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Kaali: The Short-sightedness of Censors

Image Courtesy: Wikipedia

Following Humanists International‘s expression of deep concern regarding what it has called “the judicial harassment of poet and filmmaker Leena Manimekalai“, Humanist Ottawa has issued a letter to the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Migration and Integration, Dr. Anna Triandafyllidou.

In the letter, Humanist Ottawa President Robert Hamilton expressed the organization’s “deep concern for the egregious actions taken by CERC Migration and Integration and Toronto Metropolitan University against filmmaker Leena Manimekalia and her short artistic film, “Kaali.

Image Courtesy of Humanist Ottawa

Humanist Ottawa asserted that CERC “asserted a privileged position of your organization over a person of colour and a member of the 2SLGBTQ+ community – in glaring opposition to your own stated values of diversity, equity and inclusion. As well, these action unequivocally contravened Article 18 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights supporting freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

Manimekalai, who has previously identified as bi-sexual, had been selected to produce a creative piece on multiculturalism in Canada as part of the national level academic programme ‘Under the Tent’ organized by CERC Migration – Toronto Metropolitan University. The film, ‘Kaali’ was launched at the Aga Khan Museum on July 2, 2022.

The documentary film documents Manimekalai in the guise of the Hindu goddess Kali wandering the streets of Toronto at night during a pride festival. Manimekalai observes groups of people out on the town, riding the subway, stopping at a bar, taking selfies with members of the public, and sharing a cigarette with a man on a park bench.

Humanist Ottawa pointed out in their letter to Dr. Triandafyllidou that CERC’s actions “directly empowered others who have disseminated hate speech posters and other social media advocating violence and death against Leena Manimekalai. Your actions have cause the perpetration of flagrant injustice and have forced Leena to take steps to protect her safety.”

Maintaining an intent to promote diversity and inclusive values, Maimekalai was quoted in the New Indian Express as saying: “Kaali, the film is all about choosing love and championing humanity. Trolls who are witch-hunting me are fueled by hate. They have nothing to do with faith. If they are patient enough to watch the film they might choose love. But that’s exactly why they want the film to be banned.”

Taking aim at CERC’s status as a federally-funded status, Robert Hamilton also wrote, “In addition, your acquiescent public apology to vague assertions of offence were not only short sighted, but were indeed corrosive to individual freedoms that Canadians cherish and have fought to preserve including the freedom to express artistic and religious idea.

Finally, you took quick actions against the filmmaker without due consideration to the foreseeably dangerous consequences that could ensue. This speaks to a failure in judgement and accountability unworthy of a federally-funded program and an institution of higher learning. Canadians deserve and expect better than this.

On 4 July, the High Commission of India in Ottawa issued a statement calling on the Canadian authorities and event organizers to withdraw her film. Her film was subsequently withdrawn and her name removed from the ‘Under the Tent’ programme by Toronto Metropolitan University, while Toronto’s Aga Khan Museum host to a screening of her film apologized for any offence caused by the film.In India, a de facto ‘blasphemy’ provision , Section 295A of the IPC allows up to three years imprisonment for “whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of citizens of India, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise, insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of a class.”

To date, CERC does not appear to have provided any public statement of how it may plan to take accountability for its contributions to the risks faced by Manimekalai. Humanist Ottawa provided some expectations from the perspective of the organization’s inclusive humanist values:

Accordingly, we therefore urge you to:

  • Promptly express a public apology to the filmmaker, Leena Manimekalai
  • Publicly articulate support for the legal, free expression of thoughts and ideas
  • Financially compensate the filmmaker for the pain and suffering that she continues to endure
  • Financially underwrite all expenses needed to ensure the safety and security of the filmmaker

HumanistFreedoms.com encourages you to share your perspective on this situation with Dr. Triandafyllidou by writing a letter of your own – and by commenting in this post.

