised a lot of questions since anything to do with Paksitan is considered to be terror, the Navayathis of Bhatkal have a different argument. They say that the marriages in Paksitan are only with the Navayathis.

There is no question of any of the Navayathis marrying anyone else in Pakistan. The Navayathis of Pakistan are those who had settled down there to do trade and after the partition many of them decided to stay back there.

The riots changed everything

In the year 1993 a major riot broke out in Bhatkal. It is said that this was the first time that certain agents of the ISI set their eyes on this coastal town. Riyaz Bhatkal who is today one of the most wanted terrorists was an ordinary informer at that time.

He would take money from both Hindus and Muslims to pass on information. However his lure for money is what helped the ISI rope him so easily. Over a period of time it is said that he turned into a fanatic although his roots could be traced to commit acts of violence only for money.

Along with Riyaz several others like him were born. They went on to establish the Indian Mujahideen. The people of Bhatkal have very often said that there are black sheep, but it is extremely unfair to term the entire community as terrorists.

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