Nearly three months ago, on 14 June, Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput died by suicide in his Mumbai house. Since his death, opinions, conspiracy theories and rumours masquerading as ‘evidence’ have proliferated, thanks in no small part to news anchors who have strained to outdo each other and their own previous highest decibel levels while discussing nothing else but the death of one man and the national need for justice.
In reality, the so-called ‘Justice For Sushant’ campaign has been anything but. What has actually happened in the guise of the popular hashtag is that the man himself has been forgotten and his death has become about two women – actors Kangana Ranaut and Rhea Chakraborty.
This week, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) began to demolish Kangana’s office. The move came straight on the heels of a Twitter spat between Kangana and Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut over the actor’s remark that Mumbai felt like Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) to her, and her criticism of the Mumbai Police’s handling of the investigation into Sushant’s death. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Home Affairs accorded her Y+ security cover, which was soon followed by Kangana’s highly dramatic trip to Mumbai from Manali.
Also this week, Sushant’s girlfriend, Rhea Chakraborty, was arrested by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) for allegedly procuring 59 grams of marijuana for him. The arrest came after two months of investigation that has involved the Mumbai and Bihar police departments, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), none of which found any evidence of her involvement in his death.
Visuals of both women, one being zealously guarded and the other being zealously hounded, have dominated our news feeds on every platform.
For this reason, Kangana Ranaut and Rhea Chakraborty are ThePrint’s Newsmaker of the Week.
Kangana turned the debate from mental health to herself
For the first few days after Sushant died, national discourse was all about mental health. But just when one thought this incident could bring a much-needed change in how India thinks and talks about depression, the narrative was taken over, and turned upside down, by Kangana Ranaut and her army of fans.
The day after Sushant’s death, Kangana posted a video on Instagram in which she rubbished the idea that an “engineering entrance exam rank-holder could have such a weak mind that he’d commit suicide”. She proceeded to make the whole incident about Bollywood’s nepotism and cliquishness, and then about herself and how she, too, is an outsider who has been persecuted by the Hindi film industry. Midway through the video, she called his death, on the basis of no evidence, a “planned murder”.
That was all it took for the entire country, led by a section of media, to start baying for the blood of every Bollywood ‘insider’, whether or not they had even met or worked with Sushant, and for Ranaut to, once again, come into the limelight as a crusader for justice.
Warped idea of justice
Justice, though, seems to have taken on a different meaning when it comes to Rhea Chakraborty. Sushant’s girlfriend has been called everything from a gold-digger to a witch who practises black magic. Even though the investigating agencies have found nothing to even charge her for his death, let alone the court convicting her, she has already been presumed guilty by a huge section of Indians and a number of news channels, which actually worked towards ensuring this presumption prevailed.
Since 25 July, when Sushant’s father filed an FIR against Rhea, India has gone down a rabbit hole of misogyny.
Attacks on Rhea have percolated to anyone speaking up for her – against the vilification, the demonisation and the abuse – and some of the people supporting her are no less guilty. When singer Shibani Dandekar criticised Sushant’s former girlfriend Ankita Lokhande for targeting Rhea using the drug narrative, her criticism included the opinion that Ankita, a TV actor, wanted her “2 seconds of fame”. Soon, ‘warriors for Sushant’ descended on Shibani, calling her relationship with actor Farhan Akhtar her “only identity”. Her Wikipedia page was altered, labelling her as a “gold-digger”.
Patriarchy is far from being smashed
The morning of her arrest, when she went for questioning to the NCB, Rhea wore a black t-shirt that read “Roses are red, violets are blue, let’s smash the patriarchy, me and you”. Even that has been turned into further ‘evidence’ to be used against not only Rhea but every celebrity who endorsed the message. The idea that they could be speaking up not necessarily in support of her, but of a simple thing called a fair trial, seems to have escaped most people, with many responding to the celebrities with the threat of unfollowing them – because they think that would provide #Justice4SSR.
The day Kangana Ranaut’s office was partially razed, before the Bombay High Court stayed the demolition, a TV journalist tweeted that Kangana and Rhea are “both fighting back systems & prejudices. But both, merely a pawn in a larger political game. Make no mistake – this is nothing but political.”
Several Bollywood celebrities, too, spoke up about their dismay at the BMC’s action, even those who have called for a fair trial for Rhea. But curiously, Kangana, who was quick to draw parallels between herself and Sushant, wasted no time in distancing herself from Rhea. When Sonam Kapoor retweeted Dia Mirza’s condemnation of the BMC’s move (both had previously posted the ‘smash the patriarchy’ message as well), Kangana called her a “mafia bimbo” and rejected any linking of her case with that of Rhea, saying she did not want to be compared to a “small-time druggie who was living off a vulnerable and self-made superstar”.
With people relentlessly attacking a woman for the death of a man, and women attacking each other for their views on it, patriarchy, going by the TV ratings of the coverage, is laughing all the way to the bank.
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