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With Its Stand On Dileep, Will Malayalam Cinema Truly Ever Embrace #MeToo?

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On August 7 this year, three members from WCC (Women in Cinema collective), Padmapriya, Parvathy, and Revathi, met the Executive Committee of AMMA (Association of Malayalam Movie Artists) to discuss the controversy related to reinstating actor Dileep, who is an accused in abduction and molestation of an actress. His reinstatement divided Kerala as a state into two, with contradicting opinions, as many believed that he is innocent. Innocent or not, the actor was arrested after police claimed that they have gathered irrefutable proof and he was denied bail three times. Adding more spark to the shock wave, as a protest against this move, four actresses (including the survivor) resigned from the organization and made their stance clear. Now the WCC members met the EC of AMMA for the sake of resolving this issue besides raising concerns of their own.

A few days ago, WCC members (including the actresses who resigned) held a press conference to express their disappointment over AMMA’s lack of response and for taking a mediocre stance on Dileep issue.

This press conference was met with flak from different sections, including the reporters who were too harsh and one even mocked WCC’s stance on issues like #MeToo and Revathi’s personal experience of meeting a terrified 17-year-old girl. Dhanya Rajendran, Editor-in-chief of The News Minute expressed her disappointment in her FB post, “As the press meet went on, the women spoke, rationally and emotionally at times. But a few journalists at the press meet behaved in such a way that I was left shocked. They were disappointed that there had been no name dropping. ‘Tell a name’, ‘you are being cowardly’, ‘what is the point of being in WCC if you won’t expose names, and ‘no need for survivor’s name, but need only perpetrator’s name’- they said. Each time a WCC member tried to move away from this line of questioning, they would come back to that. ‘Give a name’. The line of questioning was so triggering, that it was evident the women were upset. One member was so triggered that she came up to speak about her experience, impromptu. This satisfied them for some time, but not too long. They went on and on and on with ‘Give a name’. I had never met or heard of these journalists and so I don’t know if they belong to a particular camp. A lot of other journalists who work in Kerala believe that these were stooges of the fallen heroes (I don’t want to call them superstars now) and their questions were motivated. Maybe it was. While that is disturbing, the skewed understanding of what a survivor goes through is worrying.”

The intention of the conference was to express their disappointment over the fact that their demands were not met and that AMMA EC had been passing the buck purposefully.

Now, post this came to the storm. Actor Siddique who is also the secretary of AMMA, held a press conference with actress KPAC Lalitha. In this nauseating conference, the actor revealed that Dileep will be protected until he is proven guilty and that he will not be denied his right to work. Which is ironical as AMMA had banned actor Thilakan from the organization when he chose to work with Vinayan and was denied opportunities. As per sexual harassment at workplace act 2013, the survivor should be given the priority and WCC even asked for ICC to ensure that women get to be safer and have a voice against atrocities against them. The nation had been witnessing the #MeToo wave and other industries had been taking a stance against actors and other folk who are accused of sexual harassment or worse. In a massive ‘WTF’ moment, Siddique took a dig at Aamir Khan and Akshay Kumar for supporting the #MeToo movement and that Jagadheesh’s press release (where he expressed AMMA’s desire to resolve the issue with WCC amicably) is irrelevant. He went to make the ultimate remark, that is, action will be taken against the three actresses for holding the press conference as he believed that they are deliberately attacking Mohanlal, president of AMMA.

Adding insult to the injury, Siddique said that the four actresses will be taken back to AMMA only if they apologize, including the actress survivor. That’s right. KPAC Lalitha nodded to his words and dropped “incidents which happened 15 years are irrelevant”. She even said that Dileep is a nice person. Personally, I don’t know why she spoke to the press against WCC or if Siddique purposefully placed her next to him for the sake of having a female in his anti-WCC stance. KPAC Lalitha had faced harassment from late actor Adoor Bhasi and she had been open about her experience. Her words were disappointing.

If Siddique spoke as a representative of AMMA then it says a lot about AMMA’s stance on this issue. Dileep will be protected until he is proven guilty. The actress survivor is not given the support unless she resorts to their standards and that the organization will continue to be (un)safe for women as Siddique even dismissed the idea of ICC in Malayalam cinema.

Siddique’s words reflected male privilege as well as male ego at its best. He looked as if his pride hurt by the actresses’ stance including the survivor who had to endure this injustice. Why else would he demand that they apologize for resigning?

Actor Jagadheesh, treasurer of AMMA, later spoke to News Minute saying that Siddique’s words do not represent AMMA and that he went rogue to vent out his personal rant against WCC while using KPAC Lalitha as a scapegoat. A voice note of Jagadheesh’s that was leaked, had firm words against Siddique for intimidating and taking his position at AMMA for granted. He assured that his press release represents AMMA and as written after discussing with President Mohanlal.

Now comes the question, who actually represents AMMA? Jagadheesh or Siddique? Will AMMA make an official statement on their handle? Has AMMA taken a position in this issue? WCC, despite exaggeration, have raised legitimate question and demands that will ensure women’s safety at the workplace. AMMA is said to be a welfare association for the actors in Malayalam cinema and only last month the president bragged about how good it is. Yet, they still find it difficult to take a stance on sexual harassment issues. The core team has people with close ties with one another, thus leading to bias. But, since Jagadheesh mentioned that Siddique’s words were distasteful, will they take action against Siddique since he also publicly called out the survivor actress and disregarded the necessity of ICC? I sincerely hope that they do because the Siddique’s words were just bizarre.

I guess that is the only way in which AMMA could make their stance clear.

 

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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