A tweet of a film poster that shows Hindu goddess Kali smoking a cigarette has sparked rage in India.
Leena Manimekalai, a Toronto-based director, tweeted the poster on Saturday, July 2. In the tweet, Manimekalai announced that her film Kaali would be released as part of the Aga Khan Museum's Rhythms of Canada Festival.
Shame on you
— Lord_shardool (@Shardul_thakur9) July 3, 2022
But the reception was overwhelming frenzied in India, where religious tensions are becoming more volatile. Last month, a Hindu shopowner was beheaded for allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad.
This incident followed an earlier death caused by a Hindu politician's comments against the Muslim Prophet.
Manimekalai became trending on Twitter in India as many called for her arrest. Some Twitter users asked the Aga Khan Museum to takedown Manimekalai's poster for hurting religious sentiments, calling it blasphemy.
One Twitter user urged government officials to consider how Hindus were treated for hurting religious sentiments, referring to the deaths of Hindus that involved insulting the Muslim prophets. "Please don't forget how we were questioned for hurting religious sentiments & needful action must be taken," the tweet said.
Every day H!ndu religion is mocked, Is govt. testing our patience ??
Dear @AmitShah @HMOIndia @PMOIndia @DrSJaishankar @MEAIndia Please don't forget how we were questioned for hurting religious sentiments & needful action must be taken.https://t.co/MkaarqeZFU
— Chandra Prakash Singh (@CpSingh9714) July 3, 2022
Speaking to the BBC, Manimekalai explained that her film depicts the goddess Kali as a champion of humanity and embraces diversity.
"As a poet and filmmaker, I embody Kali in my own independent vision," she said.
— Organiser Weekly (@eOrganiser) July 6, 2022
The censure and the backlash Manimekalai faces show that hardline conservative Hindus react to perceived insults vehemently. This backlash is apparent in how the Indian government mandated Facebook and Twitter India to shut down Atheist Republic's social media access in the country.
According to Kunwar Khuldune Shahid of the Newslaundry, reactions from Hindutvas and Islamists clearly show why "there must be no free speech exception for religion."
In his article, Shahid outlined how two western arts, the Charlie Hebdo caricature and AR's Blasphemous Art, triggered both Muslims and Hindus into a rage.
The reaction is similar to what Manimekalai's film has garnered. Rebuke for the art, and arrest or worse, death to the artist.