More than 650 eminent persons have signed a petition demanding that the leading regional newspaper, Malayala Manorama withdraw the latest issue of their fortnightly magazine – ‘Vanitha’.
The uproar is over the magazine carrying a cover photograph of a prominent Malayalam actor Dileep, who is one of the prime accused in the sexual assault case of a Kerala actress. The photograph, which shows him with his family, “effectively covers up the fact that he is a prime accused in a sexual crime against a woman colleague”, said a press release issued by concerned women filmmakers and activists.
The sexual assault of the leading south Indian actress in a moving car by four men, an act which was video-taped by them, happened in February 2017. The prime accused in the case Pulsar Suni alleged that he was paid by actor Dileep to kidnap and assault the actor. Malayalam actor Dileep, who was arrested in July 2017 in connection with the case and later released, is accused number eight in the case.
In an open letter to Malayala Manorama and the Kerala government, the women filmmakers and activists wrote that it was meant to be a speedy trial of a case involving a prominent actor of the Kerala film industry, accused of masterminding the sexual assault of a female colleague, an equally prominent actor. “However, it has been three years and a verdict is awaited as witness after witness turns hostile,” said the petition.
And, in the face of this delay in justice they were “outraged” to find a leading publisher like Malayala Manorama rally in support of the accused and choose to put him on the cover of their popular magazine, ‘Vanitha’, (which ironically means woman). “This is a blatant attempt to whitewash the reputation of the accused and to erase the accusations of the survivor from public memory,” said the petition.
Further, the petitioners urged the government to hold consultations on the Justice Hema Commission report and quickly implement its recommendations. The Hema Commission was set up by the Kerala government to study the issues of gender disparity, security and sexual harassment in the Malayalam film industry.
Scores of women had testified before this Commission, relating personal experiences and traumas, said the petition. The Commission had submitted its report on December 31, 2019 but the government has not held any discussions on it or made the report public, added the petitioners.
Despite repeated requests by the WCC (Women in Cinema Collective), the Justice Hema Commission report with recommendations for systemic change is gathering dust. (The WCC was formed in response to the sexual harassment and misogyny women face in the Malayalam film industry, and has been raising its voice in support of the survivor and demanding justice)
The petitioners pointed out it’s 2022 and the women in Malayalam cinema, who have been advocating for over three years to get equal space and security in their workplace, have not reached far. The petition stated that these reforms suggested by the Commission would have far-reaching implications for all working women.
Also, the petitioners drew attention to the fact for need for IC’s (Internal Committees as per the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act, POSH) in all film production companies and sets to ensure the safety and security of women.
The petitioners concluded by reiterating their demand that the trial of the 2017 sexual assault case involving Dileep reaches a speedy conclusion. “Any attempts to retaliate against the women who are raising their voices or any attempts by the accused to influence the trial or intimidate victims and allies should be reported,” said the petition.
The signatories of the petition included prominent filmmakers like Aparna Sen (filmmaker), Susie Tharu (academic), Suhasini Mulay (actor), Nilima Sheikh (artist), Maya Rao (theatre activist), Githa Hariharan (writer) and others.oan 650 eminent pers