Mahatma Gandhi was a staunch advocate of communal harmony and Hindu-Muslim Unity. However, acutely conscious of the important difference between the approaches of Muslims as opposed to Hindus, he had come clean and appealed to Hindus to shun cowardice. In one of his very rare blunt messages, he famously stated: "There is no doubt in my mind that in the majority of quarrels, the Hindus come out second best. But my own experience confirms the opinion that the Mussalman as a rule is a bully, and the Hindu as a rule is a coward. I have noticed this in railway trains, on public roads, and in the quarrels which I had the privilege of settling. Need the Hindu blame the Mussalman for his cowardice? Where there are cowards, there will always be bullies. They say that in Saharanpur the Mussalmans looted houses, broke open safes and, in one case, a Hindu woman's modesty was outraged. Whose fault was this? Mussalmans can offer no defence for the execrable conduct, it is true. But I, as a Hindu, am more ashamed of Hindu cowardice than I am angry at the Mussalman bullying. Why did not the owners of the houses looted die in the attempt to defend their possessions? Where were the relatives of the outraged sister at the time of the outrage? Have they no account to render of themselves? My non-violence does not admit of running away from danger and leaving dear ones unprotected. Between violence and cowardly flight, I can only prefer violence to cowardice." ("Hindu-Muslim Tension: Its Cause and Cure", Young India, 29/5/1924; reproduced in M.K. Gandhi: The Hindu-Muslim Unity, p.35-36).
It is worth recalling these observations of Mahatma Gandhi today when the nation is witnessing a spirited debate about 'The Kerala Story'. Those who have watched the movie would agree that director Sudipto Sen has handled this sensitive subject very delicately. At no point does it try to paint all Muslims with the same brush. Also, the focus of the narrative has remained consistently on the terror network of ISIS. True, it shows how gullible young women fall prey to peer pressure and propaganda. The mind games that the campus agents of ISIS play and the entrapment remind us of not just the nefarious design of the terror outfit but also the cold-bloodedness inherent to their violence.
Deeply disturbed by the cheating, injustice and torture faced by the Kerala nursing student-duo, a movie watcher leaves the theatre far more awakened, alert, and educated.
Regardless of what the critics say about The Kerala Story, the educational value of the movie cannot be underestimated. The most important lesson one learns is that globalised terror has many faces. Terror is not just about bombs, the hijacking of airplanes or murderous attacks on innocent people. Terrorists always have a Plan-B and the methods they employ involve deceitful love and incriminating affection. But the girls walk right into the trap because of the crass ignorance of their own spiritual traditions and the deep philosophical meaning behind them. The two Kerala girls are ignorant and sadly, ignorant about their ignorance. Some callous and unconcerned Hindu families, lured by the badge of progressivism and political correctness, engender a sense of rootlessness in the next generation. The Kerala Story grabs us by the shoulders and makes all law-abiding and god-fearing movie watchers deeply conscious of the serious lacunae.
The so-called brainwashing of the two girls in the movie raises some key questions about the vexed issue of conversion. Many Islamic countries ban conversion altogether. Also, there are countries repeatedly giving sermons on secularism to India but at the same time constitutionally providing for appointments by the Church to their Parliament. All these negate the very basis of Democracy in Spirituality.
In a country like India where we abide by the notion of Ekam Sat Vipra Bahuda Vadanti (the truth is one and wise men describe the same differently). Besides, our constitution rejects any kind of monopolistic approach in spirituality. As a logical corollary to this, proselytizing faiths must reconsider both their philosophy and methodology of conversion in a country like India. Conversion, when presented to those of different faiths as something inherently superior to their own faith, involves denigration and wanton misinterpretation of some faiths. This amounts to very serious emotional violence and needs fresh thinking.
Those advocating feminism may hesitate to acknowledge it, but the movie is also about women's empowerment by changing the traditional male mindset. This is yet another movie that tells us about the commodification of women apparently for the cause of a belief system being promoted via terror. Sadly, Indian progressives have always preferred to look the other way when cases of forced conversion of Hindu women in Pakistan crop up intermittently. Neither the torture of Yezidi women nor the atrocities on nuns by some church officials have compelled our progressives to break their silence. 'The Kerala Story' will help raise awareness among girls about men who perceive them as commodities, intending to exploit and abuse them.
'The Kerala Story' is not just about Kerala. It is the story of all women that are victims of ISIS terror tactics. It is also the story of girls from Afghanistan, Sindh and Baluchistan in Pakistan and also Yezdi girls in some Islamic countries. The progressives in the media may not accept it, but the entrapment of girls with the promise of marriage is a fact of life. There are cases of what many refer to as "Love Jihad", regardless of whether one chooses to use that term. An organised racket of handsome young men, indoctrinated in the idea of the supremacy of Islam, is certainly at work. There is evidence to suggest that it is a meticulously planned exercise in the entrapment of innocent, unsuspecting girls, to serve the cause of ISIS. Not just the RSS and other Hindutva organisations but also the Kerala Catholic Bishops Council had alleged way back in October 2009 that thousands of girls in Kerala had been targeted and pressured to convert to Islam. Leaders of the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana sector had also voiced concerns about girls belonging to their followers. Let's also understand that not just in India, but also in neighbouring Myanmar, the 969 Buddhist movement leaders had in the past openly alleged a planned attempt by extremist Muslim youths who pretend to be Buddhist and lure Buddhist girls.
Shutting our eyes to these facts will not change the situation.
Vinay Sahasrabuddhe is former MP, Rajya Sabha and columnist, besides being President of Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR)
Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.