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Issues women face in Kerala cinema: what now

A government panel will examine Hema Commission's report submitted two years ago. What did the commission find?

Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan receiving the report of the Hema Commission from Retired Justice K Hema. (Photo: Facebook)

The Left government in Kerala Wednesday formed a three-member panel to study and work out a plan to implement the recommendations of the Justice Hema Commission report which delves deep into the problems faced by women in the Malayalam film industry. The move came over two years after the report was submitted to the government in December, 2019.

Why was the Justice Hema Commission formed?

On February 17, 2017, a prominent woman actor was abducted and sexually assaulted for nearly two hours in a moving car near Kochi. Weeks later, Dileep, a leading actor in the Malayalam film industry, was arrested and arraigned as the eighth accused in the case with charges of abduction, conspiracy, criminal intimidation among others. The SIT, which probed the case, argued that Dileep ordered the attack on the woman actor as he nursed a grudge against her.

The incident was significant in throwing a spotlight on the safety of women in the state as well as the issues faced by women in the state’s film industry, which is largely seen as a male-dominated space operating without a legal framework. In the aftermath of the sexual assault incident, the Women in Cinema Collective (WCC) was founded with the aim of propelling changes within the film industry to make it more gender-friendly. The WCC, consisting of female actors, producers, directors and technicians, appealed to the then Left government to appoint a panel to investigate the discrimination faced by women in the industry. In July, 2017, a three-member commission was formed by the government headed by Justice K Hema (retired) with former bureaucrat KB Valsalakumari and veteran actress Sharada as members. It was the first time a commission of this kind was formed anywhere in India to scrutinise the inner workings of a film industry.

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What did the Justice Hema Commission do?

The Justice Hema Commission interviewed dozens of members of the Malayalam film fraternity including both male and female actors, producers, directors and technicians to probe the quality of the work environment and the nature of problems they face on a daily basis. According to reports, several women actors recounted to the commission horror stories of the harassment they faced on sets on the condition that their names be kept confidential. Issues of wage-gap on the basis of gender, absence of adequate facilities for women on sets and the lack of a proper forum for grievance redressal were also brought to the forefront.

When did the Commission submit its report?

The Commission submitted a 300-page-long report to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on December 31, 2019, accompanied by a large set of documents, screenshots and audio clips that substantiate the findings of the report. While the report was not made public, the Commission was learnt to confirm the existence of a ‘casting couch’ within the industry where actors were asked to perform sexual favors in exchange for opportunities. Testimonies from actors, both male and female, backed up the claim.

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The commission also found that the presence of alcohol and drugs was widespread on film sets. A tribunal must be formed to investigate all such lapses, the panel advised the government. On the submission of the report, an elated WCC said, “We hope that the implementation of the recommendations of this report will provide women with more opportunities, the courage to step into the field as well as bring our society closer to the dream of gender equality.”

What’s the status of the Commission report?

The constitution of a three-member panel on Wednesday to further study the Hema Commission report comes amid mounting criticism against the Vijayan-led government for sitting on it for over two years. Neither has the report been released in the public domain nor its recommendations implemented. The Commission is learnt to have indicated to the government that the full contents of the report were not be publicised as there are testimonies of sexual harassment in it. But there are calls from activists and members of the fraternity to redact such sensitive portions and reveal the core findings of the report. Since the Commission has not been appointed under the Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952, it does not need to be tabled before the state Assembly. There’s no clarity so far from the government on the delay of action on the report’s recommendations.

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First published on: 13-01-2022 at 05:16:36 pm
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