Kaali Poster Row : Supreme Court Grants Interim Protection To Filmmaker Leena Manimekalai From Coercive Steps
The Supreme Court of India on Friday heard filmmaker Leena Manimekalai's plea challenging the multiple FIRs registered against her in various states over the poster of her documentary titled "Kaali". The matter was listed before a bench comprising Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice PS Narasimha. The bench, while issuing notice to the States, directed that no coercive steps shall be taken against the filmmaker either on the basis of the FIRs which had already been lodged or on basis of FIRs which may be lodged in relation to the Kaali poster row. The court also noted that at this stage, the lodging of FIRs in multiple states may cause serious prejudice to Manimekalai and thus, issued notice to States on plea for all FIRs to be consolidated in one place in accordance with law.
Advocate Kamini Jaiswal, appearing for Manimekalai, submitted that the petitioner was a leading Tamil poet and filmmaker whose work had been recognised and awarded. She submitted that several FIRs had been filed against the petitioner arising out of the screening of her short film "Kaali" in various States including UP, MP, Uttarakhand, and Delhi. She added that there may be other FIRs filed against the petitioner that they do not know of yet and these FIRs may also result in more such FIRs being lodged against her. As a result she submitted that the petitioner may be subjected to coercive proceedings in other states.
CJI DY Chandrachud, while dictating the order, said–
"A look out circular has also been issued against the petitioner. Issue notice to the respondents. List on 17th February 2023. No coercive steps shall be taken against the petitioner either on the basis of FIRs or pursuant to any FIR which may have been lodged or may be lodged in relation of the same matter."
"Ms Jaiswal submits that the petitioner is a graduate student at York University in Canada. She has produced a short film "Kaali" depicting the goddess. The submission is that there is no intent to hurt religious feelings. The object of the film was to depict the goddess in an inclusive sense. At this stage, it may be noted that the lodging of FIRs in multiple States may be of serious prejudice. We are inclined to issue notice so that all FIRs can be consolidated in one place in accordance with law. The petitioner shall then be at liberty to pursue remedy under Section 482."
The petition filed through Advocate Indira Unninayar sought to quash the multiple FIRs registered in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttarakhand on complaints against the same poster, which showed Manimekalai herself dressed as the the goddess Kaali, smoking a cigarette and holding a pride flag.
The petitioner says that her attempt as a creative filmmaker was to depict the image of a "radically inclusive goddess" and not to offend the religious sentiments of any person. Manimekalai, who identifies herself as queer, maintains that the documentary projects the kinder and broadminded traits of the goddess. The petitioner contended that the multiple FIRs amount to harassment and infringement of her constitutionally guaranteed fundamental right to freedom of expression.
The film-maker says that she has faced several death threats and open calls for her beheading, rape, and murder after she tweeted the poster. Therefore, she has also sought for action to be taken against those who attacked her in cyber space with threats of murder, rape and other extreme forms of violence against her.
Case Title: Leena Manimekalai v. UoI And Ors. WP(Crl) No. 8/2023