About 80 academics, writers, artists, lawyers and activists have signed an open letter condemning the decision of the Association of Malayalam Movie Artistes to revoke the expulsion of Dileep. The actor had been removed from the guild last July after his arrest in connection with the abduction and sexual assault of a Malayalam actress. The association decided to bring him back on Sunday after Mohanlal took charge as president of the guild for film industry members.

The actress had been allegedly abducted and sexually assaulted by a group of men on February 17, 2017 near Angamaly, Ernakulam. Dileep has been charged with planning the attack and hiring the group that carried it out, according to the police.

The signatories include artists Nalini Malani, Sharmila Samant and Nilima Sheikh, documentary filmmakers Uma Chakravarti and Deepa Dhanraj, women’s rights lawyer Flavia Agnes, Jawaharlal Nehru University academics Janaki Nair and AK Ramakrishnan and medical scientist Veena Shatrugna. The signatories expressed solidarity with the Women in Cinema Collective, which was formed after the attack in February last year. On Wednesday, actresses Rima Kallingal, Remya Nambeesan, Geethu Mohandas and the survivor of the assault – all members of the collective – resigned from the association in protest.

“With utmost shock and concern we watch the recent development in Malayalam film industry that led to the resignation four actors from the Association of Malayalam Movie Artists,” the letter reads. “This decision to take actor Dileep back into its fold shows the utter disregard AMMA as an association holds towards the survivor of a sexual assault. Dileep, the seventh accused and the alleged primary conspirator of the incident that involves the abduction and molestation of an actor, is also accused of influencing producers from casting the survivor. In such a crisis, instead of supporting the survivor, the association expressed its misogyny through a travesty, performed in its fund-raising fete, with Mammootty and Mohanlal- the superstars as its highlights, ridiculing the Women’s Collective that was formed to address women’s issues in the industry. This, is not conducive to a civilised society and cannot be the accepted culture of an industry that has a formative role in determining of the consciousness of a society.”  

The letter also referenced the #MeToo movement to decry sexual harassment, which began after a series of assault and rape allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein emerged in October last year. It said that association had chosen to be “on the wrong side of the movement”.

“[The] Malayalam film industry has its compelling claim to treating cinema as a responsible medium, at par with many important film cultures of the world. Given the context, this behavior is unexpected and unacceptable from a trade union that claims to represent the majority of its actors. It is outrageous that A.M.M.A firmly chooses to be on the wrong side of the movement against sexual harassment within the film industries worldwide in the wake of the #MeToo campaign and Harvey Weinstein follow ups in the Hollywood.”

The statement urged the government of Kerala to take action. It pointed out that the vice-Presidents of AMMA, actors Ganesh and Mukesh, are sitting MLAs from the ruling Left Democratic Front coalition. “What adds to our worries is that the body is headed by people’s representatives who associate with the ruling political party in Kerala,” the letter said. “We request CPIM [Communist Party of India (Marxist)] to seriously consider discussing with these elected representatives the implications of their act.”

It further said, “We also request the Government of Kerala to take immediate action to protect the survivor and to be cautious about chances of tampering with evidence in the on-going case involving Dileep.”

It said that the association has failed to use the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, in this case and “during any instances of harassment charges reported by women within its collective.”

Extending support to the Women in Cinema Collective, the letter said, “We appreciate the statement issued by AIDWA state committee [All India Democratic Women’s Association, the women’s wing of the Communist Party of India] in this regard and hope CPIM and other organisations look into this seriously and communicate to AMMA the preposterous of this absurd action.”