NEW DELHI: At the centre of a huge storm over her documentary Kaali, Leena Manimekalai on Thursday said she does not feel safe "anywhere at this moment".
The filmmaker is facing several FIRs following outrage over the poster of Kaali showing the goddess smoking and holding an LGBTQ flag.
"It feels like the whole nation -- that has now deteriorated from the largest democracy to the largest hate machine -- wants to censor me. I do not feel safe anywhere at this moment," Manimekalai wrote while tagging The Guardian and sharing an interview she has given to the British newspaper.
Since the controversy began last week, Manimekalai, her family and collaborators have received threats from more than 200,000 accounts online, she said. The Toronto-based director described the online vitriol as a "grand-scale mass lynching" by right-wing Hindu groups.
BJP payrolled troll army have no idea about how folk theatre artists chill post their performances.This is not from my film.This is from everyday rural India that these sangh parivars want to destroy with their relentless hate & religious bigotry. Hindutva can never become India. https://t.co/ZsYkDbfJhK— Leena Manimekalai (@LeenaManimekali) July 7, 2022
In her interview, she dismissed claims that her film is disrespectful to the goddess or to Hinduism. She said she had been raised as a Hindu in Tamil Nadu but is now an atheist.
"In Tamil Nadu, the state I come from, Kaali is believed to be a pagan goddess. She eats meat cooked in goat's blood, drinks arrack, smokes beedi (cigarettes) and dances wild -- that is the Kaali I had embodied for the film," she said.
"I have all rights to take back my culture, traditions and texts from the fundamentalist elements. These trolls have nothing to do with religion or faith," she added.
“These trolls are after my artistic freedom. If I give away my freedom fearing this mindless rightwing mob mafia, I will give away everyone’s freedom. So I will keep it, come what may.” https://t.co/nD2TNxypOk— Leena Manimekalai (@LeenaManimekali) July 7, 2022
Two separate FIRs have been registered against Manimekalai in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh. On Wednesday, two additional cases were filed against her in Bhopal and Ratlam.
Manimekalai is not the only one to face police cases following the controversy.
FIRs have also been filed against Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra for allegedly hurting religious feelings with her comments about the goddess.
On Monday, when asked about the controversy over the 'Kaali' poster, Moitra said she has every right as "an individual to imagine Goddess Kali as a meat-eating and alcohol-accepting goddess".
Every person has the right to worship gods and goddesses in his or her own way, she said.
Twitter has pulled down Manimekalai's tweet from last week in which she shared the poster of the documentary.
It was replaced by a message from Twitter that read, "This Tweet from @LeenaManimekali has been withheld in India in response to a legal demand." The Aga Khan Museum in Toronto which was supposed to show 'Kaali' at an event expressed regret and has removed the documentary from its list of films being presented.
Kaali was showcased as part of the 'Under the Tent' project at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto.