Actor Sri Reddy's semi-nude protest against the alleged sexual exploitation of women in the film industry by influential members has brought to the spotlight the lack of a women's grievance cell.
Taking serious note of the issue, women activists from the state have appealed to the Telangana government to constitute a high-level committee comprising women bureaucrats, women police officers and representatives from women’s groups to conduct a comprehensive inquiry on the problems women actors face in the Telugu industry.
On Wednesday, the activists belonging to different women’s organisations approached the Minister of Cinematography, Talasani Srinivas, and submitted the representation detailing a charter of demands, which include the following: government to immediately institute a high-level committee comprising women government officers and external women members, film associations like MAA and Telugu Film Chamber of Commerce to take all measures necessary to keep the workplace free of sexual harassment, setting up of an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) in the Telugu Film Chamber of Commerce, erecting visible boards with helpline numbers to prevent sexual harassment, MAA to follow a transparent system for admitting members into the association, revoking the ban on Sri Reddy, police investigation into the allegations of rape and other forms of violence made by Sri Reddy.
Speaking to TNM, activist Tejaswini Madabhushi from Hyderabad for Feminism, said, “The government should constitute a high-level committee to investigate the status of women, the problems women actors face in the industry. The body should have women bureaucrats, women police and external members. This will help in understanding the plight of the women actors and would help in taking measures to prevent sexual harassment.”
She added, “There is a difference between other workplaces and the film industry. It works differently, like there would auditions… we need to understand if auditions is a workplace. These instances are unique to the film industry. So the government should constitute a committee, similar to the Justice Verma Committe. Besides this committee, the Film Chamber should have a gender sensitivity committee to redress grievances of the women actors. In studios and workplaces, they should display posters with helpline numbers where one can complain about harassment.”
The Justice Verma Committee was constituted in the aftermath of the horrific gangrape in Delhi, referred to as the Nirbhaya case.
Tejaswini also opined that the government should have a helpline, since the actors go on outdoor shoots.
“In Hollywood, there is a helpline with external members, not belonging to the industry. Similarly, such a helpline should be created by the government to tackle the menace of sexual harassment efficiently," she said.
Condemning the stand of MAA (Movie Artists’ Association) which has rejected the membership of actor Sri Reddy although she has acted in three films, the Convener of Bahujana Prathighatana Vedika, Sujatha Surepally, said that MAA is acting like a ‘Khap panchayat’.
“It is a shame that although the cine industry largely depends on women, they don’t have a CASH committee (Committee Against Sexual Harassment). The allegations made by Sri Reddy should be investigated seriously,” Sujatha noted.
Recently, actor Sri Reddy registered her protest against the sexual exploitation allegedly prevailing in the industry by stripping outside the Telugu Film Chamber of Commerce at Film Nagar.
As part of her campaign to reveal the names of the perpetrators, she even named a few on her social media pages, which included the son of a famous producer. However, she later deleted these screenshots and photographs.
The collective of women's activists which made the appeal to the Telugu film industry on Wednesday includes K Sajaya, Sandhya, Samatha Roshni, Devi, Tejaswini, Satyavani, Vasudha Nagaraj, Padmaja Shaw, Jhansi and others.
In their two-page statement, the collective has slammed MAA's response to Sri Reddy and the "stony silence" of the Telugu Film Chamber of Commerce and Telangana Film Industries Employees Federations.
“MAA’s response to Ms Sri Reddy’s protest is absurd, as it sounded like a rural feudal lord’s response to a rebellious villager in 17th century," the statement reads.
Pointing out that such associations have previously come together for other demands, the statement questions their inaction in this regard. Further, the activists have noted that stripping as a way of protest is not new and that other women, too, have done it in the past.