The media circus around actor Dileep's alleged involvement in the abduction and reported sexual assault of a leading Malayalam actor continues. On Wednesday, Dileep was grilled by the police along with director Nadirshah for over 10 hours.
The support for Dileep has been growing from the Malayalam film industry, where he is a prominent face, ever since news broke out that he may be questioned in the case. However, the nature of the support exposes the deeply entrenched misogyny of the Malayalam film fraternity.
In the latest such instance, on Wednesday night, producer Saji Nanthiyattu appeared on Asianet News during a discussion on the case and made shocking comments. "The woman was harassed only for 2.5 hours. But Dileep has been harassed for 4 months and has suffered mental agony."
Saji, in fact, was only repeating a version of what Dileep himself had told Manorama Online in April. He claimed that while the woman actor had been physically harassed, he was being emotionally harassed because of the rumours surrounding the incident. As if the two were remotely comparable.
Although the Asianet anchor, Vinu, slammed Saji by pointing out the absurdity of his statement, Saji continued his rant by asking if Dileep, who'd been called for questioning by the Kerala police, did not have any human rights. This, even as proper legal procedure was followed in calling him for questioning.
To make it worse, some have pointed out that there were allegations about Saji's involvement (not proved) in the Kiliroor scandal where a young girl was sexually abused by several prominent persons.
Setting aside the Dileep "ettan" supporters who seem to be in no mood to wait till the police draws its conclusions before vouching for his innocence, one must ask if it is an ethical media practice to offer a platform for people to make such callous and insensitive comments. Especially regarding a sexual assault case where investigations are still ongoing?
Speaking to TNM, news anchor Vinu said that Saji had been invited for the discussion because he'd appeared on several TV channels to talk about issues that had to do with the film industry.
"He's the Vice President of the Kerala Film Chamber of Commerce and has been speaking about this issue to many channels," says Vinu."We called him on the show to ask why organisations like AMMA had not said anything about the issue so far."
Vinu points out that Dileep was being investigated for his alleged involvement in the attack and not for the complaint he'd given about the prime accused in the case blackmailing him, as he has been posturing.
"The president of AMMA says that they will not say anything because they will be held as an accused no matter what they say. But how can they respond like that? Isn't the woman who was assaulted a member of AMMA?" Vinu asks.
Even though the intention might be right, the incessant noise in the media about Dileep's alleged role in the case might end up turning the narrative to victim shaming. In this case, we are seeing a similar pattern with Salim Kumar asking her to undergo a lie detection test, and Dileep asserting that the woman actor had been "friends" with the accused.
In the high profile Tarun Tejpal case, for instance, after the initial outrage had died down, many "supporters" came forward to malign the complainant and subject her to character assassination to establish that their friend was innocent.
From appearing on panel discussions on the issue to declaring that they'd seen the CCTV footage of the incident which absolved the accused, there was a systematic attempt to change the media narrative about the case. Outlook magazine even published an article titled What the Elevator Saw, presenting the rape accused in sympathetic light and casting aspersions on the victim's version of events.
The media's role in highlighting sexual assault cases cannot be dismissed and certainly, when the people involved are celebrities, the issue will garner greater attention.
But, when a victim of a sexual crime is forced into anonymity thanks to the patriarchal society she lives in, is it fair to offer a platform for others like Saji to indulge in such speculations and mudslinging? Not only is the exercise skewed, it ends up trivialising the very real pain that she has undergone. Dileep may be entirely innocent or he may be guilty of the accusations. However, irrespective of this case, this is a question media outlets must introspect.
Saji may have been invited to speak because of his role in the Film Chamber but it's time media channels stopped offering people like him a platform any longer to weigh in on this issue, the seriousness of which they clearly do not understand. Or are unwilling to understand.