The Kerala High Court’s orders on the execution of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act convey an unmistakable message: Delaying the implementation of the law against workplace sexual harassment is unjustifiable for the Malayalam film industry or any other film industry for that matter. The court was deciding on a public interest lawsuit brought by the Women in Cinema Collective (WCC) and others, stating that actors’ unions and production companies should be held liable for the sexual harassment of women. In many ways, the decision is momentous for an industry that is mainly unorganized and driven by informal ties.
The court was deciding on a public interest lawsuit brought by the Women in Cinema Collective (WCC) and others, stating that actors’ unions and production companies should be held liable for the sexual harassment of women.
First, the court specifies that if a production unit employs ten or more actor-actors, it is required to have an internal complaints commission (ICC). The court further stated that the statute protects “any individual working at a workplace, whether on a regular, temporary, ad hoc, or daily wage basis, either directly or through an agent including a contractor, whether on a regular, temporary, ad hoc, or daily wage basis.”
Second, although organizations such as the Association of Malayalam Movie Artists (AMMA), Kerala Film Chamber of Commerce, and others do not have an employer-employee relationship with film professionals, it asked them to form a joint committee to deal with sexual harassment of women, to inspire “sufficient confidence to women professionals in a production unit” and “make the right to life and personal liberty of women in the film industry more meaningful and tangible.”
These are words that are reassuring. It also highlights the depressing atmosphere and misogynistic society in which the WCC waged its court battle. The WCC was founded in the aftermath of one of the most heinous sexual crimes in Indian cinema history: the kidnapping and sexual abuse of a Malayalam actor, in which fellow actor Dileep is a suspect. The WCC was met with explicit hostility and sexist rejection by the influential people in the film industry, rather than unity. The WCC had filed a lawsuit stating that the AMMA had broken the Vishakha standards by failing to provide the actor with a grievance redressal procedure.