Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Kerala: Church justifies screening of Adult film ‘The Kerala Story’ for minors; reignites Islamophobic bogey ‘Love Jihad’

Protests surrounding the Hindutva propaganda movie, ‘The Kerala Story’, resurfaced after the movie was screened by a church, which also organized a class on one of its Islamophobic themes, ‘Love Jihad’, for teenagers. The Idukki diocese of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church in Kerala directed the participants of their annual summer program, the ‘Festival of Faith’ to write a review on The Kerala Story after being made to watch it.

The screening took place amidst criticism by the ruling party and opposition against autonomous public service broadcaster Doordarshan for premiering the film during the election.

The movie was screened on April 4 for catechism class students belonging to the age group of 15, 16, and 17. A textbook prepared for the program and distributed to the participants had contents on ‘Love Jihad’, the Islamophobic bogey propagated by the Sangh Parivar, alleging Muslim men deceive Hindu and Christian women into relationships, leading to conversion to Islam.

The Fraternity Movement of Kerala has filed a complaint with the Child Rights Commission of Kerala regarding the screening of the ‘A’-certified movie for minors. Following in the footsteps of the Idukki Diocese, the Thamarassery Diocese also announced a screening of the movie before they retracted from the plan following public outrage.

Defying the Thalassery Diocese, the Kerala Catholic Youth Movement (KCYM) screened the movie in Kannur on April 9.

Speaking to Maktoob, Idukki Diocese Media Commission Chairman Fr. Jince Karakkatt said, “Every year we organize activities for catechism students participating in the summer camp as part of intensive religious training. This year the camp held on April 2nd, 3rd and 4th chose the topic ‘Love’ and screened the ‘The Kerala Story’ to make the children aware of the perils lurking behind the love relationships.”

When asked why the controversial movie was chosen, Karakkatt replied, “To convince children about the dangers of fake relationships in a visually appealing way, we chose Kerala Story which is not banned.”

In the wake of the screening, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan stated, “They say it is a story about Kerala. Where in Kerala did such incidents happen? Blatant lies mixed with fiction have been presented to tarnish the image of the state.”

Church defends screening

Responding to it, Karakkatt said, “What is the reason for people including the Chief Minister to challenge us to tell us that what is portrayed in the movie ‘Kerala Story’ is not reflective of what is happening in Kerala? Because they are confident that no girl and family would come forward to counter them since it would affect their reputation”.

Karakkatt added, “There is nothing wrong with the movie and we don’t have any criticism against it”.

Karakkat told Maktoob that the study material was distributed to educate children on the love traps. He added, “There was a preparatory committee and the curriculum was prepared 7 months ago and it got printed 2 months ago. We have made the textbook available to every child of the diocese”.

He informed Maktoob that approximately 10,000 students are falling under the age group in the diocese.

The study material which has an activity numbered 2 titled ‘Love Jihad’ has made a lie that Vigilance Anti Corruption Bureau, an agency meant to quell corruption, has found out in 2016 that 5,595 young women were taken as spouses by terror outfits for a hefty sum of money.

Responding to the question by the reporter on the veracity of the alleged report by the Vigilance mentioned in the study material, Karakkatt claimed, “If we’re talking about evidence, there are hundreds and thousands of pieces of evidence. However, the question isn’t whether the Vigilance obtained it or not. The people living in this area know the reality. The public knows who all had gone to join terror organisations. The public knows where the missing girls went and where their husbands were killed. The public knows the country they’re living in. We know who went missing from our community.”

When contested, Karakkatt refused to share any evidence for his claims.

Activity 2 also says, “Investigation by former Director General of Police, Jacob Punoose found that common Muslim believers did not have an organized movement called love jihad. But there is love jihad, a militant community which even terrorizes the believers of Islam”.

However, the investigation conducted by Punoose dismissed the theory of Love Jihad. Following a directive from the Kerala High Court in 2009, Punoose’s investigation found no evidence of Muslim boys conspiring to feign love with Hindu or Christian girls for conversion purposes. In 2017, then Kerala DGP Loknath Behra stated that the police didn’t possess any data confirming the prevalence of so-called love jihad in Kerala. In 2018, The National Investigation Agency (NIA), while examining interfaith marriages in Kerala, reported no evidence indicating coercion of women and men into marriage and conversion to Islam.

In parliament Junior Home Minister G Kishan Reddy stated in 2020 that the term ‘Love Jihad’ is not defined under current laws, and central agencies have not reported any cases of Love Jihad. When asked by the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) to investigate a complaint from the Syro-Malabar Church in 2020, the Kerala Police report also dismissed allegations of love jihad.

