By Snigdhendu Bhattacharya 

A Muslim cleric is seen advising some young men to entrap Hindu and Christian women, and impregnate them if required, only to convert them to Islam and send them to West Asian countries to join the terrorist group Islamic State (ISIS). A young woman in police custody offers to tell the cops the history behind her entry into terrorism. A hijab-clad young woman is convincing a friend that wearing a hijab protects her from sexual assault.

Scene by scene, the trailer of filmmaker Sudipto Sen’s The Kerala Story unfolds India’s Hindu nationalists’ favourite conspiracy theory of ‘Love Jihad’. As per this theory, Muslim men entrap Hindu women as part of a religious war. The makers described the film as “heart-breaking and gut-wrenching stories of 32,000 females in Kerala!” which intends to “uncover the hidden truth, of the biggest invisible threat to our daughters”.

Last December, when Israeli filmmaker Nadav Lapid, who presided over the five-member jury of the 53rd edition of the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) at Goa, came under attack for calling the Vivek Agnihotri-directed film The Kashmir Files as “vulgar and propaganda” movie unworthy of a film festival entry, three other members of the jury board came out in his support. The only differing member of the jury was Indian filmmaker Sudipto Sen, whose latest film, The Kerala Story, has now emerged as the latest addition to the genre of recent films whose narratives align with the propaganda of India’s Hindu nationalists.

“Believe me, you’ve to listen to the stories of Shalini Geetanjai Nimah and Asifa. When I listened about them, my heart was numb. Only tears engulfed me. Promise — We’ll debate and fight later. Please watch it for them and their helpless parents,” Sen wrote in a tweet.

Scheduled to be released on May 5, the film already has a controversial past as the Kerala Police had lodged an FIR last November, alleging that its teaser was spreading lies. In plain sight, the claim of 32,000 women —mostly Hindu and some Christian— converted to Islam under the pretext of marriage and were sent off to West Asia to fight for ISIS is a humongous exaggeration.

For, a 2021 US report said only 66 persons of Indian origin were on the list of ISIS foreign fighters. The Indian government, too, never estimated the number of Indian participants in the jihad of ISIS to be more than a few dozen. In fact, low Indian Muslim participation in the so-called global jihad —spearheaded first by Al Qaeda and later ISIS— has been a subject matter of academic and security-related discussion for a long time.

In 2020, Adil Rasheed, a research fellow at the New Delhi-based Manohar Parikkar Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA), wrote in an article titled ‘Why Fewer Indians Have Joined ISIS’ that the apparent apathy of the Indian Muslims towards “impassioned exhortations for global jihad” of ISIS is not a recent and isolated instance.

“It can also be viewed as the community’s continuing rejection of the so-called global jihad, since the time it rose to prominence in the Afghanistan-Pakistan (Af-Pak) region four decades ago,” he wrote, adding, “One of the reasons for the non-existent mujahideen from India could be that unlike some West Asian states then, India never had disposable radicals at home, nor would it ever pursue a policy of conveniently banishing them to foreign war theatres.”…

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