JNU protest
Members of Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union march against the screening of film In the Name of Love -Melancholy of Gods Own Country, in JNU | Burhan Kinu / Hindustan Times via Getty Images
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Eyewitnesses described “riot-like scenes” during the screening of the film at JNU Friday evening, with some people reportedly lobbing glass shards and stones and trying to attack viewers.

New Delhi: The filmmaker behind a controversial film centred on so-called ‘love jihad’ in Kerala has said that he just wants to expose an “international conspiracy” to conduct “mass conversions of women to Islam” and bears no affiliation to either the BJP or the RSS.

Director Sudipto Sen’s film In The Name of Love — Melancholy of God’s Own Country ran into trouble on Friday when it was screened at Jawaharlal Nehru University in the capital.

Witnesses described “riot-like scenes” during the screening of the film Friday evening, with some people reportedly lobbing glass shards and stones and trying to attack viewers and others raising objectionable slogans against Muslims. The film-maker and some students were allegedly attacked as well.

It is not clear yet who started the ruckus, with the Right-wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) and Left-affiliated students, including members of the All India Student Association, blaming each other. While the former supported the screening, the latter opposed it.

Centred on alleged forced mass conversions in Kerala, the movie has been accused of propagating the ‘love jihad’ theory, whose believers suggest there’s an “Islamic conspiracy” afoot to convert Hindu women through a romantic relationship with Muslim men.

Talking to ThePrint, Sen recalled a statement made in 2010 by former Kerala chief minister V.S. Achyutanandan of the CPI (M) that the radical Popular Front of India aimed to convert “Kerala into a Muslim country in the next 20 years”.

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“This is what I was trying to explore through my film, which is based on forceful conversions of women,” Sen said.

The film-maker is quick to refute insinuations about his Right-wing affiliations, and denies that the movie deals with the so-called ‘love jihad’.

“First of all, let me clarify that I do not belong to the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) or the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). I come from a Communist family and do not believe in ‘love jihad’, a concept which is even being propagated by the likes of UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath. And this is exactly what I wanted to show through my film.,” he said.

“In my film, I am only talking about the forceful conversion of Muslim women in Kerala, which is happening in huge numbers,” he added.

“I have all the documents and evidence to prove what I have shown in the film,” Sen said. “In fact, I have interviewed more than 500 girls who have been re-converted in Kerala. Most of them are in Calicut, Mallapuram, Kasagar…”

“Each police station in these areas has complaints of missing girls. Hindu girls are being taken away and converted to Islam as part of an international conspiracy. This is what I have shown in my film,” Sen said, before reiterating, “There is nothing like ‘love jihad’… If a girl wants to marry a man of any religion, she is free to do so, there is no need for conversion, they can get married under the Special Marriage Act. The problem is forceful conversions.”

The choice of JNU

Asked why he chose JNU for his film’s maiden screening, Sen said, “JNU is a hub of intellectuals. I thought if I want to start a discussion on a topic as sensitive and important as this, it should be the first place where I screen my film.”

“I had no idea that since the Vivekananda Vichar Manch, which is associated with the RSS, is organising the screening, it will be automatically assumed that the film-maker is also associated with RSS or the BJP,” he said.

“I just wanted to have a genuine discussion and debate on the topic. I still can’t believe the kind of horror I had to face on the campus on the night of the screening,” he added.

‘Riot’ on the campus

A viral video of the ruckus that erupted during the JNU screening shows two groups of students fighting with each other, one of them comprising members of the JNU student union (JNUSU).

Former JNUSU president Mohit Pandey, who was present at the protest site, said, “JNUSU had a problem with the film because we felt that the director was trying to justify the concept of ‘love jihad’, which is non-existent.”

“If he wanted to show forced conversions, he should not have taken the shade of love to do that. Also, the film only shows forced conversions of women; men also go through forced religious conversions, why does he not show that?” he added.

“We felt that he was propagating mysogynist, patriarchal mindset, which is why the JNUSU had planned a separate protest but what happened that night was unimaginable,” Pandey said.

This, however, is not the first time a film screening has created controversy at JNU. Two years ago, the screening of Anupam Kher’s film Buddha in a Traffic Jam was stopped after students objected to it.

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