Tamil actor Kamal Haasan spoke about many things in a press meet on Wednesday, including the Malayalam actor abduction and sexual assault case in Kerala. He expressed support for the survivor, saying that it was the prime duty of every man to ensure women’s safety.
However, Kamal also took the liberty of referring to the actor by her name. And when a reporter pointed out that he shouldn’t be naming her, he replied, “It doesn’t matter. You (the media) have put her name out there. Don’t hide the name… If you want to call her Draupadi, call her Draupadi.”
Actually, it does matter.
It's true that many media outlets had published the name of the actor before knowing the charges in the case. When it became clear that the charges included Section 376, however, most of them retracted her name as is required by law.
Section 228A of the IPC explicitly states that the identities of victims of sexual assault must not be revealed in any form of publication.
Unless the survivor has expressly given her consent for her name to be used, it is illegal to name her in a publication.
The survivor, who had released a statement in June, soon after actor Dileep made derogatory comments about her and the prime accused in the case, Pulsar Suni, had asked the media to withhold her name while reporting about the issue. She had also confirmed to TNM that she did not want to be named.
The Women in Cinema Collective also filed a complaint against actor Aju Varghese with the Women's Commission for naming the survivor. Aju Varghese had put up a Facebook post naming her while attempting to express his support for Dileep, who was facing the heat from the police in connection to the crime. Aju later apologised, claiming that he did not know the law.
Ironically, some of the media outlets reporting on Kamal's problematic statements have reproduced them verbatim, thereby naming the victim once again.
There is existing debate on whether the identity protection law is regressive, and takes the stigma away from the perpetrator, placing it solely on the victim’s shoulders.
However, the fact remains that the law on identity protection came into existence because it's necessary in a regressive society, one which is quick to label victims of sexual assault as "impure". The patriarchal framework within which this law exists cannot be changed overnight. It becomes necessary then, to allow the survivor her right to anonymity.
In a high profile case such as this, there is open curiosity to know more about the survivor and what she went through, because she is a public figure. But it must be reiterated that this voyeurism is a further violation of the victim. Naming the actor in news reports, even when quoting someone, may make it all the more difficult for her to shed the label of a ‘victim’ and move on.
While Kamal Haasan might have named the survivor, believing that she has nothing to be ashamed of, it is not his prerogative to decide if her name should be published or not. A true show of solidarity must necessarily take into account the survivor’s wishes on how she wants to be represented.
(Views expressed are personal opnions of the author.)