Who is afraid of Hema commission report?

Athira M R

The report was meant to be an eye-opener into the harassment and discrimination faced by women artists in the Malayalam film industry. But the Kerala state government has been keeping the report undisclosed. It remains a mystery why the government is reluctant to table the report on the floors of the Assembly. Is the government afraid that some influential members of the Malayalam film industry will be exposed if the report is out in the public?

The detailed report on the issues faced by women in Malayalam Film Industry was submitted to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on December 31, 2019

The Hema commission report turns two years old on December 31, 2021. But it has not been tabled in the Assembly or seen the light of the day ever since it was submitted back in 2019. The report was meant to be an eye-opener into the harassment and discrimination faced by women artists in the Malayalam film industry.The Kerala state government has been keeping the report undisclosed due to reasons best known to it.

The state government constituted the Hema commission in July 2017 upon the demand from the Women in Cinema Collective (WCC). The detailed report on the issues faced by women in Malayalam Film Industry was submitted to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on December 31, 2019.

The report was formulated by three members of the committee , including retired Justice K Hema, former bureaucrat K B Valsala Kumari IAS and yesteryear actress Sharada. It was prepared based on the findings, conclusions and recommendations by an expert group of people on the sexual harassment prevalent in the film industry and several other variants of gender inequality. This included the most appalling problem of the casting couch which directly points to the immoral grounds on which a major section of the film industry treads. Gender discrimination in the film industry is also another matter that was highlighted in the report.

It was thought that the constitution of a proper committee and submission of the report would ensure the safety and security of women in the film industry. The report however has not been tabled in the Assembly even after repeated questions from various fronts on its status.

When contacted for her statement over the status of the report, Justice K Hema refused to comment on the topic.

K B Valsala Kumari IAS responded by saying that - “Our duty as the panel members was to frame the report on the problems faced by women in the cinema industry and hand it over to the government, which we have already done. The rest is in the jurisdiction of the government authorities.”

WCC voices concern

'The Hema Commission report cannot be made a public document as the testimonials listed out in the report are crucial and tend to point arrows to certain people. The names of the witnesses were changed due to privacy and safety . But still Justice Hema had said in the beginning itself that the document couldnt be made public owing to the volatile nature of its documentation . That is precisely the reason why the report is not available online,' Deedi Damodaran said in an exclusive phone interview with Mathrubhumi.com. Deedi is a Malayalam screenwriter and one of the founding members of WCC.

'An expert had been appointed for the matter following our repeated requests. What can be done is that the expert can review the report in detail and extract recommendations from it, which can be made public. The work has been going on and is still under review. It was considered appropriate that Justice Hema would review it before it was made public so that she could scrutinise whether the extracted version carried the crux of the actual report, whether certain things are being endorsed in the right way and to check whether the highlight is on the right things. WCC also demanded that Justice Hema must approve it first before the document was made public. It is however in cold storage as of now.'

WCC members
WCC members during a press conference (File Picture) | Photo: T K Pradeep Kumar

'MLA M Swaraj was the one who raised questions over this in the last assembly. Minister A K Balan, Minister for Cultural Affairs in the first Pinarayi government replied to that by saying that when the commission report is tabled, then the closure will be revealed. However, we were told that it did not happen due to the Covid situation. This is not a responsibility concerning WCC alone. The tax money that goes into this belongs to all people of our society. All departments are free to intervene in the matter because of its nature. The Supreme Court itself had said that complaint cells must be made accessible in all workplaces.'

WCC is still after it and has not left the matter behind. We have constantly sent mails to the CM over this. Whenever new complaints are raised, we make it a point to mail the CM's office stating the essentiality of the report in the case.

'However, there have been no significant measures adopted by the government over this. The report was made by compiling the independent findings and observations of the panel members. It is inaccessible to others and remains confidential because of the nature of the testimonials. We have tried several times to bring light to the issues faced by women in the cinema industry.'

Deedi Damodaran
Deedi Damodaran | Photo: K K Santhosh

'A huge amount has been spent on the whole matter. We had all been called for hearings. There are many who have shared bitter experiences and they had to face unfavourable situations as a result of that. While for me, it was mainly about male-oriented screenplays, many others had to share the ordeals that they had been through. It is unjust to them that even after reliving the past incidents that happened in their life and going through all that trauma again, nothing has been done in their favour or to protect their rights. It is also unfortunate that even after all these women testifying before the authorities that they thought were reliable and confiding in them, nothing has changed. People tend to believe that entrusting such boards with such an extent of personal information will ultimately see results in what they are trying to achieve. The backlash here is that all those efforts saw zero results over all this time.’ Deedi said.

Addressing the elephants in the room

'Cinema Policy recommendations by WCC were submitted to the Minister of Culture on June 24, 2021. It was presented before the ministry with two purposes, one being improvement or upgrade of Cinema as an industry. The other objective was to formulate a Cinema Policy for the Malayalam Film Industry. Many problems were pointed out and their solutions were also listed out in this document. WCC aims to shed more light on often less-discussed issues in the industry including pay parity, higher attrition rates, and inclusivity. It also hoped to bring to the discussion front the skewed nature of the industry. The gender disparities in the film industry are nothing new and have been prevalent for many decades.

Startling statistics

According to O Womaniya! 2021, a seminal report on the representation of women in Indian films, more than 90% of HOD positions in film projects are filled by men. This was based on the three dimensional (talent, content and marketing) evaluation of 129 films released from 2019 to 2021 in 5 languages to check the quality of female representation in the Indian film industry. In another shocking revelation, 59% of films failed the Bechdel test, i.e did not have even one scene where two women speak about a topic other than men. Another startling statistic reveals that the representation of women is the weakest in cinematography with just 2% women in the field. It is also a disturbing fact that southern film industries lag behind Bollywood in gender equality.

The ongoing stonewalling

Advocate Sandhya Raju, Founder and Managing Director of Centre For Constitutional Rights Research And Advocacy (CCRRA), a non-profit organisation involved in legal advocacy and research, highlighted some of the reasons that could be behind the delay in tabling the report.

'I feel that the sensitive content could be the reason that is preventing the government from making the report public because revealing the contents would mean opening a Pandora's box of sorts. It might shake the entire foundation on which the film industry is built. But the thing is that unless it is brought out, there won't be a proper solution to this. The mere fact that the concerned authorities are not willing to open up about this means that though serious concerns have been raised in the report, there are influential people who, fearing exposure, would prefer to keep things under wraps for their benefit. The commission is only a source for recommendations. It is a fact-finding body. It is ultimately the government's call to decide the actions that must be taken. The report has a sanctity. If the government was intent on doing something positive about it, they would have immediately commissioned an action. There may not be the need to disclose the findings or the contents, but surely the government can always act upon it. That is not being done.'

'Sexual harassment in the workplace is such a crucial issue that needs to be discussed more often. There must be some sort of place that one can go to when faced with sexual atrocities, a safe space. There is a lot of stonewalling happening in this regard, which means that something crucial is obstructing it from coming out.'

Need of the hour

The need of the hour is simple. It should be ensured that the voices of the women in the film industry are heard. The report was meant to protect the interests of not just one person but the society itself. The report must be tabled properly and recommendations listed out in the report must be rightly addressed. The government must ensure proper gender representation and gender inclusivity in the film industry. It is high time that WCC's relentless efforts see fruition.

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