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Kerala: Church Screens ‘The Kerala Story’ for Students; Gives Textbook on ‘Love Jihad’

In Kerala, the Idukki diocese of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church screened the contentious propaganda movie directed by Sudipto Sen, The Kerala Story.

As part of their annual summer program, the ‘Festival of Faith’, the Idukki Diocese directed catechism class students aged 15, 16, and 17 to watch Kerala Story and write a review.

A textbook distributed by the diocese for the children participating in the three-day program, which took place on April 2nd, 3rd, and 4th, also included a photo of the film poster with a blank space for the review to be written. The textbook also contains content on “Love Jihad,” a Hindutva-made theory propagated by the Sangh Parivar, alleging that non-Muslim women are deceived by Muslim men pretending to love them and later converted to Islam for recruitment into Islamic terrorist organisations, sex trafficking, and for altering the demographic composition.

Speaking to The Observer Post, Idukki Diocese Media Commission Chairman Fr. Jince Karakkatt said, “The subject of the textbook distributed during the three-day intensive religious class was on ‘Love’. Through awareness, we taught children about the perils hiding behind love affairs. As part of this, we asked students of grades 10, 11, and 12 to watch ‘The Kerala Story’ and write a review. We instructed every student falling under the above-mentioned age group in the diocese to do so.”

He replied ‘10,000 students’ to the question of how many students belong to the target group of the program.

Justifying the screening, Fr. Jince added, “There is Love Jihad in Kerala, and to convince children about its dangers in a visually appealing way, we chose Kerala Story which is not a banned movie.”

“We believe that there is no harm in asking students to watch the movie. Political parties have their reasons to criticize the movie, and they might have some gains. We don’t know about the political arguments made against the movie,” Fr. Jince recounted.

The reporter obtained visuals of the textbook from the video report published on April 6 by Shekinah Television, a Kerala-based right-wing Christian online channel praising the initiative of the Idukki Diocese. Yesterday in the channel discussion on Shekinah, Fr. Scott Sleeba Pulimuden of Syro-Malankara Catholic Church was seen quoting former Kerala Chief Minister V.S Achuthandan’s statement and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Aditiyanath’s statement to substantiate the claims made by the movie Kerala Story.

When asked about the reason behind naming Activity 2 as ‘Love Jihad’, Fr. Jince replied, “By ‘Love Jihad’, journalists mean that girls are deceived and abducted in the name of love by people belonging to Islam community. In our textbook, we have only mentioned that girls are deceived and recruited to terrorist organizations. We did not criticize Muslims or accuse any religion for it.”

Fr. Jince didn’t answer the question of why the term Jihad was used in the textbook if they were not accusing the Muslim community.

The task asking students to write the review, ‘Activity 3’ in the textbook, which features a photo of “The Kerala Story” poster, says, “Friends, shall we see a movie? Instead of watching this movie like you watch others, pay attention and watch this movie in the light of the knowledge we have seen so far. After watching the film, you should discuss, evaluate, and prepare a review of the film.”

The textbook also falsely claims that, according to an investigation by the State Vigilance Anti-Corruption Bureau in 2016, 5595 women from Kerala were found to have been taken by their husbands to join terrorist organizations, with a hefty amount of money involved. Furthermore, it falsely claims that between 2008 and 2011, the Oommen Chandy government submitted a report to the state assembly stating that 7795 women were converted to Islam.

Fr. Jince told the reporter that students were able to understand the message, and it was well conveyed through the activities. Fr. Jince added, “None of the students have given negative remarks about our activities, including the movie.”

Initially, the Kerala Story claimed that 32,000 women from Kerala were forcefully converted to Islam by Muslim fundamentalists. Later, the filmmakers retracted and reduced the count to a mere 3. When asked whether the movie is not a propaganda film of Hindutva filled with misinformation, Fr. Jince didn’t answer.

CPI(M) state secretary M V Govindan said that individuals cannot be prevented from watching the movie, in reaction to the Idukki diocese’s action. Meanwhile, opposition leader VD Satheeshan stated that the movie was made to defame the state. BJP leader Sandeep Warrier appreciated Idukki Diocese for screening the movie.

Former Metropolitan of the Niranam Diocese of the Jacobite Syrian Christian Church, Dr. Geevarghese Mar Coorilose told The Observer Post, “ Love Jihad is a baseless allegation, and the Kerala government and state police have clearly dismissed it. This conspiracy, which targets the Muslim community, should be seen as politics of hate, suspicion, and revenge. When the Idukki Diocese claims that “The Kerala Story”, based on these hate politics and fake claims, was part of an awareness program, it is condemnable, unfortunate, and worthy of protest”.

Kerala Police had dismissed allegations of love jihad when asked by the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) to investigate the complaint received from the Syro-Malabar Church in 2020. The police report by Kerala state police forwarded to NCM stated that after a detailed enquiry, it found the girls were majors who decided to marry willingly without any kind of force or manipulation.

Criticism of the Idukki Diocese came from George Mundakayyam, state council member of the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), who said, “Despite ‘Bunch of Thoughts’ by RSS ideologue MS Golwalkar has mentioned Christians as one of the three internal threats along with Muslims and communists, the dioceses have allied with the Sangh Parivar. A good number of Christian priests have been victims of the anti-conversion law in Sangh Parivar-governed states. But the religious institutions, which have amassed a lot of wealth with the help of ruling powers, continue to stand by the fascists.”

Days before, criticisms erupted from both the ruling party and opposition in Kerala when Doordarshan announced the telecast of “The Kerala Story” on April 5th. Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had dismissed Kerala Story as a product of the Sangh Parivar’s “lie factory”.

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