Filmmaker Leena Manimekalai was one of the two women who spoke up against Kollywood director Susi Ganesan during the 2018 Me Too movement. Since then, she has found herself on the receiving end of several cases filed by Ganesan including criminal defamation, and a petition for her passport to be impounded — all for speaking up. This petition to impound her passport was dismissed by Saidapet Metropolitan Magistrate Court in Chennai in November 2020. However, on Monday, the Chennai regional passport office issued a show cause notice to her, asking why it shouldn’t impound Leena’s passport as “criminal trial” is pending against her under sections 499 and 500 (criminal defamation) of the Indian Penal Code.
This is a setback for Leena, who wants to go to Canada for film related studies at the York University - a masters course she is already pursuing remotely. Leena’s legal counsel Pappa Mohan told TNM that the passport office’s notice to Leena is wrongful, since the Chennai court dismissed the petition to impound her passport. “We will be sending a reply to the passport office against this, saying that the court has dismissed [Ganesan’s] petition so it does not stand. Only if there is a case such as one pending with the Enforcement Directorate or such a body will this be valid. But this [the defamation case] is petty, it is just a summons. You cannot curtail someone’s movement out of the country for this,” Mohan says.
Susi Ganesan, while filing a petition against Leena leaving the country, had compared her to Vijay Mallya, alleging that she plans to migrate to Canada. The director had argued in his petition that extradition is a cumbersome and expensive procedure, and hence, his case was to “prevent” Leena from “escaping India.”
However, Leena had called the comparison to Mallya false and imaginary, stating that she has no intention of fleeing the country, and wouldn’t give up her citizenship as a proud Indian. “I have been open and posted about my admission in a Canadian university and my intent to study there. There is no question of my fleeing away from the legal proceedings as alleged. The petitioner has filed this vexatious petition against me in order to further victimise and harass me,” she had said in November 2020.
Ever since Leena accused Susi of sexual harassment during the Me Too movement, the latter has been filing case after case against her. Initially when he had petitioned the court to impound Leena’s passport, but this too was dismissed.
When Susi Ganesan had filed a defamation case against Leena for naming him in Me Too, he took to casting aspersions on her character to malign her, and alleging that her Me Too account was an attempt to “grab popularity”. He attempted to ‘prove’ Leena was of questionable character by attaching in his 2019 petition her social media posts – most of which had nothing to do with Leena’s allegations against Susi, but her political opinions.
He did something similar in March last year during his cross examination, citing in his defense a social media post Leena made critiquing the BJP government and Tamil Nadu Governor Banwarilal Purohit, apparently to insinuate that Leena was the type of person who would call a constitutional authority (the Governor) a sexual predator. None of these arguments, of course, had anything to do with Leena’s actual allegations against the director.
Susi also attempted to file a media gag case against Leena to prevent her from speaking to the media. However, a Chennai court returned the petition.
While several women had spoken up during the Me Too movement of 2018, not all cases have taken a legal turn. Much like Leena, journalist Priya Ramani is also fighting a defamation suit slapped on her by MJ Akbar who was also accused by several women of sexual misconduct. While there was a lot of social media support for the women who were speaking up at the time, the legal battles are lonely paths.
However, women like Leena are determined to fight the fight. She had told TNM earlier in 2019, when Susi Ganesan filed the defamation case, that she would fully defend herself in court, and was prepared for the legal battle ahead.