The 91-year-old writer told the state government, “If the Justice Hema Committee Report is not made public, then future Kerala will not forgive you. Time is running out. Necessary steps mentioned in it should be implemented and culprits should be punished.”
He noted that this year’s festival holds significance not just because films directed by women were screened, but on the inauguration day, the actor who survived the 2017 assault case was a special guest. He hailed her as “an undefeated woman” and recalled the non-stop standing ovation that she received while entering the stage.
About her abduction and assault, Padmanabhan said, “Whoever has done the mistake should be punished, they may be a big person but they don’t deserve even a bit of mercy.” He further added that those who have made mistakes cannot rule as superstars forever.
Noting that Kerala is ahead in many aspects compared to other states and continues to progress, he added, “However, we should think about the safety of women in many fields, especially in workplaces.”
He pointed out that while women have been in various fields of cinema through the years, it was only after the 2017 assault case that many similar incidents started coming to light. Speaking about the Justice Hema Committee, he said that the panel, consisting of the retired judge and two other women, had collected proofs after many sittings, over two years, and spent over two crores to complete its report. But this report has not seen the light yet.
“This government has tackled many bigger hurdles easily. This would not be a herculean task,” he said.
Padmanabhan is a Malayalam short-story writer who has been the recipient of several awards, including the Ezhuthachan Puraskaram, the highest literary award of the Government of Kerala. He has written over 190 short stories. Some of his popular works are Prakasam Parathunna Oru Penkutty, Oru Kathakrithu Kurishil and Makhan Singhinte Maranam. In 2018, he was conferred the Honoris Causa Degree of the Doctor of Letters by Mahatma Gandhi University.
Responding to his speech, Culture Minister Saji Cherian reiterated that legislation will be drawn up, based on the recommendations in the reports of Adoor Gopalakrishnan and the Hema committee, to ensure the protection of women in the Malayalam film industry.
Headed by retired judge Hema, the committee was formed on July 1, 2017 by Kerala’s Department of Cultural Affairs in the aftermath of the female actor abduction and sexual assault incident. It aimed to study gender disparity, sexual harassment, and other such issues faced by women in the Malayalam film industry.
Many women testified before the commission, describing their traumatic experiences. A report was subsequently submitted to the government on December 31, 2019. Since then, one of the fights of the Women in Cinema Collective has been to get the Hema Commission report published.
Earlier, Kerala Women’s Commission Chairperson Sathidevi said that the Hema committee had not been set up under the Commission of Inquiry Act. So, the government is not bound to make the report public. Saji Cherian also said the same, but ensured that the State would draw up legislation based on its recommendations.