India: artist faces judicial harassment, social media death threats and smear campaignEvent
- Initial Date
- Jul 11, 2022
- Event Description
On 11 July 2022, human rights defender Leena Manimekalai was served with summons by the Central Delhi District Court (Tis Hazari court) based on a petition seeking an injunction on the poster of her film Kaali and its promotional video. The case is now scheduled for hearing on 1 November 2022. Leena Manimekalai produced the performance documentary Kaali for a programme on multiculturalism managed by the Toronto Metropolitan University. The aim of the film is to depict Kaali as a tribal goddess who shares solidarity with queer and indigenous communities and people of colour. Leena Manimekalai is being targeted by right wing groups in India on the basis that she has hurt religious sentiments.
Leena Manimekalai is a woman human rights defender, film-maker, poet and activist from Tamil Nadu, India. Manimekalai’s filmography is driven by themes of social justice and human rights having received international praise and recognition. She is one of the India Breakthrough Talents picked by British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) for the year 2022. She has received numerous awards for her work including Emmy Award (2017), Charles Wallace Art Award (2012) in Visual Ethnography, Golden Conch at Mumbai International Film Festival and Best Documentary Prize at Singapore South Asian Film Festival. She was also the co-organizer of Asia’s first LGBTQ+ Pride Parade in July 2012. She is currently living in Canada, as a graduate fellow completing her Masters in Fine Arts (Film) at Toronto's York University.
Since Leena Manimekalai shared the poster of her film Kaali on Twitter, she has faced judicial harassment, hate speech and death threats on social media and several criminal proceedings. On 5 July 2022, the Intelligence Fusion and Strategic Operation (IFSO) unit of the Special Cell, Delhi Police registered a First Information Report (FIR) against her under Sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion) and 295A (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings) of the Indian Penal Code. On 4 July 2022, another FIR was filed at the Hazratganj police station, in Uttar Pradesh, under sections 120B (criminal conspiracy), 153B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration) and 295 (injuring or defiling 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 (IT) Act. Seven other FIRs have been registered against Leena Manimekalai across the country. A “look-out circular” has also been issued by authorities in India in her name, seeking 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 with thousands of users, largely sympathisers of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India, calling the portrayal of Kaali disrespectful and hurtful to Hindu sentiments. The woman human rights defender has received hundreds of death and rape threats on her social media accounts and Hindu religious leaders have called for her execution for blasphemy and announced a bounty on her life on social media.
Following several complaints by the IT Cell of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in India, the Indian High Commission in Ottawa published a press release asking the institutions to withdraw support to the film. Subsequently, Aga Khan Museum announced that her work was no longer being shown and expressed regret that the poster had hurt the sentiments of Hindu communities. The Toronto Metropolitan University removed Leena Manimekalai from the selected list of 18 graduates chosen to showcase their works and have also withheld her honorarium.
Leena Manimekalai is also facing a defamation case filed by a film director , in reprisal for her speaking out on sexual harassment against her as part of the #MeToo movement in 2018. She is also facing a gag order and a contempt of court case, by the same director, for an article in which she was quoted on the #MeToo movement and the safety of women in India’s film industry. The film director also filed a motion to have Leena Manimekalai’s passport impounded, and she had to fight a four-tier legal battle to get her passport back.
This is not the first time that Leena Manimekalai has faced threats for her exercise of freedom of expression in defence of human rights. Manimekalai’s first feature film Sengadal (2011), based on the war in Sri Lanka and its impact on the lives of fishermen, was refused clearance by the Indian censor board stating that it made denigrating political remarks about the governments of Sri Lanka and India. She also faced serious risks from the Sri Lankan military while shooting for her documentary film White Van Stories (2015), based on enforced disappearances in Sri Lanka.
Her feature film Maadathy, An unfairy tale (2019) and short documentaries Is it too much to ask (2017), Mathamma (2003) and Parai (2004), all based on different forms of caste and gender violence, also faced censorship issues. Her poetry collection Ulagin azhagiya muthal penn (the first beautiful woman of the world) published in 2007, and her blog with the same title faced charges of blasphemy and Hindu People’s Party filed several police cases against her in Tamil Nadu. Hindu fringe elements demanded that her blog be banned, and her book was burnt in public.
Front Line Defenders condemns the judicial harassment and threats faced by woman human rights defender Leena Manimekalai, as it believes that they are directly related to her human rights work and exercise of freedom of expression. The multiple cases filed against her, and reprisals linked to her human rights work have raised serious concerns for her safety and prevented her safe return to India. Front Line Defenders urges the relevant authorities in India to cease all reprisals against Leena Manimekalai and ensure that she can carry out her peaceful human rights work and activism without any fear of prosecution.
- Impact of Event
- Gender of HRD
- Death threat
- Intimidation and Threats
- Judicial Harassment
- Online Attack and Harassment
- Rights Concerned
- Freedom of expression
- Right to healthy and safe environment
- Right to protect reputation
- Freedom of expression
- Monitoring Status
- Event Location
- Event Location
- Summary for Publications
On 11 July 2022, Leena Manimekalai, artist, was summoned in response to her last documentary on social issues by a court, while she was the target of online death threats and a smear campaign led by unknown social media users in Delhi, India.