Kerala Police are investigating a controversial Bollywood film that portrays the southern Indian state as a hub for Islamic terrorism and forced conversion.
The Kerala Story, directed by Sudipto Sen, has been criticized for its fictional depiction of tens of thousands of Kerala women who he claims converted to Islam and became terrorists for Islamic State in Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria.
A trailer features an actor playing the role of a Hindu woman who is the victim of an apparent “dangerous game” of conversion. “I wanted to become a nurse and serve humanity,” she says directly to the camera wearing a niqab. “Now I am Fatima Ba, an Isis terrorist in a prison in Afghanistan. I am not alone.”
The trailer for the film goes on to claim that “there are 32,000 girls like me who have been converted and buried in the deserts of Syria and Yemen. A deadly game is underway to turn normal girls into fearsome terrorists in Kerala… will no one stop them?
The filmmakers claim that the film is based on real information and events, but have not provided any evidence or official reports to back up their claims.
There was anger in the southern states of India after the trailer was released. BR Aravindakshan, a journalist based in the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu, filed a petition with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, the office of the Kerala Chief Minister and the Kerala Police accusing the film of broadcasting of “false information” and said its contents must be investigated and the release must be stopped.
After Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan ordered the state police to investigate the complaint, a criminal case was filed against the caravan. Thiruvananthapuram district police in Kerala are investigating allegations of misinformation and spreading communal hatred.
VD Satheesan, the opposition leader in the State Assembly, said the film was “a clear case of misinformation” and called for it to be banned at the risk of “spreading hate”.
The events of the film appear to be inspired by four Kerala women who converted to Islam and traveled with their husbands to Afghanistan to join ISIS in Khorasan province between 2016 and 2018. Their husbands were all killed and after visiting in 2019; the four women are still in Afghan prisons, with the Indian government refusing to take them back.
There is no evidence that there were thousands of such cases in Kerala as the movie claims.
Kerala, considered India’s most progressive state with the highest levels of literacy and mortality, has long been ruled by a strongly left-wing secular government. So far he has voted against the Hindu nationalist politics which came to dominate the central government of India and the northern states under the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The BJP did not win any seats in Kerala in the last general elections.
In response, however, Kerala has been accused by BJP figures of becoming a “breeding ground” for Islamic terrorism.
The Kerala Story follows The Kashmir Files, a Bollywood film which claimed to show the “true story” of the expulsion of a Hindu community from the Muslim-majority state of Kashmir. The filmmakers claimed it was based on real events, but were accused of twisting facts and making anti-Muslim propaganda. Despite the controversies, it was one of the most successful Indian films at the box office that year.