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SIC orders release of Hema panel report on gender issues in Malayalam film industry

The Hema committee report being submitted to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan by panel members on December 31, 2019.
| Photo Credit: file photo

More than four years after the Hema committee report to address issues of sexual harassment and gender inequality in the Malayalam film industry was submitted to the State government, the State Information Commission has ordered the Culture department to release the report in the public domain. The release of the report, believed to hold revelations that could shake the power centres of the industry, can lead to intense demands and calls for change.

The Hema committee, headed by Justice K. Hema, constituted in the aftermath of a case of sexual assault on an actor in 2017, had submitted the report to the Chief Minister on December 31, 2019. Despite repeated demands over the years from various stakeholders, including the Women in Cinema Collective (WCC), the report had remained shrouded in secrecy.

Filmmaker Anjali Menon, a member of the WCC, welcomed the development and expressed hope that it would shed light on the issues to be addressed.

“This order is a positive development that holds all parties accountable. The committee was constituted on the basis of the WCC’s request to the Chief Minister to study issues faced by women in the Malayalam film industry as a workplace. Several women from the industry have testified before the commission about various levels of discrimination that they have experienced, in the hope that the findings will then lead to change. A lot of time, efforts, and taxpayers’ money have been spent on this. It is important that all of that is justified. No point talking about solutions, until the problem is transparently declared and defined,” she told The Hindu.

Minister for Cultural Affairs Saji Cherian said the government would comply with the commission’s order and release the parts of the report which did not violate anyone’s privacy.

According to the order issued by State Information Commissioner A. Abdul Hakeem, no information, other than those prohibited under the Right to Information (RTI) Act and those affecting the privacy of the individuals concerned, should be withheld. The applicants should be informed about the fact that such information is withheld.

The information commission, while lauding the government for its intent to constitute the committee to address the long-standing issues, criticised the Culture department and the bureaucracy for withholding the report. The department officials betrayed a certain “prejudice in withholding the information” without properly examining the intention of the petitioners. The facts and findings in a report meant to revitalise the industry and ensure the safety of women working in it “cannot be hidden forever”.

The commission directed the department to provide the information to the applicants before July 25, failing which the State Public Information Officer and Appellate Authority will have to appear before it on July 27.

Several actors and others working in the industry had recorded detailed testimonies of the issues of sexual harassment, unofficial bans, wage payments, and other disputes before the committee. Facing heat from various quarters over the report being kept a secret, the State government had in 2022 constituted a three-member panel “to examine and formulate an implementation plan” for the Hema committee report. However, this committee is not known to have met or made any recommendation till date.

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