Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s case has now finally been handed over to the CBI – but not before everyone from his girlfriend Rhea Chakraborty to Bollywood filmmakers Karan Johar, Aditya Chopra, Salman Khan, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Ekta Kapoor and Mahesh Bhatt were blamed. But what has escaped popular attention is the toxic family structure of cow-belt India, especially Bihar, and how it treats its precious sons.
Sushant Singh Rajput’s father K.K. Singh’s allegations and his family’s posts should also be put under social and cultural examination. A ‘witch’ and a ‘gold digger’ are routine tags given to women by typical mothers-in-law; and blaming a son’s big-city girlfriend for all that is wrong is how families cope with sons’ autonomy. Not to undermine their grief, but the way the family has reacted says a lot about the burden of being a son in a Bihari family. He has to be no less than a Shravan Kumar all his life.
The son is always a kid — mera laadla
A grown up man is always a kid/baby of these families. His independent choices are frowned down upon, especially if it concerns marriage. If he goes against the family’s traditional decision-making, either his friends’ circles or his girlfriend or wives get blamed. There is hardly any talk about mental health in these families. Even if it is there, it’s always patriarchal in nature. For example, a son/man cannot exhibit emotional weakness and stress. It is seen as some kind of enfeeblement or emasculation. He has to be the perfect version of the ‘adarsh balak’.
Families don’t accept any other version of the son other than the one they create for them. All those people who came out to speak about Sushant’s life hadn’t met him for several years. For them, it was like, ‘we knew him as a happy-go-lucky 10-year-old, how could he become depressed in his late 20s?’ In fact, the actor’s father even said that until he met Rhea Chakraborty, Sushant had no mental health problems. And that his career was flourishing until Rhea walked into his life, and that she even conspired to take away his savings.
Such families have only one view of their son — he is never depressed, never makes mistakes, never gets bullied, and never marries outside the family’s choice.
‘Girlfriend/wife separates the family from the son’
The familiar trope in Bihar is one of a guile-less son who loses his way because of an enchantress.
‘Short Stories by Rabindra Nath Tagore’, a famous series on Netflix, perfectly explains this theory. Mahendra, a young man, gets married to a charming woman named Asha. He falls in love with her and forgets all his duties towards his widowed mother. Now the mother-in-law sees Asha as a villain who has corrupted Mahendra. Asha is seen as someone who took away her son.
There are many local songs in Bhojpuri that portray Bengali women as villains who trap Bihari men in their charm. They perform black magic on men. A Kajri song, usually sung during the month of Saavan, targets Bengali women as:
piya more gailen calcutta o rama,
bengalin bitiya kai dihali o jadua
tohara ko debo bengalin daal bhari sonwa o rama,
chhod di na hamro sajnawa o rama!
The man has gone to Kolkata where he has fallen in love with a Bengali woman. The family asks the woman to take gold instead and leave the man.
Families that can’t stand ‘girlfriends’
This ‘home breaker’ angle is not limited only to Bihar. North Indian families have a special dislike for girlfriends. The family thinks that the girlfriend has corrupted the son’s mind even if he starts wearing a different coloured t-shirt.
Families don’t approve ‘girlfriends’ who don’t fit into their ‘perfect Bahu’ category. In Sushant Singh Rajput’s case, there was a middle-class Bihari family and a modern Bengali girlfriend. The family lawyer also remarked in a video released by Rhea that she has never worn salwar kameez in her whole life. What does it have to do with criminal charges against Rhea other than showcasing a dislike for her? This detail is present in the FIR too.
This whole episode reminds me of a friend from my college days. He often used to counsel his mother, who lived in a remote district in Bihar, because she felt that her new daughter-in-law was trying to take her son (my friend’s brother) away from her. My friend could never convince his mother that it’s just that his brother’s priorities have changed in life after getting married.
Moreover, in our society, young boys grow up into men who believe they can have multiple affairs but they will eventually marry within the caste/class/religion/region. Their affairs will be cheered upon as their personal achievements but their decision of marrying a person of their choice will be looked down upon. Invariably, the man’s family will have an upper hand in the marriage.
The familial ‘disconnect’?
Sushant Singh Rajput’s father K.K. Singh claimed in the FIR that Sushant’s interaction with the family was limited in the past year. A family cannot believe that a grown man doesn’t need a woman to tell him about his interaction with the world. A grown man can decide if he wants to distance himself from a toxic environment. Whether it is work, home or love life. In fact, these families even expect the daughter-in-law to carry the burden of being a bridge between them if the son goes truant.
It could have been the other way round as well. What if it was Sushant who didn’t want to talk to the family because of their discomfort with his girlfriend? What if he only wanted to stay with Rhea?
If one goes through his interviews, it’s only his mother that he refers to in the family. He rarely spoke about his family and of his father. On his social media accounts too, Sushant only mentioned his mother. He often said he doesn’t have friends. At the peak of his career, he was planning to go to Nasa and do other things.
Depression is seen as defeat
Depression is perceived as a defeat in these families. And a man, especially from a middle-class family who has made a successful career in Bollywood without a Godfather, can never be accepted as defeated or depressed. Sushant’s sister posted a picture on Instagram and wrote that he was not suffering from depression. His brother-in-law Vishal Kirti wrote a blog, saying that though he lost touch with Sushant a year ago, he still can not believe that he was depressed.
The fact that the family doesn’t want to accept that their son could have been depressed even after his death, shows how little they know about this issue.
Sushant’s father has claimed that Sushant wanted to do organic farming in Coorg but Rhea stopped him. That Rhea warned him about his haunted house and forced him to move to another place. That she even took his phone away from him.
This is how the entire country got a right to call Rhea a witch. Bihar’s Janta Dal (United) leader Maheshwari Hazari even called Chakraborty a ‘vishkanya’ who was sent to entrap Sushant in her love.
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