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Kaali poster row: Supreme Court grants interim protection to Leena Manimekalai from coercive action, issues directions to merge multiple FIRs

The poster of the documentary film Kali directed by Leena Manimekalai caused outrage among Hindus as the poster depicted the Goddess Kali smoking cigarettes and was seen with the LGBTQ rainbow flag.

The Supreme Court on Friday awarded NRI filmmaker Leena Manimekalai immunity from coercive action in connection with FIRs filed against her in four states over her documentary titled ‘Kaali,’ the poster of which caused outrage for potentially offending religious sentiments of the Hindu community. The apex court also directed that multiple FIRs against the filmmaker should be clubbed together.

Manimekalai has moved the Supreme Court seeking protection in the multiple cases filed against her for depicting Hindu Goddess Kaali smoking a cigarette in a poster of her upcoming film. Appearing for Leena Manimekalai, advocate Kamini Jaiswal said that several FIRs were lodged in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Delhi. As a result of the FIRs, she is likely to be subjected to coercive proceedings in the same case in different states. A total of nine FIRs have been filed against the filmmaker, with the lawyer adding that there may be other FIRs filed against the petitioner that they do not know of yet.

The plea was filed seeking a direction to quash all the FIRs registered against her.

Issuing a notice on her petitions and scheduling the hearing next on February 17, a bench presided by Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud and Justice PS Narsimha said, “In the meantime, no coercive steps shall be taken against the petitioner either based on the FIRs which have been instituted against her…or under any other FIR which may have been lodged or which may be lodged hereafter in respect of the same film”.

Advocate Kamini Jaiswal appearing for Manimekalai stated to the bench that a lookout notice has also been issued against Manimekalai, who is a PhD student in Canada and that coercive measures are likely to be implemented against her.

“She has produced a short film ‘kaali’ depicting the goddess. The submission is that there has been intent to hurt religious feeling and the object and purpose of the film was to depict Goddess Kali in an inclusive sense. We have protected you,” the Court stated in its order.

The bench also said that multiple FIRs in several States would cause serious prejudice to Manimekalai, and directed that they be clubbed together. After the FIRs are clubbed, she can move individual High Couorts under Section 482 of the CrPC to quash them, the court stated. “At this stage prima facie, it would appear that the institution of FIRs in multiple states would be a matter of serious prejudice to the petitioner. We are inclined to issue notice so that all the FIRs can be consolidated in one and the same place in accordance with law. The petitioner will then be at liberty to pursue her remedies under Section 482 CrPC,” the court said.

It is notable that while the apex court ordered to merge multiple FIRs against Leena Manimekalai, the Supreme Court in July last year had rejected a plea by former BJP leader Nupur Sharma to transfer all FIR against her for comments on Prophet Mohammad to Delhi. Rejecting the petition despite the fact that Supreme Court itself had said earlier that multiple FIRs in the same case should be merged, the court had blamed Nupur Sharma for the murders and violence by Islamists. However, later in August 2022, the apex court had a change of mind and ordered to merge all the FIRs filed against Nupur Sharma at various places in the country and transfer them to Delhi.

The poster of the documentary film Kali directed by Leena Manimekalai caused outrage among Hindus as the poster depicted the Goddess Kali smoking cigarettes and was seen with the LGBTQ rainbow flag. According to the reports, there are several FIRs filed against Manimekalai in four different states including Delhi. The Court is slated to hear the case next on February 17.

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