Citations, References And Other Reading

  1. Featured Photo Courtesy of: https://hindutrend.com/images-of-maa-kali-face/
  2. https://humanists.international/2022/08/india-drop-investigations-into-filmmaker/

The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on Humanist Freedoms are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.

Kaali: Choose Love and Champion Humanity

In our search for interesting, challenging and critical perspectives on contemporary humanism, we occasionally find articles published via other venues that we think HumanistFreedoms.com readers may enjoy. The following articles and studies were located on the Humanists International website and in several online publications.

Humanists International is deeply concerned to learn of the judicial harassment of poet and filmmaker Leena Manimekalai, who is currently facing accusations of “hurting religious sentiments” in connection with her latest documentary short ‘Kaali’.

Leena Manimekalai – a published poet and award-winning filmmaker, who is studying for an MFA in Canada – was selected to produce a creative piece on multiculturalism in Canada as part of the national level academic programme ‘Under the Tent’ organized by CERC Migration – Toronto Metropolitan University. Her project, ‘Kaali’ was launched at Aga Khan Museum on 2 July 2022.

The short film shows the Hindu goddess Kali wandering the streets of Toronto at night during a pride festival, observing groups of people out on the town, riding the subway, stopping at a bar, taking selfies with members of the public, and sharing a cigarette with a man on a park bench. The poster for the film shows Kaali – played by Manimekalai – smoking, holding an LGBTI+ flag.

She is quoted in the New Indian Express as saying: “Kaali, the film is all about choosing love and championing humanity. Trolls who are witch-hunting me are fueled by hate. They have nothing to do with faith. If they are patient enough to watch the film they might choose love. But that’s exactly why they want the film to be banned.”

Manimekalai announces the screening of her film ‘Kaali’ on social media

Since sharing the poster which went viral on social media, Manimekalai has faced a barrage of death threats, a campaign of harassment on social media – with the hashtag #arrestleenamanimekalai trending on Twitter India – and legal complaints filed against her by right-wing Hindu nationalists in India.

On 4 July, the High Commission of India in Ottawa issued a statement calling on the Canadian authorities and event organizers to withdraw her film. Her film was subsequently withdrawn and her name removed from the ‘Under the Tent’ programme by Toronto Metropolitan University, while Toronto’s Aga Khan Museum host to a screening of her film apologized for any offence caused by the film.

Speaking to The Hindu, Manimekalai stated, “My intention is not to provoke. […] By succumbing to fundamentalist elements, Toronto Metropolitan University and Aga Khan Museum have compromised on academic and artistic freedom.

To date, Manimekalai is aware of at least nine First Information Reports (FIR) – an official legal complaint that initiates a police investigation – filed with local authorities in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Uttarakhand, and Madhya Pradesh. The petitioners allege that Manimekalai has breached a range of laws, including Article 295A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and section 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion.

de facto ‘blasphemy’ provision, Section 295A of the IPC allows up to three years imprisonment for “whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of citizens of India, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise, insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of a class.”

In addition, a court in Delhi has reportedly issued a summons for Manimekalai and her company to appear in court on 6 August in connection with a civil complaint filed against her.

Humanists International fears that filmmaker Leena Manimekalai is being targeted for her peaceful exercise of her rights to freedom of religion or belief and expression. The organization calls on the Indian authorities to drop all investigations relating to the film, and to repeal its ‘blasphemy’ laws.

Citations, References And Other Reading

  1. Featured Photo Courtesy ofhttps://hindutvawatch.org/film-maker-leena-manimekalai-gets-alleged-death-threat-from-rss-the-siasat-daily/
  2. https://humanists.international/2022/08/india-drop-investigations-into-filmmaker/

The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on Humanist Freedoms are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.

Amsterdam 2022: Humanists International’s 70th Anniversary Update of its Definitive Guiding Principle

Humanist International defines itself as “the global representative body of the humanist movement, uniting a diverse community of non-religious organizations and individuals. Inspired by humanist values, we are optimistic for a world where everyone can have a dignified and fulfilling life. We build, support and represent the global humanist movement and work to champion human rights and secularism.”

