Fighting Radicalisation to Counter Terrorism in India

 By Mohak Gambhir

Increasing radicalisation across the globe has been a major source of concern for security agencies world over. While the most common thread that the term radicalisation is linked to today is a theological one, there are other kinds too like sociological and political which focus on caste and class respectively in the Indian context. India’s left-wing extremism problem is an apt example of a hybrid socio-political source of radicalisation. This is understandable to a great extent due to the sheer number of violent acts of extremism and terrorism that are traced back to religious radicalisation as compared to others.

Talking of radicalisation, it may be defined as a complex process whereby individuals or groups develop a thought process over time which, under enabling circumstances and triggers, can lead to those individuals or groups resorting to or supporting violent extremism and/or terrorism. This is often also closely linked to personal or shared experiences of loss, tragedy, or trauma. When talking about radicalisation, there is a tendency to interchangeably use the terms ‘deradicalisation’ and ‘counter-radicalisation’. It is important to note that although the methods used to mitigate the two often overlap to a certain degree, the distinction between the two is important for conceptual clarity to effectively formulate policies and strategies in a comprehensive fight against terrorism. The attempt here is to put forward a general understanding of counter-radicalisation and deradicalisation and the steps that can be taken to support any existing or future programs in the country. [i]

Before beginning to delve into this issue and making recommendations, it is important to be highlighted that the Government of India’s Ministry of Home Affairs formed a new division called the Counter-Terrorism and Counter Radicalisation Division (CT-CARD) in 2017 for the very specific purposes of deradicalisation and counter radicalisation. However, there is very little information or data available about “the structures, methodologies, community approaches, and localized variations and application of these programs from different states’ perspective.”[ii]


Unlike deradicalisation which takes place once the radicalisation process has been completed, counter-radicalisation focuses on tackling ongoing radicalisation as well as preventing those who are vulnerable to being radicalised. While the deradicalisation strategy would be more focused on the region, communities, and individuals already affected, a counter-radicalisation strategy would require a much broader coverage on a national scale. This is especially important due to the growing threat of lone terrorists who, with the access to information and technology, can cause tremendous damage to lives and property that would otherwise be overlooked if groups or usual suspects focused approach is adopted.[iii]

Growing marginalisation can prime the disadvantaged youth, men and women, to be attracted to extreme ideologies. For India, given the limited scope of domestic terrorism when compared to many other developing countries, it is imperative to show great urgency in countering ongoing radicalisation as well as preventing scores of others from even beginning to be radicalised. For this, early intervention strategies are required to target not only groups or individuals engaging in some level of violence for political or religious ends, but also those providing moral, financial support or sympathizing with terror acts.

To devise an effective counter-radicalisation strategy, India needs to conduct in-depth study of the terror convicts to ascertain the vulnerability factors that led them to being radicalised which could be factors like grievances at the local or country level, theological motivations, personal trauma, or experiences or a combination of these. Following a proper understanding of factors which lead to radicalisation, a pre-emptive intervention policy can be devised. For this, something similar to U.K’s Channel program can be looked at which uses a referral process to identify individuals who might be vulnerable to radicalisation based on the references of friends, family, co-workers or other members of the concerned individual’s community. This help shield the government and security agencies, to an extent, from the allegations of bias or targeting minorities, and the responsibility for the program is shared by the state and the society at large. Based on the references received, security agencies can ascertain the individual’s risk level as well as the appropriate measures that can be taken to manage that individual’s vulnerability to radicalisation. During the risk analysis process, factors like engagement of an individual with the radical people or literature, individual’s intent to cause harm and capacity to cause harm should all be considered before taking necessary decisions.[iv]

The most crucial aspect of India’s approach towards counter-radicalisation should be that any such program, while having national reach, should be managed from the local level rather than a centralised set-up. It is important to involve local policy authorities, social service organisations, educational and religious institutes to have a holistic implementation approach which accommodates local cultural practices and values while taking any corrective actions. Thus, the local oversight panels should be in charge of doing risk analysis of individuals from their areas of jurisdiction as well as the steps that should be taken to reduce their risk. Due to state security agencies’ involvement, the referred persons might be afraid or hostile but alleviation of underlying concerns should be the first step to effectively proceed with the process. It would be wise to see such interactions between the members of local oversight panels and the referred individuals as a confidence building exercise rather than a confrontation or a trial. Proper periodic follow ups after the intervention process will be important to determine the effectiveness of the whole exercise.


