The female actor who was abducted and sexually assaulted in February 2017, publicly opened up for the first time, through her official social media account, on Monday. Soon, her post was widely shared by the members of Women in Cinema Collective (WCC), including actors Parvathy Thiruvothu, Anjali Menon, Geethu Mohandas, Rima Kallingal. Others from the film fraternity, like Prithviraj Sukumaran and Ashiq Abu, expressed their solidarity as well.
In her Instagram post, the survivor spoke about her battle for justice, extending her gratitude to all those who have supported her.
Later that evening, the stalwarts of Malayalam cinema, Mammootty and Mohanlal, also shared the survivor’s post on their Instagram stories. Mammootty wrote, “With you,” while Mohanlal said, “Respect.”
With the blue blood of the Malayalam film industry expressing their solidarity for the survivor, her case received wider media coverage.
However, in a social media post, the WCC, while noting that it was extremely gratifying to witness the current support for the survivor from across the Malayalam and wider film industry, added that the members of the collective would “still like to make [their] disappointment known about how this support wasn’t forthcoming to her when she needed it most.”
During a media interaction, Rima noted that merely re-sharing social media posts was doing “too little, too late,” and stressed that influential artists should unite together to bring about a change in the culture of the film industry.
The star actors’ “late reaction” to the actor assault case has also drawn criticism from social media users.
It is notable that while Mohanlal had taken to social media a day after news broke about the assault in February 2017 to extend his support to the survivor and express strong condemnation of the act, he remained silent once actor Dileep’s involvement in the case came to light.
Later that June, at the Association of Malayalam Movie Artistes’ 23rd general body meeting, the AMMA’s president Innocent and other male actors like Mukesh, Devan, and Idavela Babu openly expressed support for the accused Dileep, while superstars Mammootty and Mohanlal both remained silent.
After Dileep’s arrest in July, however, he was expelled from the AMMA following an executive meeting at Mammootty’s residence in Kochi. Addressing the media after the meeting, Mammootty, the general secretary of AMMA at the time, had said, “We will all stand by the actress”. He also apologised on behalf of actors Mukesh and Ganeshkumar, who had misbehaved with the media earlier when asked about their stance on the issue.
On October 3, 2017, Dileep was granted bail. Following this, in June 2018, after Mohanlal took charge as AMMA’s new president, one of the first decisions the new leadership took was to revoke the suspension of Dileep. Four members of WCC – actors Rima Kallingal, Geetu Mohandas, Ramya Nambeesan, and the survivor – resigned from AMMA in protest.
Some time later, in October 2018, Mohanlal asked Dileep to tender his resignation.
Another actor whose stance on the issue has swung wildly is actor Aju Varghese, who had earlier expressed support for the accused Dileep. Aju also faced arrest for publicly revealing the survivor’s name in a Facebook post. Now, he has extended support to the survivor by sharing her statement, with the hashtags “solidarity” and “justice will prevail.”
Likewise, actor Mamtha Mohandas, who had earlier commented that the incident had “besmirched the reputation of the film industry,” also shared the survivor’s post now and wrote, “Only a fighter survives! Especially when there’s no other choice.”
WCC demands material support and systemic change
In its recent statement, the WCC questioned how the recent wave of support for the survivor and the expressions of solidarity would translate into real-world actions.
“Beyond the social media reposts, will Malayalam film producers implement POSH guidelines in their companies? Will the Associations and Unions ensure that their women members are given equal opportunity and treated equitably at work? Will our male colleagues remain constant allies by using their privilege and power to make sure that our workplaces are fair, healthy and that women are not marginalised? This is the support we need. The respect we deserve!” the post said.
“Your support validates us and our struggle for progressive, systemic change in the Malayalam film industry. A struggle we have no intention of letting go. We ask that more of you join us to help make things more equitable and sunny for all,” the statement further said.
One of the fights of the WCC has been to get the Hema Commission report published.
In the aftermath of the heinous crime, on July 1, 2017, Kerala’s Department of Cultural Affairs formed a committee to study the issues of gender disparity, sexual harassment, and other issues faced by women in the Malayalam film industry. Many women have submitted testimonies describing their traumatic experiences before the commission. Headed by retired judge Hema, the committee’s report was submitted to the government on December 31, 2019. However, this report has not been made public yet.
The members of WCC have constantly been questioning the delay in the publishing of the report. In response, Justice Hema recently told The News Minute that the report has to remain confidential. Noting that this not an attempt to protect perpetrators, she said that the women who spoke to the committee and shared their experiences of harassment were free to disclose the same openly, if they wanted to do so.
During her recent media interaction, Rima asked, “Why is the report not being published? Why is the government not taking it seriously?” She also emphasized the importance of preventing such crimes against women, and the need for grievance redressal mechanisms such as setting up an internal complaint committee in every film set.
Parvathy, in a tweet, also questioned the need for the report to be kept confidential. “All you need to do is redact our names from the statements. But instead of simply doing that, you will make sure that our truth is buried. You are playing with our lives, our livelihood, our mental health,” she said.
For a complete timeline of the female actor abduction and assault case, see here.