In other words, Humanist International strives to be the global voice for humanism. The organization held its annual General Assembly (i.e. governance and policy meetings) in Glasgow, Scotland (UK) from June 3-5 this year. The 2022 assembly represented a landmark as it marked the 70th anniversary of the first World Humanist Congress.

Back in 1952, the first World Humanist Congress launched The Amsterdam Declaration, a document which intended to articulate a set of agreed-upon fundamental principles of “modern humanism“.

Somewhat parenthetically, visitors to HumanistFreedoms.com may observe that we use the term “contemporary applied humanism” to describe our content rather than “modern applied humanism”. This choice is a deliberate choice as there are philosophical and semantic implications of the term “modernism” which are, to say the least, problematic.

Qualms and quibbles over terminology, such as we’ve just touched-upon, can be a necessary thing. Which is, presumably, why Humanists International included in its celebration of 70 years of existence, an update and relaunch of the 1952 original (and its 2002 revision) which is currently being called The Amsterdam Declaration 2022. It seems a bit odd that the new document hasn’t been called The Glasgow Declaration or even The Glasgow Revision of the Noordwijkerhoutu Update of the Amsterdam Declaration – but such is the nature of geo-political sentimentalism, traditionalism and authorial pride. It weens its way into just about everything to the extent that a “global” declaration must necessarily be tied to a specific set of meetings and those who attended.

How about “Global Declaration of Humanism III” and let everyone own it in the time and place of their own? Just a thought.

Humanists International have published an educational video for those who may be interested in the history and details which includes recitations of the text.

On the Humanists International website, the organization explains that the original declaration was a “child of its time” . The implication is that the original needed revision to bring it into alignment with contemporary perspectives and issues – that is to say, the tastes and attitudes of organization-based humanists of 2022.

Here is what the organized and political Humanists have establishes as the fundamental principles of humanism in 2022:

Humanist beliefs and values are as old as civilization and have a history in most societies around the world. Modern humanism is the culmination of these long traditions of reasoning about meaning and ethics, the source of inspiration for many of the world’s great thinkers, artists, and humanitarians, and is interwoven with the rise of modern science. As a global humanist movement, we seek to make all people aware of these essentials of the humanist worldview:

1. Humanists strive to be ethical

  • We accept that morality is inherent to the human condition, grounded in the ability of living things to suffer and flourish, motivated by the benefits of helping and not harming, enabled by reason and compassion, and needing no source outside of humanity.
  • We affirm the worth and dignity of the individual and the right of every human to the greatest possible freedom and fullest possible development compatible with the rights of others. To these ends we support peace, democracy, the rule of law, and universal legal human rights.
  • We reject all forms of racism and prejudice and the injustices that arise from them. We seek instead to promote the flourishing and fellowship of humanity in all its diversity and individuality.
  • We hold that personal liberty must be combined with a responsibility to society. A free person has duties to others, and we feel a duty of care to all of humanity, including future generations, and beyond this to all sentient beings.
  • We recognise that we are part of nature and accept our responsibility for the impact we have on the rest of the natural world.

2. Humanists strive to be rational

  • We are convinced that the solutions to the world’s problems lie in human reason, and action. We advocate the application of science and free inquiry to these problems, remembering that while science provides the means, human values must define the ends. We seek to use science and technology to enhance human well-being, and never callously or destructively.

3. Humanists strive for fulfillment in their lives

  • We value all sources of individual joy and fulfillment that harm no other, and we believe that personal development through the cultivation of creative and ethical living is a lifelong undertaking.
  • We therefore treasure artistic creativity and imagination and recognise the transforming power of literature, music, and the visual and performing arts. We cherish the beauty of the natural world and its potential to bring wonder, awe, and tranquility. We appreciate individual and communal exertion in physical activity, and the scope it offers for comradeship and achievement. We esteem the quest for knowledge, and the humility, wisdom, and insight it bestows.

4. Humanism meets the widespread demand for a source of meaning and purpose to stand as an alternative to dogmatic religion, authoritarian nationalism, tribal sectarianism, and selfish nihilism

  • Though we believe that a commitment to human well-being is ageless, our particular opinions are not based on revelations fixed for all time. Humanists recognise that no one is infallible or omniscient, and that knowledge of the world and of humankind can be won only through a continuing process of observation, learning, and rethinking.
  • For these reasons, we seek neither to avoid scrutiny nor to impose our view on all humanity. On the contrary, we are committed to the unfettered expression and exchange of ideas, and seek to cooperate with people of different beliefs who share our values, all in the cause of building a better world.
  • We are confident that humanity has the potential to solve the problems that confront us, through free inquiry, science, sympathy, and imagination in the furtherance of peace and human flourishing.
  • We call upon all who share these convictions to join us in this inspiring endeavor.

Is this a perfectly-achieved declaration? Certainly not. There are plenty of quibbles and nuances that probably need to be given some attention. But it may well be more adequate to serve most contemporary humanists needs and preferences when it comes to something like this than its 1952 and 2002 predecessors. Or maybe not.

Setting qualms and quibbles aside – it is a good thing that Humanists International and the growing number of national and local organizations continue to update and revise their public positions. Any organization which believes that it has nailed these things down once-and-for-all begins to dance the dance of dogma. We wouldn’t want that.

Nor would we want a Global Declaration of Fundamental Principles that we fully agree-with and are satisfied-by. A document like that seems like it would probably find itself out of relevance pretty damn quick. So let’s embrace those qualms and quibbles for what they are – indicators of the kind of progress we’d like to see within contemporary and future applied humanism.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments.

Citations, References And Other Reading

  1. Featured Photo Courtesy of: Humanists International
  2. https://humanists.international/2022/08/humanists-international-celebrates-70-years/
  3. https://humanists.international/what-is-humanism/the-amsterdam-declaration/

The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on Humanist Freedoms are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.

Humanist International’s 2020 Freedom of Thought Report

On December 10, 2020 Humanists International re-launched the Freedom of Thought Report as an updated document. The document has been in continuous development and circulation since 2012 as a monitor of the rights and treatment of humanists, atheists and non-religious people in every country in the world.

The report contains an entry for every country in the world and uses a unique rating system ranging from “Fee and Equal” to”Grave Violations”. Canada’s rating overview states:

Canada is a federal parliamentary democracy, extending north into the Arctic Ocean, and sharing the world’s longest land border with the United States. Despite what should be strong constitutional protections for freedom of thought and expression, significant religious privileges are in force, both nationally and in several of its ten provinces and three territories.

Of particular interest to humanistfreedoms.com is the report’s sections covering Quebec’s Bill C-21, education in Canada, and blasphemy & hate speech. Our readers will recall that this site was partially inspired by Dr. Richard Thain’s fight to defend his right to free expression when he attempted to advertise his opposition to the public funding of Catholic school boards in Ontario.

In this year, when speaking publicly about controversial issues has become a notably riskier endeavour, the need to support individuals and organizations who actively defend humanist freedoms has grown enormously.

Consider Humanist International’s Humanists At Risk Action Report 2020, which exposes a lack of separation between state and religion, as well as an array of tactics used against humanists, atheists and non-religious people in Colombia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka to limit their rights to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or the right to freedom of expression, association and assembly. No other organization may be relied upon to devote a significant portion of its time to defending humanist freedoms.

Citations, References And Other Reading

  1. Featured Photo Courtesy of https://humanists.international/
  2. https://humanists.international/2020/06/growing-evidence-of-worsening-persecution-targeting-the-non-religious-around-the-world-new-report-reveals/

The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on Humanist Freedoms are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.