After her explosive tweet which blew the lid off the sexual harassment that women face in the film and entertainment industry, actor Varalaxmi Sarathkumar has put out a video about her new initiative 'Save Shakti'.
Speaking to The News Minute, Varalaxmi confirmed that she plans to approach the state government to set up special courts for women to handle cases of sexual violence.
"We already have mahila courts in the state but these are not enough. Having one court in a district is not enough. So we need mahila courts at every magistrate, taluk level. Only then will the rate of conviction increase and only then will we have more cases filed...women will feel brave enough to approach a mahila court and file their complaint," she says.
Acknowledging that the judiciary is overburdened, Varalaxmi says, "I read that there are about 4500 cases relating to sex crimes which are pending in the Delhi court. So what happens to the victims? They have to go through the trauma of going to the court for how many ever years it takes. That has to change. If we have more courts, the cases will get divided among them and the case will proceed faster. We're asking for a verdict in six months."
Varalaxmi believes that it is only a fast justice system which will instill fear among perpetrators and serve as a deterrent to sexual crimes.
According to her, perpetrators of sexual violence deserve the death penalty or sentences like they get in Saudi Arabia but seeing that this might not happen in India, at least a conviction and maximum punishment should be delivered within the ambit of the Indian law.
"It's only then that we'll see some fear in men. Right now, they think they can do whatever they want and get away scot free," she says.
Varalaxmi plans to get moving on her initiative soon.
"I'll be signing the petition on March 8 (Women's Day) and meet the CM and Governor whenever I get an appointment," she adds.
But what about the backlash that victims may face from within the male dominant industry if they complain?
"It's about time that we stood up for ourselves," Varalaxmi asserts. "It can be just three women joining me...but that's fine. At least three women are safeguarded! Whether it's one person or 15 persons or a thousand, it doesn't matter. We have to begin somewhere."
Varalaxmi says that the women's union has no precedent but that it's necessary to begin one.
"Sati was legal at one point. Now it's not. Things change. We have to start somewhere. We can't do anything without ruffling some feathers. So let's see how this goes," she says.
How does she plan to set up the union?
"We haven't finalised anything but we will be approaching the FEFSI soon to set up the women's union," Varalaxmi shares.
Asked if any of the top female stars have come forward to support her for the women's union, Varalaxmi says, "I haven't approached anyone for support. A lot of people told me that this is a wonderful initiative. And I'm not doing anything for anyone's approval. There are a lot of junior artistes, dancers, make-up artists...women who don't come into the limelight...but they are being sexually harassed. It's for them."
What does Varalaxmi feel about the Nadigar Sangam's response to her tweet, announcing that they will set up special teams for women in the entertainment industry?
"I don't know about that. I haven't been able to sit down and talk to them about it. But this is not only for actors. Nadigar Sangam will only look at female actors. We have to find a solution for women in the entire industry - makeup artists, costume designers, dancers...there are so many women here!" she says. "There's sexual harassment happening everywhere."
Why the name 'Save Shakti'?
"Women right now, we have the power. And we need to save ourselves - that's why Save Shakti!" explains Varalaxmi.