The diaspora must reject the lies and propaganda of The Kerala Story

We are deeply concerned that a number of cinemas across the UK and Ireland are screening the Islamophobic propaganda film The Kerala Story with new venues added from May 26th. The Kerala Story has been thoroughly exposed in India as based on lies and deliberately designed to foster hate and division among faith communities. The film is being actively promoted in Britain by groups which are affiliated with violent Hindu supremacist organisations in India and aim to divide and cause conflict among South Asian communities in Britain with a long history of harmonious relations and mutual solidarity.

The Kerala Story brings together two of the most poisonous myths weaponised against Muslims under the current far-right regime of Narendra Modi in India – ‘love jihad’ or the idea that Muslim men are systematically seducing and converting Hindu women, and the Muslim-as-terrorist, along with the accompanying patriarchal trope of the helpless Hindu woman who has no agency or judgment. We have seen these myths circulated to whip up hatred ahead of horrific orchestrated attacks on the Muslim community, including the 2002 Gujarat genocide. The makers of The Kerala Story promoted the film using an outrageous lie – that ‘32,000’ Hindu girls in Kerala had been converted by Muslim men and recruited by ISIS. This lie was swiftly and thoroughly exposed, forcing the filmmakers to change their claims overnight from ‘32,000’ to ‘3’; the Supreme Court insisted that the film carry a disclaimer that there was no evidence to back their story. The reality is of course that the numbers of Indian Muslims joining ISIS is miniscule compared to other parts of the world, and this proportion is even lower in Kerala. There is no evidence of the phenomenon of coercive conversion of Hindu women that the film claims to portray. Kerala, unlike the states ruled by Modi’s BJP which is continuously stoking hatred against minorities, has seen harmony and friendly relationships between people belonging to different religious communities.

The Kerala Story is not simply a poorly made film which uses racist tropes and stereotypes to make profits for the filmmakers. The events surrounding its release on May 5 in India show that it has a specific role as part of the propaganda arsenal of the ruling far-right in India, which is engaged in persecuting religious minorities and Dalits and is widely regarded as being on the brink of genocide of its Muslim minority community. The film was released five days before key elections in the Indian state of Karnataka, and was referred to by Narendra Modi in election speeches as if the events in it were real, saying the film exposed a ‘terrorist conspiracy’. His Home Minister Amit Shah, notorious for his calls for attacks on Muslims, also referenced the film in speeches. The film was given generous tax breaks in Indian states ruled by the BJP (Modi’s party), making tickets much cheaper. In non-BJP ruled states, BJP leaders organised special screenings and free tickets.

It is particularly disturbing that here in Britain, organisations supporting Modi and the far- right BJP government, are frantically promoting The Kerala Story and the massive lies it is built on. Not content with encouraging people to see a film designed to misinform them and cause hate and division, organisations like Insight UK are organising events about ‘grooming and religious conversion affecting the Hindu community in the UK’ to coincide with the screenings of the film. They are amplifying the false and racist claims made by the white supremacist far-right that grooming gangs in Britain are predominantly made up of Muslim Pakistani men. When this racist and Islamophobic trope was recently repeated by Home Secretary Suella Braverman, it was once again thoroughly proved false. As for religious conversion of young women, despite repeated attempts dating back to 2007 by right-wing Hindu supremacists to claim this is an issue in the UK, they have never provided any evidence that this is taking place. After bringing violence to the streets of Leicester last year, the BJP and RSS and their front organisations in Britain are determined to create more conflict and whip up more Islamophobic hate in diaspora communities. As a statement by the Leicestershire-based Federation of Muslim Organisations warns, there is a real risk of ‘reigniting last year’s troubles not only in Leicester but across the country’.

In India, voters are now rejecting Modi and the Hindu supremacists’ politics of hate. In the recent Karnataka elections, which the release of The Kerala Story was meant to help them win, the BJP have been decisively defeated. Similarly, we in the diaspora must not fall for this blatant propaganda and must reject these toxic and dangerous attempts to divide our communities.

South Asia Solidarity Group

Strive UK

Scottish Indians for Justice

UK Indian Muslim Council

CasteWatch UK

Indian Workers’ Association GB

International Solidarity For Academic Freedom in India (InSAF India)

Association of Indian Communists Britain and Ireland

India Labour Solidarity

Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) students protest against special screening of The Kerala Story on their campus, amid heavy policing on May 20 (Rahul Raut/HT PHOTO)

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