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US-based Hindu rights group supports 'Kali' film: 'reaction extreme, egregious'

By Our Representative  

The US-based diaspora group, Hindus for Human Rights (HfHR), has asserted that “it stands in unequivocal solidarity with filmmaker Leena Manimekalai, who has faced a barrage of threats and censorship for the poster advertising her upcoming documentary ‘Kaali’, which shows Goddess Kali smoking a cigarette and holding a pride flag”.
In a statement, HfHR says, “This poster has upset a subset of Hindus who seem unaware not only of the cultural practices of those who worship Kali, but of the incredible diversity inherent to Hindu traditions more broadly.”
It asserts, “The true inner strength of Hindu religious traditions is that different communities have found spiritual inspiration in different ways. It is common in many parts of India for devotees of Kali to offer alcohol and meat as naivedyam (food offerings) -- including at Kolkata's Kalighat temple, which is one of the 51 holiest sites for Shakta Hindus.”
The statement says, “At the Viralimalai Temple in Tamil Nadu, cigars are offered to Lord Murugan. These practices are part and parcel of a diverse Hindu tradition, and Manimekalai has every right to explore these traditions through her art.”
“Furthermore”, it claims, “Many LGBTQ+ Hindus look to our traditions and sacred iconography as affirming their own dignity and identities, and the pride flag that Kali holds in the film poster is a way of acknowledging the deity’s meaningfulness to LGBTQ+ Hindus.”
HfHR believes, “It is deeply troubling that the Aga Khan Museum and the Toronto Metropolitan University have apologized for collaborating with Manimekalai and revoked her opportunity to showcase her work. Twitter has also made the unconscionable decision to take down the image of her film’s poster.”
It regrets, “In kowtowing to the Indian government’s unreasonable demands for censorship, these institutions have betrayed the basic democratic right to freedom of expression while giving power to Hindu nationalists who seek to silence critics and artists.”
Backing Manimekalai, it says, “Hindus who believe in freedom of expression, the diversity and plurality inherent to Hindu traditions, and the sanctity of Mahakali, we fully support Leena Manimekalai and call on our fellow Hindus to stop all hateful threats and trolling.”
Sunita Viswanath co-founder and executive director of the   Hindus for Human Rights, in an article in Religion News Service, says, Leena Manimekalai’s 2019 film ‘Maadathy’ was about the brutalization of a Dalit girl who becomes a village deity, pointing out, it begins with the words, “Behind every deity in India, there is a story of injustice.”
Pointing out that “these words have proven prescient”, Viswanath says, “An injustice is brewing around Manimekalai’s new film ‘Kaali’: The film and its poster have brought the filmmaker threats of arrest, rape and murder.”
Kali first appeared in Indian culture as an indigenous deity before being absorbed into the Brahminical traditions
Notes Viswanath, Manimekalai calls “Kaali” a “performance documentary” – a personal and poetic meditation on the female divine. In a six-minute excerpt shown at a multimedia exhibition in Toronto last week, Mother Kali, Hinduism’s powerful goddess of death and the end of time, wanders through a pride festival in Toronto at night; observing groups of people out on the town, she takes a subway ride, stops in a bar; people take selfies with her; and in the last frame, she is on a park bench “where a man gives her a cigarette”.
Image in Benaras Hindu varsity; 19th century Kali cigarettes ad
Meanwhile, says Viswanath, not only have the Aga Khan Museum and the Toronto Metropolitan University “caved in to pressure from the Indian government and issued apologies for screening the film”, and the Twitter removed Manimekalai’s tweet showing the film’s poster, “wanted for arrest for hurting religious feelings in Assam, Uttarakhand, Haridwar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and several other states and has received numerous death and rape threats.”
Notes Viswanath, “In an email Manimekalai said the controversy had made it impossible for her to return to India. ‘My safety is a big question mark now and I feel totally derailed to be honest. But I don’t want to bow down, and so I’m fighting with full power’.”
Insists Viswanath, “Someone unfamiliar with Hinduism might say Hindus are justified in their outrage. It’s important to understand, however, that the film and its poster are in line with a long tradition of diversity of Hindu practice and belief and immense personal freedom in one’s relationship with the divine.”
Supporting Mahua Moitra – who said, “To me, Kali is a meat-eating, alcohol-accepting goddess. I am a Kali worshipper. I am not afraid of anything. Not your goons. Not your police. And most certainly not your trolls” – for which she is facing “criminal charges”, Viswanath says, Kali first appeared in Indian culture as an indigenous deity before being absorbed into the Brahminical traditions and Sanskrit texts “as a dangerous, blood-loving battle queen.”
Claims Viswanath, “Neither cigarettes nor queer pride is forbidden in Hinduism. Hinduism is historically very open toward sex and sexual difference. Innumerable stories in Hindu scriptures tell of same-sex relationships, children born of same-sex relationships and characters — some of them gods — who are gay, queer or trans.”
According to her, “The extreme and egregious reaction to the ‘Kaali’ film, and its poster denies the Hindu idea that we all have tendencies towards goodness (satva), passion (rajas) and lethargy (tamas) and that our job is to ensure that the best parts of us win. We are allowed our mistakes because even the gods err.”
Viswanath underscores, “The violence and misogyny Manimekalai is facing is unconscionable, but the larger issue for Hindus is that her critics are bent on creating a homogenized Hinduism robbed of its glorious diversity. If there is a story of injustice behind every deity in India, the injustice today is that the deities themselves are being constrained, reduced, strangled.”
“This homogenization favors Brahminical and Sanskritized texts and practices and erases the ways that non-Brahmin communities worship”, she adds.

Comments

Rare Visitor said…
I don't recognize this group of charlatans.
Informative and interesting article. I would like to see a follow up piece with better context, more details on the objections to the film and the response from the director if available for comment.

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