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With Arbitrary Numbers and Islamophobia, The Kerala Story Is Not a True One!

Despite its blatant misinformation, The Kerala Story has been given a stamp of approval by PM Narendra Modi.

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Indian Cinema
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Camera: Shiv Kumar Maurya

Video Producer: Shohini Bose

Video Editor: Abhishek Sharma 

Hi, I also have a ‘Kerala Story’ to tell –

  • In 2020, non-resident Keralites sent Rs 2.3 lakh crores back to India, 34% of all NRI remittances, and Kerala is just 2.8% of India’s population.

  • Kerala’s per capita income is 60% higher than the rest of India.

  • Less than 1% (0.71%) of Keralites live below the poverty line (Source: Niti Aayog). The national average is 22%. In Uttar Pradesh it’s 29%.

  • In 2011, Kerala became India’s first state to have a banking facility in every village. Many states are still not there.

  • At 96%, Kerala is India’s most literate state (Source: NSO Survey, 2020). The national average, 77%. Kerala’s female literacy rate is 95%. In Rajasthan, just 57%, and Bihar, 60%.

  • Kerala’s Infant Mortality Rate (No of Infant Deaths/1000 Births) is just 6. In Assam it is 40. MP, 41. UP, 46! Kerala’s Maternal Mortality Rate is 2. In UP it’s 17!

  • And THIS is ‘The Kerala Story’ based on real numbers. Not made-up numbers. A Kerala that’s leads India in health, education, and economic prosperity.

Yeh Jo India Hai Na, it must decide - which ‘Kerala Story’ to watch and believe.

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Just days before its release, the makers of The Kerala Storychanged its trailer. Instead of claiming that 32,000 Kerala women had been forced to convert to Islam and join ISIS, they now say its the story of 3 girls. But the damage has been done. Since November 2022, the original teaser, harping on the “heart-breaking and gut-wrenching stories of 32,000 females in Kerala”, has had almost 1.5 million views. Equally worrying is the fact that the film, despite its blatant misinformation, has been given a stamp of approval by none less than the Prime Minister, during his Karnataka election campaign.

32,000 — Why the Number Matters

Meanwhile at a screening the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), the film’s director said, "Do you think the number matters? The 32,000 number is an arbitrary number…” Except, it is not arbitrary, and it does matter. 32,000 tells a lay person that something terrible is happening in Kerala on a vast scale.

A lay person exposed to the teaser, unaware of the facts, imagines thousands and thousands of young women being brainwashed, converted and lured to ISIS. Except, it is not true. It never happened. Even within the film, it is repeated that this has happened to thousands of Indian girls.

So yes, it does not seem that 32,000 was picked arbitrarily. It was blatant, bigoted misinformation. And such misinformation only adds to the communal hate that India is already grappling with.
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ISIS was a highly fanatical, highly violent terror organization, which drew followers who celebrated extreme and crude violence. ISIS’s terror, and its highly twisted interpretation of Islam was condemned by countries of all denominations, who came together to fight it. Certainly, the story of three women from Kerala, lured to join ISIS, is a story that should be told, but it is not THE Kerala Story.

It is one among many stories about radicalisation, about communal hate, and violence that have unfolded in India over the years. It is well documented that India has radical, violent extremists across its communities - Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs – and so, yes, I believe that solidly researched, objectively told, well executed films about their activities and their tragic consequences, should be told.

Look West

Let’s shift our attention briefly to Europe. Around 2013-2015, when ISIS was at the peak of its powers, it’s been documented that at least 500 women (Source: The Soufan Group) from Western Europe, joined the terror group.

They were radicalised and recruited mainly through targeted social media campaigns, which even shared information on how they should travel to Syria and join ISIS. The numbers include Muslim women, who were first or second generation immigrants to West European countries, and roughly 300 Christian women from countries like Belgium, France, Sweden, England, and others.

While there are films and OTT series about the phenomenon, none of them have been labelled as ‘THE France Story’ or THE Belgium Story’, because the film-makers have chosen to be responsible and have stuck to the facts, which are so tragic in themselves, that they do not need to be over-blown as ‘The Kerala Story’ has done.

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Perpetuating Islamophobia

Lets also get to this claim by the makers of ‘The Kerala Story’ that their figure of 32,000 was a rough calculation based on a statement by former Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy. The Quint’s fact-checkers located Chandy’s statement, that was made in 2012, when he had said - "2500 women converted to Islam in Kerala since 2006". He did not say that they were brainwashed or forced or lured into converting, nor did he say that these 2500 women were kidnapped and made to join ISIS. Nor did he say they were missing. That ‘masala’ and the number - 32,000 - is purely the film-makers’ not-so-innocent ‘creative license’.

Of the 2,500, Chandy clarified that 2000 were Hindu women who converted between 2006 and 2012. That is roughly 330 Hindu women converting to Islam in a year. Not forced, and a part of consensual inter-faith marriages, this number seems very normal and acceptable for Kerala’s vibrant, diverse society. Of course it would bother anyone who believes in labelling every interfaith marriage as ‘love jihad’, but fortunately in Kerala at least, it is still just called love, and remains perfectly legal.

Unfortunately, beyond the story of being lured towards ISIS, ‘The Kerala Story’ also perpetuates much of the other Islamophobia that’s doing the rounds these days, be it in films like ‘The Kashmir Files’ or other fake news that’s shared on WhatsApp and other social media.

If you are a Hindu girl, the film would have you think that your every Muslim female classmate is actually out to convert you and recruit you for a radical organization, that every Muslim youngster you may be friends with, is a sexual predator and a violent budding anti-national, and that every inter-faith relationship is ‘love-jihad’.

It’s besides the point that in UP, a state where the dispensation is most keen to show that ‘love jihad’ is a phenomenon, worthy of an ‘anti’ love-jihad law, not a single case has been proven in 2 years. Quite expectedly. But why would that stop ‘The Kerala Story’ from making yet another attempt at re-creating that bogey?

And in case you are conflicted about whether to watch ‘The Kerala Story’, here’s a quick glance at some takes on the film –

“Distorted” - Rediff.com

“Melodramatic and Manipulative” - Firstpost

“Ghastly” - OTTplay

“Poorly made Rant” – The Indian Express

“Bad Writing, Bad Direction” – India Today

“Steeped in Damned Lies and Comically Exaggerated Propaganda” - The Print

And I’m guessing you have read and seen The Quint’s review as well. If not, click here.  

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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