During the early hours of 14th June, Sushant Singh Rajput was found hanging from his ceiling, dead by his own hand. One of the most prolific actors of the new generation, Rajput’s popularity had increased dramatically over the last few years, especially after having starred in one of the most critically acclaimed Bollywood films of last year, Chhichhore. His death was received as a nationwide shock, with thousands of fans, supporters, and fellow celebrities expressing their extreme distress and offering their condolences. An investigation into his death was launched almost immediately by the Mumbai police, to the great interest of the public. No foul play has been confirmed, but the public was hungry for news, and the media eager to satisfy them. Over the past few months, one name has kept appearing in headlines: Rhea Chakraborty. The public’s interest in Ms. Chakraborty increased exponentially after Rajput’s death. So who is she? And why is she so important?
Rhea Chakraborty and Sushant Singh Rajput dated for almost two years up until his death. Since Rajput passed, multiple accusations have been thrown against her, the largest one being abetment of suicide. This accusation comes not from the police but from the media and, by extension, the public; Chakraborty has been labeled a ‘manipulative woman’, a performer of ‘black magic’ who ‘drove Rajput to suicide’. After weeks of being thrashed by the media, she was arrested by the Narcotics Control Bureau for a petty marijuana charge. Why has the whole country been so quick to judge a woman whose only visible crime was dating an actor? Why has she been shamed, ridiculed, threatened, and thrown into jail? The answer lies within the intrinsic roots of our Indian culture.
Over the last century, the world has fought for gender equality - India, borne of patriarchy, has also been fighting for the same (if not as loudly). Though the mindset of our generation is one of equality for all, the progress we make is limited by the majority of our country which continues to pursue a more traditional, patriarchal mindset. In the case of Ms. Chakraborty, instead of labeling her as incapable, as the media often does to women, she was slut-shamed, called manipulative, and had a hate campaign led against her for simply just existing, as though the responsibility of keeping Rajput alive rested entirely on her shoulders. This ties into another issue: disregard for mental illness.
It is widely known that Sushant Singh Rajput suffered from a mental illness. Though unconfirmed, it is believed he may have suffered from a form of depression or bipolar disorder. Unfortunately, our country suffers from a lack of awareness about mental illness. For India, it is still a relatively new topic of discussion; it is not taken seriously and is continuously shunned or swept under the rug. Lack of education on the subject matter contributes to the problem. For those who barely understood (or were unaware entirely) of Rajput’s condition, it was easy for them to latch on to whatever theory formed in their head. Who easier to accuse than someone who was close to him, someone who had easy access to him, someone who was a woman? The media swiftly grasped on to this story. It was simple, it was printable, and it was a scandal that conformed with the mentality of the majority of the country.
The deep-rooted misogyny that resides within the brains and power of this country is undeniable. The media has taken it upon themselves to be judge, jury, and executioner, destroying the life of a woman who clearly committed no crime. Rhea Chakraborty has received death and rape threats, was sent to prison for marijuana possession, and all without any trial. The public has condemned someone simply for being a woman, a phenomenon eerily reminiscent of illogical witch hunts from hundreds of years ago. We tend to believe the world has moved past its horrific beginnings, that we are moving on to a better, brighter future, and yet this is possibly one of the biggest setbacks of the century. It is painful to see. Instead of mourning one of the most talented people of this generation, or addressing the hundreds of issues that plague our country today, we are focused entirely on this woman. A woman whose life was destroyed, a life she can never get back. Every woman in India knows her pain because every woman in India has felt what it is like to be treated as such. The undeniable, unavoidable truth is that we do not have a choice. We must be better. Our people must be better. Our country must be better, lest society crumbles into ruin.