Panels piled upon panels; How Kerala govt failed to act on anti-women bias in film industry?

How Kerala govt failed to act on gender bias in film industry?
Photo: Women In Cinema Collective

For hours harassment was discussed and debated, but as the talk got serious and solution-seeking, panels piled upon panels and it got dragged into never-ending tomorrows. 

Five years back, a popular Malayalam actor was abducted and sexually assaulted by her male colleague. Discussion and debates followed. Women in Cinema Collective was found to highlight harassment in the Malayalam film industry. And in order to study discrimination and harassment in the cinema industry, Justice Hema Commission was formed on July 1, 2017.

Panelled by former judge of Kerala High Court Justice K Hema, actor Sharada, and former IAS officer KB Valsala Kumari, the commission interviewed actors for long hours, recorded them down, analysed, and wrote them down, spending Rs 1.06 crores. However, even after 5 years, the report is shelved and no actions are yet taken. 

With investigations back on accused actor Dileep, questions have been raised on the whereabouts of the Hema Commission.

Thereby Kerala government appointed another three-member panel under the Cultural Affairs Department to study the Hema Commission report.

Though the Cultural Affairs Department is studying the Hema Commission report, Women’s Commission chairperson P. Sathidevi said that the Hema Commission was not appointed under the Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952, therefore it is not necessary to be tabled before the state Assembly.

She also said that it was up to the film production companies to ensure the safety of women.

What did Hema Commission do?

In December 2019, The Hema commission submitted its report to the government on issues of sexual harassment, unofficial bans, and wage disparities in the cinema industry. The presence of massive drug abuse and absence of toilets or safe dressing rooms in movie sets and other disputes were also raised.

However, the report was never released to the public, nor the primary stakeholders, actors informed of its content, or recommendations. 

Owing to its sensitive details and records of sexual harassment, the commission was expected to protect the privacy of survivors, but the findings and recommendations of the report were to be publicized.

How to regulate the cinema industry?

In November 2020, Chalachithra Academy submitted suggestions to tackle the various issues prevailing in the industry. They recommended the formation of an Internal Complaint Committee (ICC) in every film set with legal aids and counseling mechanisms.

The formation of a tribunal parallel to the Women’s Commission and the Labour Commission to check the cinema industry, which for ages has been unregulated was also recommended. The tribunal, if formed, would be invested with powers to debar offenders for a certain period.

However since the proposal is yet to be enforced as law, it remains as empty recommendations.

Panels piled upon panels

For many, the whole drill of different panels and committees and the delay seems to be a futile token exercise done to silence women in cinema.

There have been other committee reports too that remain on paper. Adoor Gopalakrishnan Committee of 2017, also is being sat on without taking any actions.

Both the Hema Commission and the Adoor committee were formed to formulate a comprehensive law to regulate the cinema industry.

According to an RTI inquiry, Hema Commission had cost the government Rs 1,06,55,000 so far.  Moreover, Justice Hema has received Rs 1,03,22,254 in several installments for the study.

“After I called out sexual offenders, I have not faced any sexual harassment in film sets. But I don’t know how much the talks on sexual harassment have brought changes in the industry,” actor Divya Gopinath told Maktoob.

Divya also shared the problem of unemployment for women artists in the industry and said ICC and regulations are the bare minimum to make the cinema industry a dignified workspace.

For ages theatre and cinema have been tough for women. First Malayalam heroine P.K Rosy has been thrown out from her own movie release, for being a Dalit and was later driven out from the very industry.

The Malayalam Cinema industry continues to be male-dominated. And women who try to make a difference time and again are being silenced or sent to exile by the industry. Now the government too is failing them.