On 30 April, RV Babu, the official spokesperson of the right-wing organisation the Hindu Aikya Vedi, offered a one crore reward. The offer was in response to a reward-for-facts trend surrounding the controversial Hindi film The Kerala Story. In the film’s teaser, released in November 2022, actor Adah Sharma appears as a burqa-clad woman, who introduces herself as Shalini Unnikrishnan. She says she is Fatima Ba now, a terrorist affiliated with ISIS—the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria—and is lodged in an Afghan prison. “A deadly game is being played to convert normal girls into dreaded terrorists in Kerala and that too in the open,” the character states. She claims that this film is the story of 32,000 girls who were forcefully converted to Islam and then recruited by ISIS. This alarmist figure, with no basis in facts, has been repeatedly cited in the buzz surrounding the film. The Kerala Story’s trailer suggests that Muslim men are entrapping Hindu women into marriage, as part of a larger conspiracy to establish Islamic rule. This narrative is in line with the bogey of “love jihad,” a Hindu-nationalist conspiracy theory pushed by the Bharatiya Janata Party and its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
Soon after, the state committee of the Muslim Youth League—the youth wing of the Indian Union Muslim League—shared a poster calling for submission of proof, of any such conversions of Hindu women for terrorist recruitment, at any of its district offices. The organisation offered one crore rupees as a reward. In the face of much backlash against the grossly exaggerated figure, the film’s team was forced to climb down on its claims and edited the caption of the trailer to state that The Kerala Story is the story of three women and not 32,000. The filmmakers also agreed to remove this number before the Kerala High Court. Kerala’s right-wing organisations, such as the Vedi, appear to be working as face-savers on behalf of the film’s team. In a spin to the reward-for-facts trend, Pratheesh Vishwanath—the founder of the Hindu-nationalist organisation Hindu Seva Kendram—offered ten crore rupees to anyone who can prove that nobody from Kerala has left for Syria to join the ISIS. Babu had responded by claiming that neither the teaser or the trailer of the film mentioned that 32,000 girls were recruited by ISIS from Kerala. However, the announcement teaser for the film, released in March 2022, still mentions in its caption that, “Behind the beautiful backwaters of Kerala, lies the horror of 32000 missing females.”
The Hindu Aikya Vedi, or platform for Hindu unity, was established around twenty years ago with the stated goal of uniting Hindus and to take up “Hindu issues” in Kerala. In its attempt to push for Hindu unity, the Vedi has mobilised around a range of incidents that they claim put Hindus in danger. The organisation was central to the mobilisation against the Supreme Court judgement in 2018, that allowed women to enter the Sabarimala temple. Since then, the organisation has mobilised around scattered incidents, usually to spread Islamophobic conspiracy theories, or attack the state’s Left-led government.