Recommendations by Hema Committee vague, disappointing: WCC members

Recommendations like 'double meaning comments should not be made to women' are too obvious and do not need to be stated. Another vague recommendation pertains to a 'ban on bad portrayal of women'.
WCC members at a meeting
WCC members at a meeting
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One of the recommendations made by the Hema Committee report on problems faced by women in the Malayalam film industry, is ‘equal remuneration’. At the first meeting called by the government of Kerala to discuss the report with the various film bodies, a half-page summary of recommendations was handed out to everyone who attended.  But none of the attendees TNM spoke to seemed to have understood what it meant. Equal remuneration for whom, did they mean equal pay irrespective of gender and in all departments of filmmaking – all of it seemed vague. Not just that, nearly all of the points in the handout lacked clarity. At the end of several hours of the meeting – a few minutes of it attended by Minister for Culture Saji Cheriyan – all the participants left without clarity, deciding to meet again two weeks later.

“It is a little disappointing to see these recommendations, they are too loosely worded. The state has taken enough time and consideration to put this together. We want to understand who will be doing it and how it will be done. Like the Adoor committee report (that studied how to improve the state of Malayalam cinema) was published, the Hema Committee report should also be brought out. We have got together to discuss it today, but it is disappointing, because it was inconclusive,” says Padmapriya, actor and member of the Women in Cinema Collective (WCC).

The Hema Committee was constituted in 2017, in the aftermath of a brutal attack and sexual assault on a woman actor in Kochi, allegedly masterminded by another actor, Dileep. The WCC, which was formed soon after the attack, held a meeting with the Chief Minister, Pinarayi Vijayan, and in a letter to him, pressed for the need for a committee to make a comprehensive study of the film industry. The same year, a committee was constituted under Justice Hema. Two years later, in December 2019, the committee’s report was submitted to the government, along with the recommendations to be implemented to make the industry a safer space for women.

Two years and four months have since passed, and the first meeting to discuss the report between the government and members of the WCC, the Association of Malayalam Movie Artistes (A.M.M.A.) and others, was called on May 4, 2022. In the time that passed, there were a lot of discussions on making the Hema Committee report public – or at least the relevant parts of it. The government and Justice Hema were of the view that it cannot be done, since it was confidential in nature and the women who shared their traumatic experiences would not want to reveal their identity. However, the WCC has been asking to publish the findings without compromising the privacy of the women.

Watch: Explainer: Why is Kerala govt keeping the report a secret?

“The minister says that there is a confidential part of the report that cannot be published. But there are ways of maintaining confidentiality and still publishing the report. The meeting was disappointing,” says Bina Paul, film editor, artistic director of IFFK and WCC member.

The summary of recommendations was too vague for any of the participants to proceed with a discussion. “One of the points was about building two or more theatres in taluk, how is that connected with the safety of the women in the industry?” Padmapriya asks.

Some other recommendations say that drivers with criminal background should not be engaged and vulgar or double meaning comments should not be made to women. Pulsar Suni, accused of the 2017 sexual assault of the woman actor in Kochi, was a driver, but that does not lead to the conclusion that only drivers come with criminal background. Recommendations like 'double meaning comments should not be made to women' are too obvious and do not need stating, making the report sound juvenile. Yet another vague recommendation pertains to a 'ban on bad portrayal of women'. Do they mean derogatory representation of women or a ban on all negative women characters? The latter is simply illogical and is in no way connected to bringing gender parity in cinema.

“It is a fact-finding committee. But on what basis will one accept the recommendations, when even the people in the industry cannot figure out what they mean. What was the process of reaching this? When the meeting was called, we emailed thrice to understand what the agenda was. But no one at the meeting knew what it was about, and this is the first conversation with the stakeholders,” she adds.

Minister Saji came out of the meeting early and spoke about forming a five-member team to oversee the discussions between the film bodies and help formulate a law to implement the recommendations of the Hema Committee report. The team would have Kerala Women’s Commission chairperson P Satheedevi, Kerala Chalachitra Academy chairperson Ranjith, Kerala State Film Development Corporation chairperson Shaji N Karun, Kerala Cultural Activists Welfare Board chairperson Madhupal and Law Secretary V Hari Nair.

However, Minister Saji shot down the question of publishing the report or its findings. “Justice Hema herself said there was no need to give out the findings. What we need is to give protection to the women in the industry. What is the benefit of publishing the report? Those asking for it may have other intentions. The government has accepted the recommendations of the Committee and is proceeding legally with it. This should not be made into a controversy,” the minister said.

Watch: Minister Saji on the Hema Committee report

Members of the A.M.M.A. came out of the meeting, claiming that they are very happy about it. “We have welcomed 90% of the suggestions in the Hema Committee report. The remaining points are practically difficult to implement and we have conveyed this to the government. It is true that a friendly atmosphere should be there in work places of films but certain negative discussions about the industry should be avoided,” said Siddique, actor and A.M.M.A. member.

Only a day ago, three members of the Internal Committee (IC) formed in March this year after a lot of pressure from the WCC, resigned. Maala Parvathi, Shwetha Menon and Kukku Parameswaran resigned after the A.M.M.A. delayed taking any action on actor and producer Vijay Babu, who was recently booked for a case of rape and went on to name the survivor actor who lodged the complaint against him.

Representatives of the  Kerala Film Producers Association (KFPA) also took part in the meeting. G Sureshkumar, producer and office bearer, said that they had some concerns about the suggestion of forming a regulatory authority. “If the idea is that of an external body that will be above the film associations and control it, we will oppose it,” he said.

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