The teaser of a movie titled ‘The Kerala Story’ is being widely shared on social media in which a burqa-clad woman recounts her past as a Hindu named Shalini Unnikrishnan who wanted to be a nurse. She then says that she is currently an ISIS terrorist lodged in an Afghanistan jail, and goes by the name Fatima Ba. Fatima also says that there are 32,000 girls like her who have been converted to Islam and sent to Syria and Yemen. “A dangerous game is on in Kerala to convert normal girls to dangerous terrorists, that too in front of everyone’s eyes,” she adds.
Many users shared the teaser saying/implying that it was the actual story of a woman from Kerala. Some used the hashtag #TrueStory.
Directed by Sudipto Sen and produced by Vipul Amrutlal Shah, ‘The Kerala Story’ claims to unearth the happenings behind 32,000 women who went missing in the state of Kerala.
Sharing the teaser of the movie, Sen tweeted, “Shalini, Geetanjali, Nimah &Asifa marked my lifeline since last 5yrs. Choking me till I tell their stories. Soon u’ll get to see a film which u never imagined, in ur remotest imagination. Thank u Ambikaji, @YaduVJkrishnan, @sunshinepicture & Vipul A Shah from bottom of my heart.” (Archive).
Shalini, Geetanjali, Nimah &Asifa marked my lifeline since last 5yrs. Choking me till I tell their stories. Soon u’ll get to see a film which u never imagined, in ur remotest imagination. Thank u Ambikaji, @YaduVJkrishnan, @sunshinepicture & Vipul A Shah from bottom of my heart pic.twitter.com/NmSltqzpf3
— Sudipto SEN (@sudiptoSENtlm) November 3, 2022
In a conversation with ANI published in ThePrint in March 2022, Sen further said, “As per a recent investigation, since 2009 – nearly 32,000 girls from Kerala and Mangalore from Hindu and Christian communities have been converted to Islam and most of them end up landing in Syria, Afghanistan, and other ISIS and Haqqani influential areas! Despite accepting these facts, the government is hardly contemplating any definitive action plan against such huge international conspiracies led by ISIS-influenced groups.”
The character of Fatima, seen in the teaser, is played by actress Adah Sharma. She also shared the viral clip with the hashtag #TrueStory.
Heart breaking and gut wrenching stories of 32000 females in Kerala!#ComingSoon#VipulAmrutlalShah @sudiptoSENtlm @adah_sharma @Aashin_A_Shah#SunshinePictures #TheKeralaStory #UpcomingMovie #TrueStory #AdahSharma pic.twitter.com/M6oROuGGSu
— Adah Sharma (@adah_sharma) November 3, 2022
Well before Sharma’s tweet, #ISIS and ‘The Kerala Story’ started trending on Twitter. Several news media outlets including OpIndia, Zee News, Film Companion, The Statesman, Outlook, Times of India and others reported on this. Many reports mentioned, “According to a recent investigation, since 2009, nearly 32,000 girls from the Hindu and Christian communities in Kerala and Mangalore have converted to Islam; the majority of them end up in Syria, Afghanistan, and other regions with a high concentration of ISIS and Haqqani influence”.
This teaser was tweeted by many verified handles as well. Panchjanya, the national weekly magazine published by the RSS, tweeted the teaser with the caption, “शालिनी से फातिमा बनी लड़की !! नर्स बनने वाली लड़की कैसे बन गयी ISIS की आतंकवादी !! फ़िल्म “The Kerala Story” 32 हजार महिलाओं की कहानी लेकर आ रही है जिसे जबरन मुस्लिम बनाकर ISIS का आतंकवादी बनाया गया !!”. (Archive)
शालिनी से फातिमा बनी लड़की !!
नर्स बनने वाली लड़की कैसे बन गयी ISIS की आतंकवादी !!
फ़िल्म “The Kerala Story” 32 हजार महिलाओं की कहानी लेकर आ रही है जिसे जबरन मुस्लिम बनाकर ISIS का आतंकवादी बनाया गया !! pic.twitter.com/hdFIqRx4NA
— Panchjanya (@epanchjanya) November 4, 2022
Journalist Abhijit Majumdar tweeted an OneIndia report of the teaser release and wrote, “32,000 girls converted to Islam and sold as ISIS slaves: This is ‘The Kerala Story’”. (Archive)
32,000 girls converted to Islam and sold as ISIS slaves: This is ‘The Kerala Story’. https://t.co/8sVWjYTpUI
— Abhijit Majumder (@abhijitmajumder) November 3, 2022
Entrepreneur Arun Pudur tweeted the video with the same caption. (Archive)
32,000 girls converted to #Islam, sold as #ISIS slaves and now in Jail or buried in sand: This is #TheKeralaStory pic.twitter.com/2Vk7G6iJtc
— Arun Pudur 🇮🇳 (@arunpudur) November 3, 2022
Journalist Tarek Fatah, a usual suspect when it comes to tweeting misinformation on communal lines, also tweeted the video with the caption, “32,000 #Hindu girls from #India were converted to #Islam, sold as #ISIS slaves and are now in Jail or buried in sand: This is their story, #TheKeralaStory”. (Archive)
32,000 #Hindu girls from #India were converted to #Islam, sold as #ISIS slaves and are now in Jail or buried in sand: This is their story, #TheKeralaStory.
