Sri Narayana Guru, the foremost philosopher of Kerala, died in 1928. It was in 1929, the next year, that Kerala witnessed the enactment of 'Adukkalayil ninnu Arangathekku' (from the kitchen to the stage), the well-known drama written by VT Bhattathiripad. VT has written about the first stage performance of his drama at the courtyard of Vadkkiniyedath Illam in Edakkunni. One of the prominent personalities who was there in the backstage with VT was EMS, the legendary communist leader. The Namboodiri women watched the drama, which was a realistic portrayal of their own lives, sitting inside the nalukettu. VT recalls that EMS was so excited seeing the response of the spectators that he started jumping up and down.
Both EMS and VT were not there last year when after 92 years of the first stage performance of 'Adukkalyil ninnu Arangathekku', Jeo Baby addressed the Kerala society through his film 'The Great Indian Kitchen.' If they were there, it is damn sure that both of them would have rollicked at least within the heart of their hearts. Both VT's drama and Jeo Baby's film have a crucial place in the search as to how far Kerala has progressed in the last one hundred years as far as the liberation of women is concerned. Justice Hema Commission report which deals with the discrimination against women in the Malayalam film industry was submitted to the Government of Kerala in 2019, two years before the release of 'The Great Indian Kitchen'.
Justice Hema Commission was appointed against the backdrop of the abduction and sexual harassment of a leading actress in Malayalam in 2017. The fact that a young actress was abducted and sexually tortured in daylight was shocking by all means. The findings of Kerala police that it was actor Dileep, who relishes in being described as the popular actor of Malayalam, was behind this brutal crime, came down on the conscience of Kerala society like a lightning. It was the intervention by the Women's Collective in Cinema that led to the formation of the Justice Hema Commission.
Actor Sarada and KB Valsalakumari, a former IAS officer were the other two members of the committee. Justice Hema handed over the report, which was prepared after talking to various stakeholders in the Malayalam film industry, to the CM Pinarayi Vijayan on December 31, 2019. Several women in the Malayalam film industry opened up before the committee about the harassment and discrimination they had to undergo at the hands of their male counterparts. Those testimonials seem to have unravelled the dirty faces of many of their male colleagues including those stars who have been worshipped like idols across the filmdom.
It is reported that Justice Hema Commission has pointed out the discriminations against the womenfolk in the Malayalam film industry vividly and has also suggested ways to address these grievances effectively. When such a report is submitted, everyone would expect that a government that is accountable to the public would be more than happy to reveal the contents to the people and initiate steps to solve the issues.
But the Pinarayi govt didn't do anything of this sort. The govt simply sat over the report and did nothing. Instead of viewing the report as a godsend to liberate the Malayalam film industry from the clutches of patriarchy, the govt saw it as a headache of its own making. The first Pinarayi govt didn't take any action on the report till the end of its term in 2021. Maybe Pinarayi Vijayan, then CM might not have had any idea that he would be leading the next government as well.
Now the report has come back to haunt the Pinarayi govt which has assumed power with the record of being the first CPM govt that has retained power in Kerala during the last six decades. There has been so far no sensible response either from the govt or CPM as to why no action has been taken on the Justice Hema Commission Report. We would end up laughing if we listen to the lame excuses of the govt for its inaction on the report. The govt says that it is not bound to make the report public because the Justice Hema Committee was not appointed under the terms and references of the commission of enquiry.
It is really funny that the Kerala Women's Commission also has the same stand. Josephine, the former chairperson of the State Women's Commission had famously said that the party was the police and the court as far as the commission was concerned. Sathidevi, the present chairperson too seems to have the same tone while speaking on the Hema Commission Report. There cannot be a greater comedy other than the attitude of the women's commission that there is no need to reveal a report that primarily suggests ways to address the grievances of women.
It is really strange that even Justice Hema herself shares this opinion. She has stated that the report contains explosive material and if revealed, will endanger the lives of the victims. This could be easily addressed if the names and identities of those who testified before the Commission are masked. But that may not be the reason for this sudden onset of concern over the safety of the victims. The truth is that the govt and the Women's Commission are not with the victims but with the predators.
Kerala govt spent around one crore rupees for Justice Hema Commission. The money has come not from AKG centre or the Cooperative Banks under the control of CPM. It has come from the taxes paid by each and everyone in the state. So, if Justice Hema has accountability to the public in Kerala then she must be ready to place her findings and recommendations in the public sphere.
