First, they ordered V. Rubiya to be a good Muslim girl and stop learning Bharatnatyam, a classical Hindu dance. Then, when her mother died of cancer in 2007, they refused to allow a burial in the local cemetery in retaliation for Rubiya's refusal to stop. 'They' are local Muslim fundamentalists. And now that Rubiya has turned 18 and her father, P. Alavikutty, is searching for a bridegroom, they have ordered families in Malappuram, north Kerala, to shun her. For Rubiya and other Muslim girls, the Taleban-style fanatics associated with faraway Afghanistan and the wild tribal areas of Pakistan are like snakes which have slithered into paradise - or 'God's Own Country', as the tourist slogan describes Kerala. 'They are imposing sharia [law], telling girls to cover up and warning them not to take part in public life,' said Mr Alavikutty, a typical moderate and easy-going Kerala Muslim, with no objection to his talented daughter performing in Hindu temples. Mr Alavikutty, who works in a travel agency, is a poor Muslim whose bare, grey flat contrasts starkly with the extravagantly verdant landscape outside. While he tackles the militants in his own way, New Delhi sleeps and the communist government of Kerala turns a blind eye to the rise of fundamentalism for fear of losing Muslim votes. 'Fundamentalism is rampant in Kerala but no one listens,' said retired police superintendent Subash Babu, who has been tracking the rise of Islamist extremism. 'Jihadis are well funded and well trained. Any Muslim wishing to marry a Hindu can expect a beating or murder. They are dangerous.' The incredulity among Indians is understandable. To them, the idea of terrorists in Kerala is as unlikely as a Wal-Mart on Mount Everest. This sliver of land running down India's southwestern coast is renowned for the harmony its Muslim, Hindu and Christian communities have enjoyed for centuries. It is a sleepy, laid-back place where the population is more literate and relatively better off than elsewhere in the country. Islam here has been soft and benign. It arrived on Kerala's shores not by the sword or invasion. It rolled in gently with the tide, on the sails of Arab traders seeking pepper and other spices. Some stayed, married local women and built mosques. For tourists, Indian and foreign, it is still a magical land of coconuts and elephants, with a magnificent coastline of endless golden beaches fringed with palms, and nature so luxuriant it is almost primeval. They arrive throughout the year in their thousands to enjoy the famed backwaters - Kerala is also known as the 'Venice of the East' - where they stay on houseboats, enjoy pristine, deserted beaches with no construction around except the odd beach shack, and submit themselves to the delicious rigours of an Ayurvedic massage. But police and intelligence agencies say that Kerala has lost its innocence. They describe it as a hotbed of extremism, a fact visible in the landscape - new mosques and madrassas abound. In Malappuram and the ancient port of Calicut, about 40km farther south down the coast, there are mosques every half a kilometre. Muslims form 25 per cent of the population. Many have gone to work in the Persian Gulf countries, and terrorism experts say money is smuggled in from the Middle East to fund such groups as the Jamat-e-Islami and the powerful National Development Front (NDF). 'Money is pouring in from the Gulf and the Islam being preached in the mosques is a new, aggressive, intolerant version that is alien to Kerala,' said Vinod Kumar, of the New-Delhi-based Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. One section of the shore at Malappuram is called 'Saddam Beach'. Fishermen have named their boats 'Basra' and 'Baghdad'. Women who used to wear Kerala's traditional cream and gold cotton saris - the word 'calico' comes from Calicut - are shrouded in black abayas. Schoolgirls wear black scarves on their heads. Muslim women here, unlike in northern India, never used to observe purdah - the practice of secluding women from men. Nor do Kerala Muslims suffer from the minority complex of Muslims in the north. 'Muslims are well educated, they have jobs, they are not discriminated against and they are well integrated. They haven't got the grievances and alienation of north Indian Muslims,' said Calicut journalist P. Prashant. And yet, young Muslim males are being radicalised, bewitched by jihadist ideology and galvanised by the rise of Hindu nationalism. K. Charlykabeerdas, 23, a law student in Malappuram who is trying to counter the spread of militancy, said unemployed men were falling for the rabid messages preached in the mosques. 'If they join the NDF, they get a big lump sum as well as a monthly allowance and a scooter. They are very active on college campuses trying to brainwash young Muslims,' he said. Kerala police, who keep finding arms caches and explosives, say these men are trained in Kerala and such militant hotbeds as Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. Police in northern India investigating terror attacks in recent years say that militants from Kerala have been involved. New Delhi has been caught napping. It is accustomed to thinking of Islamic militancy in terms of the disputed state of Kashmir, which has seen 20 years of unrest. Or it has focused on small towns in the north, where ancient hatreds between Hindus and Muslims have spawned radical groups intent on turning Hindu-majority India into an Islamic republic. Kerala has never been known as a nursery for terrorists. But now the government worries about the catastrophic effect on tourism that any terrorist incident could have. It has woken up late. It was only in October - when Kashmiri police were stunned to find that four youths killed in a gun battle there were from Kerala - that security officials began to accept that a new front in the war against Islamist militancy had opened in the southern state. After the Mumbai attacks in November, launched from the sea, New Delhi has been beefing up security on Kerala's long coastline, setting up new police stations and buying patrol boats to prevent incursions and landings. It has realised the coast can be used as a landing point for arms and explosives to be used for attacks in Kerala, or elsewhere. Over the past few years, the state has seen several low-intensity explosions. Although none was anywhere near the scale of some of the attacks in the north, it is a worrying development nonetheless. 'The whole coastline is very vulnerable because terrorists can operate with local support from these jihadi elements. The police keep finding arms, ammunition and explosives,' said Professor Kumar. 'These are all ominous trends pointing to Kerala becoming a terror hub.' Sitting in his Calicut office, a smiling P. Koya, senior NDF leader and former English professor, rubbishes the claim that his organisation was fundamentalist as 'a cock-and-bull story made up by Hindus in the media'. Mr Koya insists that the NDF is a human-rights group. Yet he does not conceal his admiration for the Taleban as a 'freedom movement' and praises Osama bin Laden. 'The attack on the World Trade Centre was carried out by the US as an excuse to invade Iraq,' he claimed. 'And one theory about the Mumbai attack is that it was the work of CIA and Mossad, the Israeli secret service, to help the Hindu right.' At the other end of the political spectrum, V. Muralidharan, vice-president of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, accuses Mr Koya of fomenting a 'frenzy' among Muslims. 'Kerala has never been polarised. Hindus and Muslims have co-existed peacefully, which is why this state has such a special atmosphere - but they want to change all that,' said Mr Muralidharan. One person who will not allow the extremists to poison her life is Rubiya. When the local clerics ostracised her over her dancing, she persuaded her father to send her to a dance school in Trichy, in Tamil Nadu state. Now that they are trying to prevent her marriage, she is clear about what she will do. She plans to marry an artist or dancer from outside the area who does not mind her performing a dance that honours Hindu gods and goddesses. 'It was my mother's dream for me to become a dancer and I will fulfil that dream for her sake and my papa's,' she said.