In India, the broadcast of a film on “love jihad” fuels interreligious tensions

In India, the broadcast of a film on “love jihad” fuels interreligious tensions

► Why the film The Kerala Story Is (Kerala History) controversial?

When it was released on the big screen in May 2023, this feature film by Indian director Sudipto Sen had already sparked significant controversy. Its broadcast at the beginning of April on public television in Kerala, a state in southwest India, long renowned for its peaceful interreligious cohabitation although today affected by a resurgence of tensions, reopened the debate on the eve decisive legislative elections (1) for the future of the subcontinent.

Seeking to blur the boundaries between fiction and reality, The Kerala Story depicts the conversion to Islam and the indoctrination of two Hindu women and a Christian, nursing students seduced by Muslim extremists. Radicalization goes far, to the point of enlistment in the ranks of Daesh in the Middle East. Certain tendentious statements support the images: “There are thousands of women like me who have been kidnapped, and no one knows it. It's a global plan: (the extremists, Editor’s note) want to make Kerala an Islamic state”we can thus hear.

Where the problem still lies for local Muslim communities is that the film claims, according to its director, to be inspired by ” real facts “ – according to which 32,000 women from Kerala were recruited by Daesh. A figure which appears very largely extrapolated in view of other data provided in particular by an Indian research center, which says it has identified “four women” only from this state in the ranks of jihadists in 2020.

► How does this film seek to credit the theory of “love jihad”used by Hindu nationalists, to stigmatize Muslims?

There ” assignment “ of this film is “to reach the masses across the world to raise awareness”declared Sudipto Sen at the time of his exit, inviting the parties to ” to use “ this feature film “for their political purposes”. In fact, the theme of the film reinforces a myth fomented by Hindu nationalists: that of “love jihad” (“love jihad”), a theory according to which Muslims seduce Hindu or Christian women solely to convert them.

To prevent this so-called phenomenon, eleven states governed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a right-wing Hindu nationalist party under the aegis of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in power since 2014, have voted in recent years for “anti-conversion laws”. Among other practices, the latter criminalize conversions through marriage. They are part of a broader campaign of denigration and repression of Muslim minorities, particularly exposed to pressure from fundamentalists, and Christians.

► How does it rekindle intercommunity tensions within Indian society, on the eve of decisive elections?

Before the legislative elections, the debate became still largely politicized, in a climate of great polarization in Indian society. While visiting the neighboring state of Karnataka, Narendra Modi mentioned this film, saying that the people needed his party to protect themselves from this “new form of terrorism”. “It is claimed that The Kerala Story presents the history of Kerala. Where did such an incident occur in our state? They are just throwing smoke and mirrors with this film to defame the State,” the communist Pinarayi Vijayan, head of the state executive, reacted in mid-April in the local press.

In fact, the broadcast, a few days earlier, of the feature film on a public channel further deepened intercommunity – and even interfaith – divisions. Recently, the decision of the Syro-Malabar Church of the diocese of Idukki (a district of Kerala) to screen it in front of catechism students, even though the Catholic Church had greatly criticized the release of this film by assimilating it has a “propaganda tool” of the nationalist right, bears witness to this. “Tensions between Christians and Muslims are rising, there are more and more controversies in Kerala,” regrets a priest from the south of the country. Not without exhorting the faithful not to give in to temptation “hatred towards other religions” in a conflict that he judges “largely exploited and manipulated by the BJP”.

(1) From April 19 to June 1

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