BJP leader K Surendran | Photo: Mathrubhumi
Kozhikode/Thiruvananthapuram: The political storm kicked up in Kerala by the controversial film 'The Kerala Story' continued to blow in the state, with the BJP claiming that recruitment into the Islamic State (IS) terror outfit from the southern state cannot be denied and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan was aware of the exact figures.
While the political debate raged in the state over the factual basis of the movie and whether its content could be justified by invoking the right of freedom of expression, it also kicked off a "cash for proof" game, with varying amounts being offered as reward for providing evidence of women who converted and joined the Islamic State from Kerala as claimed in the film.
As the BJP came out in support of the controversial film, senior Congress leader and Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor said that Keralites had the right to say loud and clear that the movie was a "misrepresentation of our reality".
Tharoor tweeted, "Let me stress, I am not calling for a ban on the film. Freedom of expression does not cease to be valuable just because it can be misused. But Keralites have every right to say loud & clear that this is a misrepresentation of our reality."
Sharing a poster of the movie, Tharoor had tweeted on Sunday, "It may be 'your' Kerala story. It is not 'our' Kerala story."
'The Kerala Story', starring Adah Sharma, is set to be released in cinemas on May 5. Written and directed by Sudipto Sen, the film is portrayed as "unearthing" the events behind "approximately 32,000 women" allegedly going missing from Kerala.
According to the CPI(M) and the Congress in Kerala, the film falsely claims that the women got converted, radicalised and were deployed in terror missions in India and the world.
A day after Vijayan slammed the film's makers for carrying forward the agenda of the Sangh Parivar to project Kerala as a centre of religious extremism and to spread hate propaganda against the state, BJP state president K Surendran on Monday claimed that the presence of IS in the southern state could not be denied.
"IS has a very strong presence in Kerala... You cannot deny the IS recruitment from the state," the BJP leader claimed, adding that if the figures cited in the film were the bone of contention, then that could be discussed.
"The Chief Minister knows the exact figures of IS recruitment," he said, speaking to reporters in Kozhikode.
The BJP leader contended that if IS and terrorism did not have a presence in the state then why would a man come from Uttar Pradesh to Kerala to set a train on fire. He was referring to the recent incident in which a passenger on a train in Kerala poured petrol on three others and set fire to them, and sought to draw a link to IS terrorism.
"Films are not always completely based on facts. Treat the movie as one. Watch it first. Why the urgency to stop its screening? Why scared of it? Why so much agitation? Those who do not want to see it, need not," Surendran said.
He sought to compare the fictional film -- which the filmmakers claim is based on the story of a girl who in reality was forced to convert to Islam and was taken to Syria to join IS -- with the BBC Documentary on the 2002 Gujarat riots, and asked why the reception to the two by the Kerala government was so different.
"The BBC documentary (on the 2002 riots in Gujarat) was shown across Kerala by DYFI by booking halls. Then why block 'The Kerala Story'?" he asked.
He also asked if the law was different for the film ‘Eesho’ and the play ‘Kakkukali’ (which are accused of being anti-church) and ‘The Kerala Story’.
Vijayan, on Sunday, had accused the Sangh Parivar of trying to destroy religious harmony in the state by "sowing the poisonous seeds of communalism".
In response to this, Surendran said there was "no Sangh Parivar agenda in this film".
"We did not sponsor this film. We have other ways and means to air our views," he said.
Meanwhile, cash prizes have been sponsored by many, such as the Muslim Youth League, for any evidence of the claims made in the film that 32,000 women in Kerala converted to Islam and joined IS.
The youth wing of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) on Monday announced a massive reward of Rs one crore for proof of women who converted and then joined IS.
The reward was announced by P K Firos, general secretary of the Muslim Youth League, who said that the proof could be submitted at the district centres of the organisation to get Rs one crore without a hassle.
Tharoor tagged a poster of the reward announcement on his Twitter handle and said that it was an opportunity for those hyping the alleged conversions of 32,000 women in Kerala to Islam to prove their case and make some money.
"Will they be up to the challenge or is there simply no proof because none exists?" the MP from Thiruvananthapuram asked, using the hashtag 'Not Our Kerala Story'.
Besides the Muslim Youth League, an actor-cum-lawyer has also offered monetary reward for evidence that women were converted to Islam and taken to IS. C Shukkur, known for his role as a lawyer in the Kunchacko Boban starrer 'Nna Thaan Case Kodu' (Sue me then) and also for remarrying his wife under the Special Marriage Act (SMA), said there was no need to even show proof of 32,000 women -- as claimed in the movie -- who converted and joined IS, "Just 32 is enough," he said, seeking evidence.
Shukkur, in a Facebook post, said, "I am offering 11 lakh rupees to those who publish information such as names and addresses of women who were converted to Islam and became members of the Islamic State. "No need to produce proof for 32,000 women, just 32 is enough," he said.
In a strange twist, a right-wing activist and founder of the Hindu Seva Kendra Pratheesh Viswanath has also offered Rs 10 crore. To prove the opposite: that no one from Kerala has gone to Syria to join IS.
"To all those fake liberals & vote bank politicians who still believe Kerala Story is a Myth, here is a golden opportunity for you...Rs 10 crore will be given to those who prove that no one from Kerala has gone to Syria to join ISIS. Open Challenge!!!" he tweeted.
A few days ago, both the ruling CPI(M) in Kerala and the opposition Congress had hit out at 'The Kerala Story', saying freedom of expression was not a licence to spew venom in society, and that the film was an attempt to destroy the communal harmony of the state.
The Congress had urged the government not to give permission to screen the controversial movie as it aimed to create "communal divisions in society through false claims".
Following that, the BJP accused the ruling CPI(M) in Kerala of having "double standards" on the issue of freedom of speech and expression.