New Delhi: Media channels have churned out conspiracy after conspiracy on the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput and the alleged role of actor Rhea Chakraborty in his suicide.
In episode 561 of ThePrint’s Cut The Clutter, Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta explains how the case has been exploited by many TV channels and how no one is talking about the elephant in the room — mental illness as a leading cause of suicide.
The term ‘media trial’ was popularised during 1967 when a UK TV host named David Frost, while interviewing an insurance crook named Emil Savundra, asked him questions in an accusatory way. This started a debate on how Savundra was being tried by the media.
A recent example in the Indian context is the Aarushi Talwar murder case, in which the media had convicted the parents before any court did that, said Gupta.
Many conspiracy theories
Amid the various theories that came up in the Sushant Singh Rajput suicide case, the earliest one began after Rajput’s father K.K. Singh, in a video, claimed that Chakraborty had murdered his son by poisoning him, said Gupta.
The news channels immediately ran with it and also raised doubts about the postmortem report, saying that it did not give the precise time of death.
Gupta pointed out that there were also debates on various TV channels at length about the ligature marks on Rajput’s neck and how they did not match the cloth that the actor allegedly used, added Gupta.
However, the post mortem report from Dr R.N. Cooper General Hospital in Mumbai showed that Rajput died of asphyxia due to hanging and the report also said there was no external injury.
The FIR registered by Rajput’s father, however, did not talk about murder, but abetment of suicide. This FIR also said that Chakraborty took all of Rajput’s wealth, and therefore, he had no choice but to die by suicide.
The theory of nepotism also came up due to which many Bollywood people spoke out, including directors Abhinav Kashyap and Shekhar Kapur, and actor Raveena Tandon.
In this process, directors Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Mahesh Bhatt, Aditya Chopra, Karan Johar, and production house Yashraj Films were also questioned. YRF was also made to turn over all the contracts they had signed with Rajput.
There was also a money laundering angle in all this. The Enforcement Directorate had confirmed that Rs 15 crore was transferred from Rajput’s account. But the ED did not find any trace of the money in Chakraborty’s accounts.
TV channels vs TV channels
Another conspiracy theory was that Rajput used to write a diary and some pages in that diary were found to be torn. Rajput’s brother-in-law Vishal Kirti, who is also a BJP MLA from Uttar Pradesh’s Chhatapur, claimed that the pages were torn by Mumbai Police.
However, Siddharth Pithani, who was the late actor’s close friend and flatmate, said that he was often given to writing in his diary and tearing the pages out.
All of this culminated with Rhea Chakraborty becoming the primary focus in the actor’s death probe.
“Now we have a good-looking witch, black magician, somebody who took control of this talented young boy from distant Bihar and exploited him. Took away all his resources, fed him deadly drugs which either killed him or left him in a situation where he decided to kill himself. But nobody has any evidence to substantiate any of this,” said Gupta.
Gupta also added that this story has also moved into yet another universe which is TV channel vs TV channels.
Some TV channels think that Chakraborty is the murderer. They seem quite confident and are also accusing others of having shielded her. They have accused other channels of committing the ‘crime’ of interviewing her.
“This is obviously nonsense but while this goes on, it’s also true that many of the channels that are now feeling like victims because they are being attacked, are also the ones who stole perfectly innocent sounding WhatsApp chats between Rhea Chakraborty and Mahesh Bhatt (film director), and made it out to be some kind of conspiracy,” noted Gupta.
A man died and two families were destroyed — Rajput’s family and Rhea’s family, said Gupta. No guilt has been established anywhere. The only reputations which are ruined today are of Chakraborty and her family without any evidence. The reputation of the news media, especially television media has also been destroyed, he added.
Suicides in India
According to the National Crime Research Bureau (NCRB) data, India recorded 1,39,123 suicides in 2019, that was up 3.4 per cent from 2018. If we see carefully, the number of suicides in India as a percentage is rising three times as fast as India’s population is rising.
This may also be a case of stress. It can also be a case of better reporting, However, even today, the highest number is in Maharashtra.
Family problems, marriage problems, illness, etc all together add up to about 49 per cent cases of suicide. The rest come from elsewhere, and that elsewhere is widely presumed to be mental illness.
So the big guilty party in this situation is mental illness. And that is something that in India, we don’t like to accept. Families don’t like to accept it, because how could their kid be suffering from mental illness? Also, in the media, this marks the ‘end of the story’. So nobody really wants to go into the topic of mental sickness.
The trial by the media can be dangerous, said Gupta.
“We should remember that just because we have the media with us, this power has to be used very carefully. We also have enormous power to help people. We have enormous ability, unfortunately, to harm people,” he added.
Innocent and guilty is something for the courts to pronounce, not us journalists, said Gupta.