Friday, January 20, 2023

SC protects filmmaker Leena Manimekalai from arrest over ‘Kaali’ poster

Leena Manimekalai recorded her statement in the court that she did not intend to hurt religious sentiments of anyone and that the depiction of Goddess Kaali was to show her in an inclusive sense The Supreme Court on Friday protected filmmaker Leena Manimekalai from arrest and other coercive processes in connection with multiple criminal cases lodged against her over a poster of her documentary film featuring a woman dressed as Goddess Kaali and smoking. The reprieve from a bench headed by Chief Justice of India Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud came even as Manimekalai recorded her statement in the court that she did not intend to hurt religious sentiments of anyone and that the depiction of the Goddess was to show her in an “inclusive sense”. The bench, which also included justice PS Narasimha, took the filmmaker’s statement on record and directed that she will not be subjected to any coercive process, including arrest in the wake of the first information reports (FIRs) registered against her over the poster. The court issued notices to the states of Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Madhya Pradesh for clubbing of the FIRs pending there at one place. “List the petition on February 20, 2023. In the meantime no coercive steps shall be taken against petitioner either on basis of the FIRs as noted above or pursuant to any other FIR which may have been or will be lodged in relation to the same offence,” stated the court order. The bench further noted that there is a look out circular (LoC) issued by the Madhya Pradesh police against Manimekalai since she is a Canada-based filmmaker, and said that no action will be taken by the airport authorities regarding the LoC too. The order added: “Multiple FIRs in several states will be a matter of serious prejudice. We issue notice to have all FIRs consolidated at one place and then the petitioner will be at liberty to file a Section 482 CrPc plea.” Section 482 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPc) enables a person move the high court concerned for quashing of the FIRs. Advocate Kamini Jaiswal appeared for the filmmaker. The Madurai-born filmmaker shared the poster of ‘Kaali’ on the microblogging website, Twitter, in July 2022, and said the documentary was part of the ‘Rhythms of Canada’ segment at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto. It triggered widespread fury on social media and prompted the Indian High Commission in Toronto to ask the authorities in Canada for removal of the posters. While Twitter pulled down the post, a flurry of FIRs were filed against her invoking Sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on the grounds of religion and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony) and 295A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). ‘Kaali’ is a movie about Manimekalai in whose body goddess Kaali inhabits and roams around the city streets. In a scene, the goddess in her body shares a cigarette with a homeless man. “In rural Tamil Nadu, the state I come from, Kaali is believed to be a pagan goddess. She eats meat cooked in goat’s blood, drinks arrack, smokes beedi [cigarettes] and dances wild … that is the Kaali I had embodied for the film,” Manimekalai, who identifies herself as bisexual and atheist, said in an interview with the Guardian last year.

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