It seems that many of the so-called prominent stars in the Malayalam film industry will be stripped naked if the report is made public. The govt and the Women's Commission seem determined not to let this happen. They simply don't want to disturb the harassers.
It is heard that sometimes misery comes in the form of a commission. The Pinarayi govt had committed one such blunder in the Sprinklr controversy. Somebody told Pinarayi that his govt could tackle the allegations of Ramesh Chennithala, the then opposition leader, regarding the Sprinklr controversy, by appointing a committee to look into the matter. Pinarayi zeroed in on Madhavan Nambiar, a former IAS officer for the same under the belief that Madhavan Nambiar would handle the controversy amicably. But Madhavan Nambiar took it seriously. He came out with the finding that the Sprinklr deal was the game enacted by M Sivsankar, the former IT secretary, who even kept the CM in the dark. The Committee found out that the State Chief Secretary, the law and finance secretaries too were not in the loop. The committee came out with valid suggestions to pre-empt such lapses in future. Gulshan Rai, the cyber security expert, helped Madhavan Nambiar in this venture.
Madhavan Nambiar did not know that the Commission was just a face-saving exercise for the govt. When the Pinarayi govt realized that the Committee was making matters complex it resorted to a 'historical' move. It appointed another committee to look into the report of the Madhavan Nambiar committee. This new committee, under the chairmanship of former Law Secretary Sasidharan Nair, acted in accordance with the whims and fancies of the state govt. And soon the Pinarayi govt was given a clean chit by the new committee.
The lesson learnt from this second committee has not been in vain. Now the second Pinarayi govt has appointed a new committee to study the Justice Hema commission report. Ajoy C, the State Chalachitra Academy Secretary is the chairman of this committee. Let us hope that the new committee will follow in the footsteps of the Sasidharan Nair Committee and save the Pinarayi Govt easily from the 'trap'.
Justice Hema Commission report has put Pinarayi govt in the dock. Around 60 women testified to the commission by trusting the govt. They knew that their statements would turn some of the most influential and dominant people against them. They were really taking a huge risk. They still did this because they trusted the left govt. It is this trust that the Pinarayi govt has destroyed. It is this trust that the Women's Commission has squandered.
The 'Me too' movement has empowered women across the world phenomenally. It has emboldened women to take on the mighty and expose their true faces. Women have been exploited in their workplaces by their male superiors who wield power and influence. Patriarchy rules the roost in the film industry. Women have been conspicuously absent in a big way in almost all the major segments of this industry except acting. Even in the realm of acting, women aren’t allowed to last that long. The Malayalam film industry has seen actors like Sreenivasan, Kalabhavan Mani and Indrans scripting new history. But we can't see any such radical history as far as women are concerned.
Of course, we have had fabulous actresses like Sukumari, KPAC Lalitha and Urvashi. They can give any actor a run for his money. But even they couldn't demolish the patriarchal bastions in the Malayalam film industry.
The Justice Hema Commission report would have been the grand starting point for this. Asha Jomis, Public Policy Head at Governance Innovation Labs is stating a fact when she points out that the Kerala govt has effectively blocked the 'Me too' movement in the Malayalam film industry by blacking out the Hema commission report. Comrade Pinarayi Vijayan, if you have some free time at the hospital bed in America, please read once again 'Adukkalayil Ninnu Arangathekku' the drama by VT, and re-watch 'The Great Indian Kitchen', the film by Jeo Baby. Then it will dawn on you what your govt has been doing to the women in Kerala.
CPM has been under the scanner for the historical blunder of not making KR Gouri the CM in 1987. The fact that no woman has so far held the topmost post in the party also maligns the history of CPM. This history is 'enriched' by the present stand of the CPM which is closing its ears to the outcries of women for justice.
It was in 1933 that VT wrote the article titled "Now let us set fire to temples." 'So many churches and temples are standing tall with vanity in every nook and corner of Kerala. One is fed up with this sight. We have to destroy these graves of inequality and superstition. Yes, let us set fire to the roofs of these temples.' CPM had built up the 'Vanitha Mathil' across Kerala sometime back holding aloft VT's name too.
The left govt has wasted the golden opportunity provided by the Hema Commission Report to demolish the citadels of patriarchy in the film industry. Pinarayi govt is scripting a new chapter in the history of anti-woman policies by sitting over the report without initiating any action. Darkness is engulfing the roads of liberation that VT walked. Both History and time would brand the Pinarayi govt in all likelihood as the govt that rejected and negated the silver linings of a renaissance.