Opinion

Will the actress get justice? | Why the “#Me Too” movement has not caught up?

By ILT Bureau

February 04, 2018

The abduction and sexual assault of a top ranking South Indian actress occurred almost a year ago on February 20th,2017 and that incident shocked the psyche of Kerala society.  The actress was travelling from Thrissur to Ernakulum(Kerala) to her friend’s house and about short of 25 km short of her destination she was subjected to a most heinous crime of abduction and sexual assault for almost one and a half hours, reportedly on a “quotation”, a term used for hiring rowdies on contract to commit crimes of the foulest nature. Contrary to the perpetrators of the crime she refused to be succumbed and took courage to file a complaint.

Public outrage against the crime was expectedly massive and within two days Kerala Police arrested two of the criminals. Conspiracy theories were doing the rounds that a prominent Malayalam actor was behind the crime to settle scores with the actor as she had aligned firmly with the hero’s former wife Manju Warrier.

After a marathon interrogation session on July 10, 2017 Kerala Police arrested Dileep (Screen name for Gopalakrishnan Padmanabhan Pillai) a king maker in Malayalam film industry who controls production and distribution in Malayalam cinema.

His fury to the actress was well known as the victim had stood staunchly behind Dileep’s former wife Manju Warrier during their muddled divorce case in 2015. Dileep was in jail for 85 days and his bail application was rejected four times.

The abduction and sexual assault case was a big media event which the print, electronic and social media celebrated with gusto. Print, electronic and social media spent tonnes of news print and loads of airtime, respectively, as it involved sex, criminality and sleaze. Media trials ensured maximum eyeballs which it did! Media ethics and regulations were hugely violated and no one bothered. Finally, the Special Investigation Team(SIT) of Kerala Police filed a charge sheet of 1652 pages relying on a string of circumstantial evidences.

The charge sheet filed at the Angamaly Judicial First Class Magistrate states that Dileep nursed a serious grudge against the raped actress who had handed over digital evidence proving an extra marital affair between him and Kavya Madhavan (His present wife) to Manju Warrier, his former wife. He has been charged under various sections of the IPC for abetment of crime, conspiracy, abduction, use of criminal force to women, gang rape, destruction of evidence etc. apart from Sections under the Information Technology Act.

However, post filing the charge sheet, progress on meeting the ends of justice has been tardy, though it is now one year since the most heinous crime has taken place. Every trick under the trade is being resorted to delay justice and to bring the culprits to book.

The Angamaly Judicial First Class magistrate had to lash out to both the prosecution and the opposition for delaying the case by submitting various requests. Earlier, the Magistrate had come down heavily on the investigation team when the contents of the charge sheet were discussed on television news channels and the Police presented a feeble excuse. Court had cautioned the Police against leaking contents of the final charge sheet for media trials, which would interfere eventually with the administration of justice. On a petition by Dileep for copies all evidences including visuals of the sexual assault the Court directed to list out the copies and submit it to the Court.

Prosecution wanted to probe again the reported “revelations” made by the second accused Martin Joseph. It is in this background that the Court upheld the need for timely justice. The so called revelation was also the subject of a prime time discussion on a few Malayalam TV news Channels. As is usual with such shallow discussions of verbal diarrhoea, nothing came out but waste of airtime! The participants were the usual social worker, advocate, journalist and a politician. And it stopped there with no follow up. In fact, these discussions are blatant violations of broadcasting regulations, which, unfortunately, continue relentlessly with no one daring to enforce media regulations and social order.

One is surprised by the virtual silence of the media and public for a speedy trail to punish the offenders. “Women’s Co-operative in Cinema” was formed under the leadership of actress Manju Warrier and Bina Paul, a brilliant film curator and editor. They have laudable objectives but a membership of 21 and is a registered body. They met the Kerala Chief Minster who posed for a widely publicised photograph.

A three- member committee with a retired justice, a former lady bureaucrat and a celebrated actress was announced to look into the grievances of women in cinema but beyond a first meeting nothing has moved. Among the Women’s Collective, Rima Kallingal, Sajitha Madathil etc. are activists but were not even willing to talk when contacted. The only bold voices were that of Vidhu Vincent, Director and actress Parvathi. Instances of suffering of women in cinema are galore and it is not known why they are now silent.

Obviously they are all afraid lest they lose their chances in the film careers. Even when actress Sanusha was travelling in the night and a fellow passenger misbehaved no fellow passengers bothered to help her: a painful reflection of our nonchalance. It is in this context that public are concerned about the lack of an organised movement against assault of women. The “#Me Too” movement gained instant global acceptance; it began on social media, after a call to action by the actor Alyssa Milano to give the people a sense of the magnitude of the problem of sexual assault.

The epochal campaign caught up like wild fire and shook not only Hollywood titans but also many other big names across the world including media and Parliament. Millions of women including those in sports used Twitter, Face Book and Instagram to disclose the harassment they faced in their lives. It was the most celebrated artistes who confessed their experiences after decades of suppression. Why they are speaking now is that the next generation does not have such harrowing experiences and to reveal the ubiquity of sexual assault.

Kerala boasts of the highest literacy and as one of the largest film producing industry, though still acting in cinema is still a social taboo for many. Our social movements have been models for the country. Social media penetration in Kerala is the highest in the country. Powerful edifices of Hollywood kingmaker Harvey Weinstein and of others crumbled like a pack of cards at the relentless investigations and publication of tactful reports by The New York Times and The New Yorker which resulted in #Me Too movement. TIME Magazine honoured the #MeToo  movement persons as the prestigious Person of The Year in their annual Person of the year.”

Why is it that not a single media establishment does not investigate on its own such instances of assaults on women? Television channels which dish out tear jerkers who are mostly women only add to the poor plight of women by portraying degrading instances of women, who make up their own audience. Why is it that there is no movement even to catch up with the rest of the world against sexual assaults?

(K. Kunhikrishnan is an experienced senior broadcast TV professional, an author and a translator. He is a contributor on literature and media for English and Malayalam periodicals. He can be contacted on kkunhikrishnan@gmail.com )

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