Furthermore, the textbook has half-truth content saying that “Former Chief Minister of Kerala Oommen Chandy informed the State Assembly that between 2008 and 2011, 7,795 conversions took place in the name of marriage”. However, the textbook failed to specify that this figure represents the total number of conversions, regardless of whether they were to Islam. The government report also has not mentioned that these conversions were forced.

“Why are you solely focusing on the title? When we create titles, we aim for something attention-grabbing to attract people. Look at the content. We have only stated that women are exploited by feigning love for various purposes, including recruitment for terrorist activities, and this is a love trap,” Karakkatt stated.

The textbook also warns Christian girls that young men will befriend them and deceive them by giving them everything they need including school and college fees, phone, and dress. When asked if the diocese generally encourages inter-faith marriages, Karakkatt replied, “We don’t support them!”

When Maktoob contacted LDF’s Lok Sabha candidate for the Idukki constituency, Joice George, and the incumbent MP, Congress candidate Dean Kuriakose, both declined to comment, citing the upcoming election.

“RSS influence”

Communist Party of India (Marxist) Politburo member MA Baby told Maktoob, “Kerala stands as a model of communal harmony. Yesterday, a church in Kerala opened its compound for Muslims to offer Eid prayers. The polarization between communities is solely fueled by the Brahmanic project of RSS. Despite Hindus constituting the majority in Kerala, the Christian and Muslim minorities hold significant importance in the state. Recognizing that without appealing to a portion of the minority population, political activism in a state like Kerala would be dim. So RSS resorted to communal engineering. BJP, as part of this strategy, incites hatred against Muslims and deceives other minorities to garner their support.

Baby said that it is part of the RSS project to deceive certain minority community leaders with propaganda like Love Jihad.

“RSS holds animosity towards every minority community. But it opportunistically aligns with certain minority groups to marginalize others, ultimately endangering the existence of all minority communities.”

Regrettably, some churches have succumbed to the hate propagated by the RSS against Muslims. Such actions will only fuel hostility towards Muslims, subjecting them to constant suspicion and communal division between religions,’ Muslim Youth League Kerala General Secretary, P.K. Firos, told Maktoob.

“Even during Modi’s tenure, the NIA failed to find evidence supporting the existence of Love Jihad. The Youth League had even offered a reward of 1 crore rupees to anyone who could provide evidence to substantiate that individuals were recruited into terrorist organizations after converting through marriage. Despite the challenge, neither the Sangh Parivar nor the Church has stepped forward.”

Critiquing the Islamophobia prevalent within the Christian community of Kerala, George Mundakayyam, a state council member of the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), told Maktoob, “The Islamophobia within the Christian community of Kerala is primarily seen among the Syro Malabar Catholic believers. This affluent landowning community perceives themselves as the Savarnas of the Christian community, asserting their lineage as descendants of Brahmins who converted to Christianity under the influence of St. Thomas. The dioceses that supported the screening, including Idukki, Thalassery, and Thamarassery, belong to this community. There is a significant influence of the Sangh Parivar within this community. The church supports the BJP’s interests in exchange for ensuring that agencies do not intervene in corruption charges against the churches.”

Christian leaders from across India have signed a “Statement of Concerned Catholics regarding the screening of the ‘Kerala Story’ by the Diocese of Idukki”.

The letter said they are “strongly condemning this insensitive and unchristian act of the Diocese of Idukki, earnestly urge all Church authorities to do all they can to promote interreligious, dialogue, reconciliation, fraternity, harmony and peace, remembering that our
future as a country is at stake!”

“The Right-wing Christian Association and Alliance for Social Action (CASA) is one of the primary groups spreading Islamophobic content, which I believe to be a creation of the BJP. This made Christians fall to the Islamophobia and ideas of RSS. Moreover, the Christian community of Kerala have only stood with the people in power. Be it British during the colonial period, Congress during the emergency period or Narendra Modi after 2014.”

“The ruling parties in Idukki and Kottayam rely on votes from the Syro-Malabar community. This explains why CPI(M) state minister V.N. Vasavan visited and praised Pala Bishop Joseph Kallarangatt of Syro-Malabar, following the bishop’s controversial speech on ‘narcotics and love jihad’, which targeted Muslims. Additionally, Kerala Congress (M) chairman Jose K. Mani, an ally of CPI(M), demanded to address the issue of Love Jihad. Moreover, the government has not taken action against the communal narrative brought up by Christians against Muslims in Poonjar and Amal Jyothi College incident,” he added.

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