The woman who was target needs to be left alone: Sashi Kumar
What has happened and what is hitting the headlines in terms of the traumatic experience a leading Malayalam actor, a woman, had to go through is intriguing for two reasons; one every new revelation in the case seem to conceal more than it reveals. Of course all those involved are supposed to be in the hands of the police or in the net of the police and yet the circumstances, the context and the conspiracies and how and why this happened seem to be a deepening mystery. We hope in the days ahead that will be solved. But even more importantly because it is of enduring concern that this is a manifestation of not just the patriarchy and feudalism that we know is rampant in Kerala in spite of it pretending to be a progressive, enlightened and literate state, but also because of the witting or unwitting ‘complicit’-ness of the media in promoting this kind of patriarchy and sexist attitude in society. The media do this by not only sensationalising such events which revolve around the victimisation and atrocities against women. Key hole journalism, voyeurism passing off as journalism has become the norm particularly when the central character or central to the news happens to be a woman. We have seen this in Saritha’s case or in several other cases where the media treatment is salacious. The media have a multiplier effect in insinuating this whole ambience, this whole environment, of sexism or violence against women.
It is true that the film industry itself plays a terrible role in relegating women to this position. Both off screen and on screen the woman protagonists (forget about marginal characters who are referred to in that horrible catch-all term, extras) play such a terribly dismal role model. They are all catering to the male macho image and as if they are there at the behest of the male characters, they are there almost like properties, they are there like show pieces, like mannequins, and they are there to really titillate the audience. In very rare cases do they have an organic role in the plot or the theme. And of course when it comes to sex and violence or song and dance numbers, or item numbers as they are called, the projection of women is pathetic. But we continue with this unabashed and all if us seem to enjoy it and it is flourishing in Kerala cinema, Tamil cinema, Bollywood cinema and across the board in India. So Malayalam is no real exception to that kind of consumerism of women.
But one would have thought that the Malayalam industry will be different for it shows the way in terms of different cinema, in terms of parallel cinema, it has shown the way in terms of women’s rights. There are very strong womens’ movements that Kerala can boast off, there is the Kudumbasree project for instance where women self-help groups have shown how they can take charge of their own destinies and improve them. But none of this seems to be reflected fairly in the artificial make belief world of cinema. All this is affecting the lives of women, in terms of not only the manifest exploitation of women, but also the role model which handed down to future generations of the younger women or children. All this is terrible and it is time for society at large, film makers, civil society, womens’ organisations and the media to introspect, sit together and think about the dos and don’ts about projection of women, the way women are employed or featured in a profession particularly in the cinema profession, and began to make a difference.
What has happened to this particular actor is a harsh and urgent wake up call. Even in the discussions both on screen in television and outside generally in society it is as if something terrible has happened to a woman. That may be true, but the point also is to move away from a victim centric approach. The spotlight should be on the perpetrators of the crime, on the social and cultural contexts that make this possible, on our collective culpability. The persons who are to be shamed are those who did this. The woman who was the target of this dastardly act needs to be really left alone. She’s already had a traumatic experience. There is no shame sticking to her. If anything her courage deserves our admiration. The people who are to be shamed are those who did this. What is to be shamed is the social context that allows something like this to happen. On the other hand we boast, variously, of matrilineal families in sections of our population, we take pride that our women have been liberated for centuries and all that kind of nonsense. But the fact of the matter is that dominant in Kerala is a very very feudal and regressive mindset. And that I think has played out and continues to play out in sensationalised instances like this one. I hope this becomes a watershed moment leading sooner rather than later to a more humane and equitable gender relationship in our society. And as much as women, it requires the active engagement of men to achieve this.
As told to Gilvester Assary
Stay strong, fight out: Divya Unny
At one time, everyone believed you had to ‘compromise’ if you were a female and trying to make it big in the movies. Time and again stories naming an actress or speculations of it would come out, but most of them ended up in gossip columns of a local magazine. Very rarely an actress would speak out. But when years went by and terms like ‘New Gen’ movies came into being, the notion of casting couch faded at least in the minds of those who believed the younger crop were above all that.
It was over two years ago that Bollywood actor Divya Unny — and she is not to be confused with the Malayalam actress Divya Unni — came out about a nasty incident in the Malayalm film industry. But she says an attack like the one that fell on a prominent actress last week, could happen anywhere. “Firstly I believe that an attack on a woman or any person for that matter can happen any place or anytime irrespective of his or her professional or personal space. It doesn’t depend on a state or a country one belongs to because it is rampant everywhere. For instance be it a girl from a call centre in Delhi or another woman who works as an actor in Kerala, both are equally grave and unfortunate events that need to be fought against,” Divya says.
“I salute women like the said actress from Kerala who stood up for herself and is now asking for the perpetrators to be punished. Many girls don’t even get as far as to the police station because they fear they will be violated once again and that needs to change. The Malayalam industry has all kind of people and we don’t know who was responsible for the attack. So at this point making a comment on any group or section of people would be unfair. Yes I have experienced one unpleasant situation within the industry where I was told I will not make it as an actress unless I provide favours, but that is nowhere close to what has happened to this actress. She was insulted and stripped off her dignity and if it could happen to her in her own home state, it could happen to anyone, anywhere. I stand in complete solidarity with this actress and hope she retains all the strength she needs to fight through this till the end.”
Divya says she feels safer as an actor in Mumbai because it is her home, where she grew up. “It feels secure and that’s a basic necessity for any professional be it an actress or anyone else. That doesn’t rule out the possibility that I or any woman in the city is susceptible to a physical or emotional attack at any point. All we can do is stay strong, learn to fight the given situation and inspire those around us to speak up against anyone who has violated their modesty.”
If men in the industry, Malayalam or otherwise, believe that they rule the space and have a notion that women are pawns in their hands and can be used anytime they want, they are in for a rude shock, she says. “Gone are the days when a masochistic attitude took them places. It’s high time they learn to respect the other gender and wake up to the power a woman brings to the core life of any person. Demeaning that will bring down the foundation of their lives, and the sooner they realise it the better.”
As told to Cris