Watch and weep. pic.twitter.com/MzVvdEF3Xm
— Tarek Fatah (@TarekFatah) November 3, 2022
Tweeting the video, author and freelance columnist Anshul Pandey wrote, “THE KERALA ISIS STORY COMING SOON!”. (Archive)
THE KERALA ISIS STORY COMING SOON! pic.twitter.com/2gcUFSGKcB
— Anshul Pandey (@Anshulspiritual) November 3, 2022
Other verified Twitter users who shared this clip or made the same claim include film journalist at Pinkvilla Himesh Mankad; film critique Joginder Tuteja; entertainment journalist Haricharan Pudipeddi; film trade analyst Sumit Kadel; the editor at Complete Cinema Atul Mohan; film correspondent Rajasekar; and actor Aroh Welankar.
No evidence to back 32,000-claim
Alt News found an interview of Sudipto Sen on YouTube channel ‘The Festival of Bharat’ where he talks about how he calculated the figure. From the 45-second mark onward, he says, “In 2010, former Kerala CM Oommen Chandy put a report in front of Kerala assembly. In front of my camera, he denied that anything had happened. But in 2010, I documented a case where he (Chandy) said that every year approximately 2,800 to 3,200 girls were taking up Islam. Just calculate it for the following 10 years, and the number is around 32,000.”
We spoke with Sen over phone to find out whether the claims made by social media users based on the figure 32,000 mentioned in the teaser had any factual basis. Sen said, “This figure (32,000) is not mine. It was a piece of news in The Times of India… one thing I can tell you is that Oommen Chandy, the chief minister of Kerala, had placed this number in the state assembly. So this is not my number, I have got all the documents with me.”
He also said, “VS Achuthanandan has categorically said Kerala will become an Islamic state…”.
Alt News could not find any report by any media outlet which said that 32,000 women from Kerala had joined the ISIS. The number is so large that had there been such a statement by a chief minister, it would certainly have made headlines.
We, however, found a 2012 India Today report which said, “On June 25, Kerala chief minister Oommen Chandy informed the state legislature that 2,667 young women converted to Islam in the state since 2006” (that is, from 2006 to 2012). There is no mention in the report of women joining the ISIS. The report added that Chandy had said there was no evidence for forced conversions in the state and the fears about love jihad were baseless. The New Indian Express also quoted Chandy and mentioned the same data. None of the reports talked about any annual figure cited by the former CM, as claimed by Sen.
When Alt News shared the India Today report with Sudipto Sen and requested him to share the said ‘TOI report’ or other sources that he might have, with us, Sen said over a WhatsApp message, “Let the intolerance reach a crescendo. I’ll share my data after the film is released. Why should I defeat the cause of my film?”
Achuthanandan’s remarks wrongly used in teaser
In the YouTube interview, Sen also says, “15-16 years ago, in 2005, CPM patriarch VS Achuthanandan, who was the chief minister at the time, came down to Delhi and had a press conference. He made a shocking revelation; he said that a sinister plan has been hatched by Islamic extremists led by ISIS that they want to convert Kerala into the hub of ISIS. For that, they are taking all sorts of means.”
Sen used a clip of the press conference in the first teaser of ‘The Kerala Story’ released in March 2022. When we dug into the reported statements made by the Leftist leader, we found two things —
- The press conference had actually taken place on July 24, 2010. Achuthanandan had spoken about the Popular Front of India (PFI), and his comments created much controversy.
- The clip that has been used in the teaser is misleading because the words spoken by Achuthanandan and the subtitle used in it are completely different. The actual words can be translated as “Independence Day on August 15…when nationalists and patriots take part in celebrations.. Youngsters are influenced.. lured with money…”, while the subtitle in ‘The Kerala Story’ promo reads, “The Popular Front is trying to make Kerala a Muslim state just like the agenda of the banned organization NDF. Their plan is to make Kerala a Muslim state within 20 years.”
Some viewers had, in fact, pointed out in the comments section that the subtitles and the spoken words did not match. So, it is evident that the filmmaker has misquoted both Oommen Chandy and VS Achuthanandan to give his take on the state of affairs in Kerala an air of credibility.
We found other users as well who pointed out the same.
