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Two Parameters to Judge Two Religious Controversies in India  

In the midst of a raging controversy over Nupur Sharma’s remarks against Prophet Mohammad as the spotlight shifted to the poster of poster of cigarette-smoking Kaali, the entire discourse of hurting religious sentiments changed from the Muslims (they) to the Hindus (we).

Syed Ali Mujtaba

IN India, two back-to-back religious controversies are raging. First, the intemperate remarks made by the BJP office-bearer Nupur Sharma. And second, the poster of a documentary film, “Kaali”, released by its director Leena Manimekalai.
Nurpur Sharma though passed the remarks against the Prophet on purpose, with a sinister design to incite Muslims, she didn’t know the far-reaching implications of her act. On the other hand, knowing full well the sentimensts, purposefully his image, Leena Manimekalai purposefully demeaned Kaali, one of the most revered deities of the Hindu religion, through the poster of her documentary film with the same name.
Although the government of India took measures to douse the flames lit by the BJP functionary, no BJP leader or Hindu religious head uttered a word of condemnation against the female hate monger. Their conspiracy of silence is construed as a tacit support to Nupur Sharma which is a new normal in India.
However, when the Supreme Court of India made some scathing remarks against Nupur Sharma, more than 100 eminent citizens of the country, including Law and Justice Minister Kiren Rijiju, hauled at the Supreme Court judge who passed some damning strictures against her, albeit verbally. Their attack on the judge sounded as if they were supporting Sharma’s words against the Prophet of Islam.  
The scene changes to Canada, and the spotlight is on the poster of the film Kaali, released by its director of Leena Manimekalai, and the entire discourse of hurting the religious sentiments change from the Muslims (they) to the Hindus (we).
All hell broke loose in India with sermons being given; “Liberty comes along with sensitivity, freedom comes along with responsibility, can we live in the world without being sensitive, respectful, and responsible.” The demand for the arrest of the filmmaker Leena Manimekalai started gathering momentum.
A forceful narrative is built in India that the filmmaker has hurt the religious sentiments of the Hindus. There is a cacophony to arrest her from Canada and bring her back to India, while Indian citizen Nupur Sharma is allowed to take refuge in some safe haven to avoid probable arrest. These are two parameters to judge two religious controversies in India.
The fact is that a religious controversy won’t die down easily in India. Close on the heels of the Prophet controversy, the Kaali controversy is raging now in India. At the centre of this controversy is the poster of the documentary film Kaali where a woman is dressed as the Hindu goddess Kaali and is seen smoking cigarette and holding a Trishul in one hand and a Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBTQ) flag in the other.
The Madurai-born Toronto-based filmmaker Leena Manimekalai posted a tweet about her documentary and shared the poster of her movie. In her tweet, she said; “Super thrilled to share the launch of my recent film at Aga Khan Museum as part of its ‘Rhythms of Canada Film Festival and I am excited about it”…
This poster created a huge buzz on social media and invited a backlash in India. This led Indian High Commission in Canada to urge the Canadian authorities to withdraw the poster that was showcased as part of the ‘Under the Tent’ project at the Aga Khan Museum, Toronto. The museum authorities deeply regretted the disrespectful depiction of the Hindu deity and said if it inadvertently causes offense to the Hindu faith, it can immediately withdraw the poster.
The micro-blogging site, Twitter, also removed the poster saying the tweet from Ms. Manimekalai has been withheld in India in response to a legal demand.
Ms. Manimekalai, reacting to the removal of her film’s poster, asked if Twitter would withhold the tweets of the hate mongers as well. “This is hilarious. Will Twitter withhold the tweets of the 200000 hate mongers? These lowlife trolls tweeted and spread the very same poster that they find objectionable.
“Kaali cannot be lynched. Kaali cannot be raped. Kaali cannot be destroyed. She is the goddess of death,” Manimekalai tweeted.
Back in India, the religious outrage was vented through scores of complaints in the police stations, seeking Manimekalai’s arrest. A large number of complaints were filed for hurting the religious sentiments of Hindus. The complainants said the Manimekalai’s poster depicts Goddess Kaali in a manner “unacceptable by any Hindu” and that it was a “deliberate distortion of the Hindu religion and culture with malicious intent to insult Hindu religious feelings”.
Jumping into the controversy was TMC MP Mohua Moitra who reportedly said that she had every right as an individual to imagine Goddess Kali as a meat-eating and alcohol-accepting deity, as each person had his or her unique way of offering prayers.
This led to another round of outrage, this time against the TMC MP. No less than 56 complaints were filed against Moitra in West Bengal alone, seeking her immediate arrest. Suvendu Adhikari, the BJP and leader of Opposition in the West Bengal Assembly said, “The TMC government and the state police have been very active in seeking police action against Nupur Sharma, but they have not taken any action against Mahua Moitra and there can’t be a different set of rules for BJP and TMC leaders.”
Meanwhile, some FIRs were filed against Ms. Moitra in Madhya Pradesh, a BJP-ruled state. Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said, “Hindu religious sentiments have been hurt by Mahua Moitra’s statement and insult of Hindu deities will not be tolerated at any cost.”
Facing attacks from the BJP, Ms. Mahua Moitra reacted, “Truth doesn’t need backup forces, I am a worshipper of Kaali, and not afraid of saffron’goons’.” But her own party, the ruling TMC, distanced itself from Ms. Moitra’s comments, even as the controversy is raging.
Another angle to the Kaali controversy that has emerged of late is a contest between the people who worship Kaali as straight nosed, thin-lipped,  baby-faced, fair-complexioned deity against those who worship her with darker skin tone, broad nose with the world-view of Kaali as a raw, non-apologetic, having an identity of her own kind of deity.
The Kaali poster outraged the feelings mostly in the North Indian states calling it blasphemous and hurting religious sentiments. Those who worship Kaali as a baby-faced, calm goddess do not like the worshiper of the same goddesses who smoke a cigarette, love booze, drink blood and eat meat and epitomise Maha Kaali in every sense. The north-South divide is the subtle theme in the Kaali controversy that is presently raging on in the country.
This bizarre narrative is going on in tandem with an anti-Muslim diatribe in India. While on one hand, some Indians want to teach Muslims a lesson or two, the same folks want to do the same to the South Indians too on the other.  This is new India, the “Post-Truth India – The Brand New Republic” welcoming you on board.  
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist and author based in Chennai. His forthcoming book is “Post-Truth India – The Brand New Republic”. He can be contacted at

Nupur Sharma and Leena Manimekalai.
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