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Indian Catholics slam diocese for screening anti-Muslim movie

'The Kerala Story' is about 'Love Jihad,' a derogatory term about Muslim boys feigning love to marry and convert Christian, Hindu girls
A Muslim couple drives past a movie theatre screening 'The Kerala Story' in Mumbai on May 10, 2023

A Muslim couple drives past a movie theatre screening 'The Kerala Story' in Mumbai on May 10, 2023. (Photo: AFP)

Published: April 11, 2024 07:10 AM GMT
Updated: April 11, 2024 09:12 AM GMT

A group of Catholics in India have condemned a diocese for screening a purportedly anti-Muslim film for youths just before the general election, but a Catholic youth group said it plans to screen the film in three more dioceses.

In an April 9 statement, the film's opponents said they condemned the “insensitive and unchristian act” of Idukki diocese in screening the movie, The Kerala Story, which they said was a propaganda movie that pro-Hindu groups created to spread hate against Muslims.

The movie is a propaganda film "created to further the pro-Hindu narrative which is to destroy the secular nature of our country," said the statement signed by Christian leaders, including Catholic priests and nuns.

The diocese, under the Kerala-based Syro-Malabar Church, says that it screened the Hindi-language movie for teenage students as part of a catechism program, aimed at raising awareness about the hidden dangers of falling in love.

The diocesan officials say the program was scheduled seven months back and has no political links. But critics accuse the Church hierarchy of supporting the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which wants to sideline Muslims.

As the controversy gained political tones, a prominent youth group in the state, the Kerala Catholic Youth Movement (KCYM), said its units in three other Kerala dioceses —  Pala, Thamarassery, and Thalassery — have decided to screen the movie for youth groups from April 13 onward.

In addition to the three diocese, the “movie will be screened once again in Idukki for youths. The earlier screening was meant only for Catechism students, so other youths missed out on watching it,” Richald John, the youth group’s president of the Thamarassery chapter, told the media on April 9.

The Hindi language movie discusses “Love Jihad,” a term used to describe Muslim boys feigning love to marry Christian and Hindu girls to convert them to Islam. The movie claims some such Kerala girls were taken out of India and forced to join Islamic terrorist groups.

The movie is "replete with lies, factual inaccuracies and half-truths," the film's opponents said. Its director retracted his earlier claim that 32,000 girls embraced Islam and reduced the number to just three, their statement said.

The opponents, mostly based outside Kerala, wanted Church authorities to promote inter-religious harmony as India goes to the polls this month. 

Modi, whose party gets support from Hindu groups accused of supporting violence against Christians and Muslims, is seeking a third consecutive term in office.

The decision to screen the movie has sown the “seeds of hatred, intolerance, and prejudice among children,” the film's opponents said.

By screening such a film, the Church is instilling discriminatory attitudes towards other faiths, the letter said.

They warned that “such actions can have adverse effects on future generations and society.” 

"The central film board certified the movie for adults only so how could the film ever be shown to children?" the opponents said.

Father Jins Karackatt, director of the Idukki Diocesan Media Commission, said they screened the movie to "highlight the dangers involved in different forms of love.”

Father Suresh Mathew, a former editor of Indian Currents,  a Catholic news magazine and a signatory to the letter, said the screening was "a confession that their faith formation is inadequate."

"It also shows that they need the support of Goebbelsian lies to communicate values to their students,” he told UCA News on April 10.

The movie became controversial as it is seen as a tool to garner votes for the BJP, spreading fear of and hatred against Muslims. 

The BJP has yet to win any of Kerala's 20 seats in the national parliament, and it is banking on Christians to open its account. Christian leaders in Kerala have not openly opposed the BJP.

However, Christian leaders outside Kerala say Hindu violence against their people has increased since Modi came to power in 2014.

The New Delhi-based United Christian Forum, an ecumenical body that records persecution against Christians, said such persecution increased sharply from “147 incidents in 2014 to 731 in 2023.”

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