A film released in India earlier this month called The Kerala Story claims that thousands of Hindu and Christian women in the southern Indian state of Kerala are tricked into converting to Islam and then forced to join the ISIS terrorist group.
The filmmakers claim that it is a “never-before-told true story, exposing a dangerous conspiracy hatched against India”.
But many have spoken out against the message, saying it is divisive. A heated debate on social media last week quickly escalated, prompting dozens of people to gather outside a police station in the central Indian city of Akola, where one person died and eight others were seriously injured. Authorities shut down the internet in the region and arrested more than a hundred people.
Meanwhile, the state of West Bengal, which has a sizable Muslim population, had banned the film to prevent further violence.
The makers of the film took the ban to the Supreme Court of India. And last week, a court overturned it, but ordered the filmmakers to add a disclaimer that the film is fictional.
Art or propaganda?
In November 2020, the US State Department announced that only “66 known fighters of Indian origin” were linked to ISIS, and that they were not all from Kerala, nor were they all women. Nearly a year later, India’s National Investigation Agency said it had arrested 168 people in 37 ISIS-related cases. But there is no evidence that anyone was coerced or tricked into joining the group.
“It was pretty obvious from the trailer that this was propaganda all along. It is poisonous, divisive propaganda.”
Therefore, critics say that ‘History of Kerala’ grossly exaggerates the real events and allows significant misrepresentations about the Muslim community in Kerala.
“It was quite obvious from the trailer that it was propaganda all the way through,” said Dipanjana Pal, editor of Film Companion. “It is poisonous, divisive propaganda.”
Pal said that youth radicalization is an important topic that needs to be discussed and that films should be made on the issue. But he added that the ‘Kerala story’ is as primitive and Islamophobic as inciting WhatsApp attackers.
According to him, the film presents a clear cause and effect. “When a good Hindu woman is not aware of her faith and its rituals, etc., she becomes vulnerable to Islamic propaganda, and obviously the next step is a) getting pregnant. by a terrorist and b) to join ISIS.”
Sowmya Rajendran, film critic Sowmya Rajendran, who hails from the state of Kerala, said the film gives the impression that every Muslim in Kerala is evil and out to convert people from other religions and then force them into terrorism.
“Every Muslim in the film is portrayed as a violent savage with only one agenda,” he said.
Such messages play into the narrative of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi approved the film, while two BJP-ruled states exempted the film from tax. And some political leaders even hired buses to take their constituents to theaters to watch the film.
“The film is clearly an attempt to defame the state,” Rajendran said.
Kerala is known for its religious diversity and high level of development.
Meanwhile, some film critics drew parallels with another film released last year called The Kashmir Files.
“Both ‘Kerala Story’ and ‘Kashmir Files’ have been used by politicians to campaign and urge the public; [them]said editor Pal.
the film is doing good business
“Kerala Story” released on May 5 and earned around $25 million.
“That’s an obscene amount of money for a low-budget film,” Pal explained. “This is a producer’s dream.”
It was marketed as a film that reveals a certain truth that was deliberately hidden from the public. This raises everyone’s curiosity, Rajendran said. These films are popular, easy to convince people, besides, they are absolutely true, he said.
“That’s because we’re already a society that has ghettoized Muslims. That divisive communal feeling is in many people, and in India it has only become more acceptable to voice it,” he said. “And the people who raise it are rewarded.”
Not only are ideas of bigotry acceptable, but the subjugation of women seems to be another popular theme that resonates with audiences.
“We are a deeply patriarchal society. So we are attracted when someone comes and says you have to keep your girls at home and only men in our community can access them,” said Rajendran. “When men from other communities develop relationships with them, it cannot be an equal relationship. It can only be seen as a relationship where the woman is lured into something. Or being cheated. It’s not like he made that choice.”
connected The Indian government has removed parts of Muslim history from federal textbooks