Judicial harassment and death threats against human rights defender and artist Leena Manimekalai

On 11 July 2022, human rights defender Leena Manimekalai was subpoenaed by the Central Delhi District Court (Tis Hazari Court) following a request for injunction over her movie poster Kaali and promotional video . The hearing is now set for November 1, 2022. Leena Manimekalai produced the performative documentary Kaali for a multiculturalism program run by Toronto Metropolitan University. The goal of the film is to portray Kaali as a tribal goddess in solidarity with queer and indigenous communities and people of color. Leena Manimekalai is targeted by right-wing groups in India for hurting religious feelings.

Leena Manimekalai is a human rights defender, filmmaker, poet and activist from Tamil Nadu, India. Leena Manimekalai’s filmography is driven by themes of social justice and human rights and receives international acclaim and recognition. She is one of the India Breakthrough Talents selected by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) for the year 2022. She has received numerous awards for her work, including an Emmy Award (2017), the Charles Wallace Art Award ( 2012) in Visual Ethnography, the Golden Conch at the Mumbai International Film Festival and the Best Documentary Award at the Singapore South Asian Film Festival. She also co-organized Asia’s first LGBTQ+ Pride March in July 2012. She currently lives in Canada, where she earned an MFA in Fine Arts from York University in Toronto.

Since Leena Manimekalai shared the poster for her film Kaali on Twitter, she has been the victim of judicial harassment, hate speech and death threats on social networks and several criminal prosecutions. On July 5, 2022, the Intelligence Fusion and Strategic Operation (IFSO) unit of the Delhi Police Special Cell registered a complaint (First Information Report – FIR) against her under Section 153A (promotion of enmity between different groups on the basis of religion) and 295A (deliberate and malicious acts, aimed at offending religious feelings) of the Indian Penal Code. On July 4, 2022, another FIR was filed at Hazratganj Police Station, Uttar Pradesh under Sections 120B (criminal conspiracy), 153B (allegations detrimental to national integration) and 295 (injuring or desecrated a place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), and Sections 66 and 67 of the Information Technology Act. Seven other FIRs have been registered against Leena Manimekalai across the country. A “vigilance circular” has also been issued in her name by the Indian authorities, asking for her arrest at the airport if she arrives in India.

In the first two weeks of July 2022, the hashtag #ArrestLeenaManimekalai was trending on Twitter among thousands of users, largely supporters of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), saying Kaali’s portrayal is disrespectful and hurts Hindu sentiment. The human rights defender has received hundreds of death and rape threats on her social media accounts; Hindu religious leaders have called for his execution for blasphemy and a price has been placed on his life on social media.

Following several complaints from the IT department of the ruling Bharatiya Janata party in India, the Indian High Commission in Ottawa issued a statement asking institutions to withdraw their support for the film. Subsequently, the Aga Khan Museum announced that his work would no longer be shown and regretted that the poster had hurt the feelings of Hindu communities. Toronto Metropolitan University removed Leena Manimekalai from the list of 18 graduates chosen to showcase their work and also withheld her honorarium.

Leena Manimekalai is also facing a defamation suit filed by a director, in retaliation for her speech given as part of the #MeToo movement in 2018 on the sexual harassment she suffered. She is also the subject of a confidentiality order and a contempt of court, filed by the same director, for an article in which she was quoted on the #MeToo movement and the safety of women in the industry. Indian cinema. The director filed a motion to have Leena Manimekalai’s passport seized, and she had to fight a legal battle to get it back.

This is not the first time that Leena Manimekalai has been threatened for her exercise of freedom of expression in favor of human rights. Leena Manimekalai’s feature debut, Sengadal (2011), based on the war in Sri Lanka and its impact on the lives of fishermen, was denied permission by India’s censor board, claiming the film is about policies that denigrate the governments of Sri Lanka and India. She also faced serious risks from the Sri Lankan military while filming her documentary White Van Stories (2015), based on the enforced disappearances in Sri Lanka.

His feature film Maadathy, An unfairy tale (2019) and his short documentaries Is it much to ask (2017), Mathamma (2003) and Parai (2004), all based on different forms of caste and gender based violence, also faced censorship issues. Her collection of poetry Ulagin azhagiya muthal penn (the world’s first beautiful woman) published in 2007, and her blog with the same title faced charges of blasphemy and the Hindu People’s Party filed several complaints against her in Tamil Nadu . The radical Hindu fringe demanded that his blog be banned, and his book was burned in public.

Front Line Defenders condemns the judicial harassment and threats faced by human rights defender Leena Manimekalai, as it appears to be directly linked to her human rights work and exercise of freedom of expression. Multiple cases filed against her and reprisals related to her human rights work raise serious concerns for her safety and prevent her return to India. Front Line Defenders urges the relevant authorities in India to cease all reprisals against Leena Manimekalai and to ensure that she can carry out her peaceful human rights work and activism without fear of prosecution.

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Judicial harassment and death threats against human rights defender and artist Leena Manimekalai