If we define radicalisation as a process, then deradicalisation is a process as well undertaken after a person has been radicalised to reverse the radicalisation process. This is the first step for the reintegration of former terrorists, militants or insurgents back into the society in a peaceful manner. In the Indian context, this should involve not only jail programs facilitating ideological reorientation and re-education of the captured terrorists by the religious scholars and priests of respective religions, but also therapy and counselling of those who surrender or defect from terrorists organisations or have provided logistical support to such organisations. In this regard, direct consultations should be held with the civil society members from all religious communities to better set the syllabus and agenda of such reorientation/re-education, therapy etc. Nigeria’s Deradicalisation, Rehabilitation, and Reintegration (DRR) programs to counter Boko Haram is an apt example of such a combination of measures to fight radicalisation, and thus, often, terrorism.[v]

Increased engagement opportunities for convicts to meet volunteer individuals/institutes from their respective communities who would teach vocational and trades courses to them to better prepare them in terms of skills needed to better integrate themselves economically with the rest of the society. The reintegration is the final and a crucial step in completing the deradicalisation process which helps in reducing the chances of the concerned individual re-engaging in violent extremism. While many view deradicalisation and re-integration as two different processes occurring in a chronological order, they should rather be looked as complementary processes which will often proceed simultaneously.

One important objection that is raised against to discredit deradicalisation programs is the efficacy of these programs in successfully deradicalising convicts and preventing them from re-engaging in violence.[vi] This stringent tying up of reduced recidivism to the effectiveness of deradicalisation leads to a narrow focus. Similarly, more focus is laid on the individuals’ desire, actions taken and progress made to rehabilitate themselves and thereby ignoring any positive impacts on the families and communities to which these convicts belong. Likewise, while more focus is laid on the convict’s desire and intent for reintegration, any agency of the relevant local society or community is ignored in the reintegration process, where often a society itself might be radicalised or completely averse to accepting back any reformed or reforming extremist/terrorist.


With increased connectivity and access to information, most countries across the world are witnessing rising radicalisation due to the faster spread of radical ideas, figures and materials. India has been dealing with this problem much before the world started paying attention to it. However, due to a number of factors including India’s diversity, history, geopolitical challenges, socio-economic setup as well as prevalent ways of domestic politics makes India extremely vulnerable to the dangers of radicalisation. As such, central and state governments, agencies both security and otherwise, need to harmonise their strategies while also including members of local communities across the education, social and religious spheres in such efforts to counter the threat of radicalisation which at times also leads to terrorism.



[i]  Dr. Lindsay Clutterback. “Deradicalization Programs and Counterterrorism: A Perspective on the Challenges and Benefits.” Middle East Institute. June 10, 2015.

[ii] Kabir Taneja. “Deradicalisation as Counterterrorism Strategy: The Experience of Indian States.” Observer Research Foundation. August 04, 2020.

[iii] Rashid Ali. “De-radicalization and Integration: The United Kingdom’s Channel Programme.” George Washington Program on Extremism. October 2015.

[iv] Ibid

[v] Alvin Young. “Nigeria Considers National DRR Agency Amid Boko Haram Setbacks.” Council on Foreign Relations. March 18, 2020.

[vi] Kabir Taneja. “Deradicalisation as Counterterrorism Strategy: The Experience of Indian States.” Observer Research Foundation. August 04, 2020.