There were calls for Leena Manimekalai’s film to be banned, and her Indian passport revoked by Hindutva groups. She was called Hinduphobic, told to have some shame, and has been harassed for months as a result. She also faced a summons and legal injunction from the Tis Hazari Court in Delhi.
But, Leena Manimekalai was finally able to screen her film four months after the initial incident at the originally planned location of the Aga Khan Museum, in collaboration with Toronto Metropolitan University, which backstepped from its initial decision.
The Equity Committee of the Toronto Metropolitan Faculty Association (TFA) in Canada held a protest and solidarity screening of two films—Maadathy and Kaali— by award winning filmmaker Leena Manimekalai on 3 November.
The screening was a protest against the censorship and withdrawal of Tamil filmmaker Manimekalai’s film Kaali, which drew the ire of Hindutva supporters, from Toronto Metropolitan University’s Under the Tent program, organisers claimed. Since the release of the film poster, Manimekalai has been facing death threats, violent abuses and institution disavowal.
The sold-out event was attended by over 100 people, and was co-sponsored by the Centre for Free Expression at TMU, as well as several community organizations including PEN Canada, Dalit Solidarity Forum-USA, Hindus for Human Rights-USA, Humanist Association of Toronto, Humanists International, India Civil Watch International, and Poetic Justice Foundation.
Manimekalai thanked those gathered for the outpouring of solidarity and said: “ I want to say that I am alive, standing in front of you because of all my friends. I am alive because of all of you. It wasn’t easy to stand through this mountain of filth and hate. But I am also humbled by the power of art. A single poster with an image of a Goddess who was having her own mind courageously, her choice, can expose so much misogyny, homophobia and ugliness in humanity. Art is powerful.”
“Leena has faced innumerable series of unfortunate events just for daring to be herself in uncompromising ways of undaunted courage, which is uniquely a characteristic of who she is. The forces of Hindutva have attacked her, her very being and the very essence of democracy – the freedom of speech, art and intellectual expulsions and they should know that nothing, nothing will extinguish Leena’s fire, who has ignited a global movement to stand against those who believe in fascism and irrationality,” said Roja Singh, President, Dalit Solidarity Forum USA.
According to Hindus for Human Rights USA’s Executive Director Sunita Viswanath, the attacks on Leena prove that Hindutva ideology is in Canada.
“Many of the online threats came from within Canada. Some months ago, a video of a Hindu man in Toronto saying he supports the killing of Muslims went viral. And just recently, a Hindutva aligned member of parliament raised the RSS flag on Parliament Hill.
It is disgraceful that the educational institutions that should have supported Leena’s freedom of expression as a scholar and artist, including this university, capitulated before the Indian government. We must, every one of us, stand up and be counted in our opposition. It is particularly important that Hindus, be they religious or secular, believing or atheist, stand up against Hindutva and say, ‘not in our name,’” she said.
“We are concerned that publicly funded Canadian institutions like TMU would give into coercion from authoritarian states like India under the Hindu supremacist BJP,” said Aparna, India Civil Watch International.