Church in Kerala screens ‘The Kerala Story’ for minors to counter ‘Love Jihad’

The Cinematograph Act and the amended Information and Technology Act has restrictions on screening adult rated films but the the Idukki Diocese of the Syro Malabar Church in Kerala screened the movie to school children.
Protagonists of The Kerala Story
Protagonists of The Kerala Story
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The Kerala Story received an ‘A’ certificate by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) for the nature of its content, when it was released after 10 cuts in May 2023. But the Idukki Diocese of the Syro Malabar Church in Kerala, which had been continuously running campaigns against ‘Love Jihad’, thought it was fit to screen the film, available on OTT platform, to children from classes 10 to 12 as part of their Sunday School training programme. The screenings were held in the first week of April.

The Cinematograph Act specifically prohibits the screening of 'A' rated films to anyone aged between four and seventeen. A penalty could be imposed if any person exhibits or permits to be exhibited in any place “Any film, which has been certified by the Board as suitable for public exhibition restricted to adults, to any person who is not an adult.” 

Fr Jins Karakkat, chairman of the Idukki Diocese Media Commission, told TNM that no religion has been specifically attributed to love jihad and that the film was screened as part of a training programme for Sunday school students, held every year. “We select a theme for the programme each year. We selected this year’s theme as love because a lot of teenagers are falling in the trap of love. The screening of the film was held as part of this. We had prepared the syllabus months before the controversy of Doordarshan telecasting the film broke out." 

While the applicability of the 1952 Act is a grey area as far as OTT platforms are concerned, an amendment in the Information and Technology Act, 2000 states that OTT platforms and applications should provide parental locks for Adult content. This is to ensure that children do not access such content under the restricted category.  

"There is no specific prohibition in the Cinematograph Act or the IT Rules on what category of content parents can show children in the privacy of their home. Streaming platforms are only required to make sure that parental controls are available. However, the moment you connect the laptop to a projector to a public audience, that becomes a public exhibition," said Aroon Deep, a journalist with The Hindu, who has covered issues related to film censorship.

‘Christian girls trapped in love jihad’

The diocese also distributed booklets on ‘love jihad’ to these students. ‘Love jihad’ refers to a bogus claim made by the Hindu right wing that Muslim men are ‘luring’ Hindu women into marriages to convert them to Islam.

The booklet lists out a few activities for the students to take part in. One of them is to review the movie after watching it. “Unlike how you see other movies, you should watch The Kerala Story with utmost attention and information that we have learnt in the past. After the screening, you should discuss it in groups and write a review,” the booklet reads.

Another activity was to read an essay on love jihad, which claims that girls from the Christian community are lured by well-to-do young men by gifting mobile phones, dresses and offering to pay school and college fees. “How can our girls reject such youth who can do so much for them when they are just ‘lovers.’ If the man is attractive and soft-spoken, some of our girls get trapped without the option to say no,” the booklet claims.

Read: Doordarshan to air propaganda film The Kerala Story, Pinarayi Vijayan condemns move

Fr Jins said that The Kerala Story was not banned in the country and hence it was not wrong to screen the movie. When asked about the exaggerated claims made by the filmmakers that 32,000 girls from Kerala have been radicalised, Karakkat said the movie screening was aimed only at the issue of teenagers losing their way in relationships. “We have not linked any religion or belief. The only issue is about love and we asked students to discuss it after watching the film,” Karakkat added.

Fr Paul Thelakat, former spokesperson of Syro Malabar Church, said that the Idukki diocese should have approached the issue in a responsible way. “The Kerala Story is a propoganda story. The Idukki diocese’s action shows a lack of understanding of the political and cultural atmosphere in the state and the country. Priests should not sow seeds of divisiveness or teach hate against any religion. Despite the Kerala police and central agencies like NIA stating that there is no such phenomenon as love jihad, Christian leaders have spoken about it in many situations. We should realise that there is a Union government in the country, and see the situation in other states such as Manipur,” he added.

Read: ‘Chrisanghis’: The rise of the Christian right in Kerala  

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