However, the readers should note that VS Achuthanandan did speak about ‘love jihad’. TOI quoted the Left leader as saying, “PFI was trying to multiply Muslim numbers in the state “by influencing youth of other religions and converting them by giving money, marrying them to Muslim women and thus producing kids of the community.” The Congress criticized the comments as part of the Left’s plans to appease the majority community. Interestingly, among those reacting sharply to the CM’s comments was Oommen Chandy (who was an Opposition leader at the time). Achuthanandan later reiterated his stand in the state assembly and clarified that his remark against the PFI was being ‘misinterpreted’ as directed against the entire Muslim community.
2018 film, too, talked about 32,000 conversions
In 2018, Sen made a 52-minute documentary titled ‘In the Name of Love!‘. In the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), the plot reads, “As per a recent report, since 2009 – more than 17 thousand girls from Kerala and more 15 thousand girls from Mangalore from Hindu and Christian communities has been converted to Islam and most of them ended up landing in Syria, Afghanistan, and other ISIS and Taliban influential areas.” (sic) Interestingly, the figure 32,000 (17000+15000) shows up here as well. A screening of the film at JNU had resulted in a scuffle between two groups of students.
Alt News requested the filmmaker to share with us the ‘recent report’ mentioned in the synopsis of the film and other evidence which corroborate the numbers mentioned. The article will be updated as and when he responds to our query.
After the chaos at JNU over the screening of his film, Sen claimed that his film was not about Love Jihad. TOI reported that some crew members of the film had, however, refuted him.
In a statement to ThePrint, Sen said, “First of all, let me clarify that I do not belong to the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) or the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). I come from a Communist family and do not believe in ‘love jihad’, a concept which is even being propagated by the likes of UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath. And this is exactly what I wanted to show through my film”.
However, 19.48-minute mark onward in the YouTube interview mentioned above, Sen says, “Now I am making a feature film… on the subject of Love Jihad; how these girls (are) being converted. It’s a huge sinister plan…”
Available data on Indian-origin fighters affiliated with ISIS
Alt News reached out to Kerala Police. A public relation officer speaking to us labelled the claim made in the teaser of ‘The Kerala Story’ — that 32,000 women from Kerala have been trafficked to Syria — as ‘totally baseless’.
As per the United States Department of State’s Country Reports on Terrorism 2020 there were 66 known Indian-origin fighters affiliated with ISIS as of November, 2020. A number of mainstream media houses, including The Hindustan Times and The Indian Express, had covered the publication of the report and mentioned the number 66 in their headlines. The same report said, “Through the end of September, the NIA had investigated 34 terrorism cases it indicated were related to ISIS and arrested 160 persons.”
The Hindu reported in June 2021 that four Indian women were lodged in an Afghanistan prison, who had accompanied their husbands to join the Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP), and they were unlikely to be allowed to return to the country.
The Week reported that the four women, believed to be Sonia Sebastian alias Ayisha, Raffeala, Merrin Jacob alias Mariyam and Nimisha alias Fathima Isa, had traveled to Nangarhar in Afghanistan between 2016 and 2018.
The Observer Research Foundation, a prominent think tank, in 2019 published a document titled ‘The Islamic State in India’s Kerala: A primer‘. A section in the paper titled ‘Why IS and Kerala?’ says, “The number of pro-IS cases reported in India from 2014 to 2018 is between 180 – 200. This paper defines ‘pro-IS cases’ to include sharing or propagating IS propaganda online, attempting to travel to West Asia with the aim of joining the caliphate, and in fact joining the caliphate or working for its goals. The Indian Home Ministry puts the number at 155.”
One of the authors of the paper — Mohammed Sinan Siyech — told Alt News, “There are many problems with the figure of 32000 women joining the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria from India. The total number of people who joined ISIS from the whole world numbers up to 40 000 foreign fighters from 110 countries. (source: The Soufan Group Report titled ‘Beyond the Caliphate, 2017’). The largest contributors were the EU, Russia, and Saudi Arabia. India barely features in the list. According to Indian government figures, not more than a total of 100 – 200 joined the group from India. Keralites make up around 20- 25% of these figures. (source: ‘The ISIS phenomenon: South Asia and beyond’ – an ORF report).”
Siyech added, “There is no mention of any figures from any source that would show that more than 200 people joined ISIS from India. In fact, this number is so small that most academics and experts often ask the question ‘What had prevented Indian Muslims from joining the Islamic State?”
To sum it up, Alt News found that Sudipto Sen, the director of ‘The Kerala Story’, has repeatedly claimed that 32,000 women have joined ISIS either from India or just Kerala, and mentioned this in his film, without any evidence to back the claim. Data available in the public domain suggests that the number of ‘Indian-origin fighters affiliated with ISIS’ is far less than that.
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