Indian director Sudipto Sen’s upcoming film ‘The Kerala Story’ has attracted widespread backlash for claiming to represent the stories of 32,000 women from the state who were lured into converting to Islam by Muslim men and then taken to Afghanistan to join militant outfit Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The trailer for the movie debuted online on November 3 last year. It opens with the story of Fathima Ba (played by Adah Sharma), who is a Hindu Malayali nurse and claimed to be one of the 32,000 Hindu and Christian women who were abducted and sent to Afghanistan. Since then, the film has been criticized by Indian politicians such as Congress leader and Leader of Opposition VD Satheesan for spreading misinformation that would only further marginalise the Muslims living in India:

“The film is a bundle of lies. It says 32,000 women were converted and sent to Islamic State-held areas. Its trailer gave enough hints of its content. It is intended to defame the state and community and Sangh Parivar outfits are behind this.”


Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan released a statement on 30 April where he slammed Sen for pushing the so-called claim of ‘love-jihad’ through the film, a conspiracy theory pushed by Hindutva members which alleges that Muslim men lure Hindu and Christian women through seduction or kidnapping to convert them into Islam. He further accused the filmmaker of threatening religious harmony by “sowing the seeds of communalism” through the debunked claim that 32,000 women were kidnapped from India and handed over to ISIS.

“In the movie trailer, we see a hoax that 32,000 women in Kerala were converted and became members of the Islamic State. This bogus story is a product of the Sangh Parivar’s lie factory.”

The central controversy surrounding the film was it’s claim that 32,000 women were forcibly converted to Islam in Kerala and were sent to ISIS, which has been debunked by several credible publications to be untrue. But speaking to India Today, the producer of the film, Vipul Shah, said that the focus was not the numbers, but the fact that forced conversions are still happening throughout India:

“We don’t want to get into the debate on the numbers, we want to talk about the issue. We want to bring notice to the human tragedy happening in Kerala and in India.”

Actor Adah Sharma also defended the movie’s false pretext, by telling India Today that she had spoken to the women who inspired the story:

“I spoke to some of these women. There will be testimony from those who will be brave enough to come in front of cameras.”

Politicians like Shashi Tharoor have also slammed the filmmakers for spreading misinformation regarding the 32,000 figure, and addressed it in a lengthy Twitter post where he also said that his 2021 tweet was not proof that the allegations of the filmmakers were real:


“Many are spreading this 2021 tweet of mine as if it undermines my present objections to the trailer & publicity for “The Kerala Story”. Yes, I was approached then by three Kerala mothers and was aware of a fourth, and I was open about my concerns about their daughters’ radicalisation. But four cases are a far cry from the 32,000 that the film-makers are alleging. If there really were so many ISIS female members from Kerala, that would mean double the number when you count their husbands, whereas even Western intelligence sources says the number of ALL Indians in ISIS does not approach three figures. This gross exaggeration and distortion of the Kerala reality is what I am objecting to.”

In a tweet posted on Monday, Tharoor offered Rs1 crore to anyone who would be able to prove that 32,000 women had been forcibly converted and sent to ISIS.

ALT News, in an investigative piece, revealed that the director Sudipto Sen had first mentioned the figure on a Youtube channel ‘The Festival Of Bharat” where he talked about how he calculated the final number, with the help of a speech delivered by the former Kerala CM Oommen Chandy:

“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.”

When the publication spoke to Sen on the phone, the author Shinjinee Majumder writes, the director claimed that he picked the number up from an article published by ‘The Times Of India”:

“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.”

However, no publication quoting such a large number has come to light. But ALT News reports that in 2012, India Today reported the Kerala chief minister Oommen Chandy informing the state minister about how 2,667 young women had converted to Islam between 2006 to 2012. Especially, Chandy had said that there was no evidence of forced conversions in the state, and the fears of ‘love jihad’ were baseless.

When ANI news shared this report with Sen, his response was:

“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?”

Similarly, Kerala Police had also refuted the claims that 32,000 women had been sent to Syria as “totally baseless”.

While a report published in 2020 by the United States Department of State’s Country Reports on Terrorism said that there were only 66 known Indian-origin fighters associated with ISIS in 2020, of which 34 terrorism cases were related to ISIS and NIA arrested 160 people by the end of September.

Moreover, The Hindu reported in June 2021 that four Indian women were traced in an Afghanistani prison, who had travelled with their husbands to join the Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP), and it was unlikely that they would come back to India.

As a response to the growing backlash, the film trailer has now changed the title description from 32,000 women to just three young girls, as shared by several Twitter users.

With the film set to release on 5 May and despite calls to authorities to ban the film on grounds of hate speech and misinformation, NDTV reported today that the Indian Supreme Court had refused to entertain a petition to seek a stay on the release of ‘The Kerala Story’ because it had been cleared by the censor board:

“There are varieties of hate speeches. This film has got certification and has been cleared by the board. It’s not like a person getting on the podium and starts giving uncontrolled speech. If you want to challenge the release of the movie, you should challenge the certification and through appropriate forum”.