TW: This article talks about suicide.
What happened with actor Sushant Singh Rajput was tragic. Yes, we all should take mental health more seriously. We should be kinder, individually, to everyone we know. We should also listen carefully to the ones who seem to be in trouble. I also understand that his suicide was a sudden shock and it’s fair that we all are mourning. All of us would agree to these. But, I would like to shift the focus a little bit towards the systemic and institutional ways of depriving someone of their mental health wellbeing. Almost all of it is state-sponsored and sanctioned by society.
As a society, we have completely invisibilised thousands of suicides of the farmers. Their sorrow and hopelessness would never fall under our mainstream, reductive, understanding of mental health. We mutter to ourselves “Afterall, they have committed suicide because of their poor material conditions” as if it has nothing to do with the emotional trauma of being in a debt trap.
The poorest of the poor of our country start their day frantically searching for some work to feed themselves for that day. I have no idea why have we conveniently ignored their cries for a basic income and dignity. I can never fathom their trauma of working in a dangerous/unsafe environment for pennies.
Left on their own to die in the lockdown by the cruel and irresponsible state, they still start their day desperately waiting for some work to come their way. Only this time, it’s worse. They are supposed to take the risk of getting exposed to a deadly virus just to not starve for the day. Nobody can probably explain this paradox which makes certain lives insignificant.
A lot of these workers were forced to walk for days just to reach home. An entire nation’s apathy towards their arduous journey and silence on their deaths were louder than the hollow apologies they got from the supreme leader. In the madness, no one could care about the isolation they felt while walking down what seemed like an endless road of dejection. Our inhuman justifications about the inevitability of their conditions continue to echo in our hollow minds.
For the past many years we have forced an entire community to prove their patriotism time and again along with proving that they are not terrorists. Our worst nightmares are their lived experiences. Why have we never talked about the emotional state of those who have lived through state-sponsored lynchings, rapes, and riots? Who had their houses burnt by angry mobs for no fault of theirs? We have successfully reached a point where our imaginary boundaries and distinctions legally require them to prove where they were born. The othering of Muslims and the subsequent stress of being called an alien in their own country has rendered them homeless.
Are those who took birth in so-called ‘lower’ castes ‘impure’? Or is the pollution in our texts and rituals which have sanctioned discrimination? Are we not the harassers? Are we not to be blamed every time a person from a Dalit community feels ashamed of their identity? What gives us the authority to define merit and belittle someone, ignoring their social setting?
Mental health did not seem important to us when a person was made to feel empty because of his caste. We have ruined the dignity of a people, what would cause more trauma than this? How many years will it take for us to eliminate centuries of oppression which we have very much institutionalised?
Enough people have suffocated in the closets thanks to our toxic hetero-normativity. Our norms have crushed the hearts of many because we felt their sexualities were inappropriate. It would take a lifetime to measure the trauma of being denied the freedom to love.
Not just that but we also live in a land where women are respected only if they are goddesses, where multiple women are raped, harassed, beaten to death every day, where we have put barbed wire around them for their protection but it only ends up hurting them more, is such a land, a safe space, mentally and physically, for women?
The police broke the bones of those students who chose to speak against the unjust regime but little did we know that their agony was more emotional than physical. To get up every morning, protest until midnight, come home drenched by the water cannons and beaten by mobs and yet get called ‘anti-national’ while an entire state hounded them for trying to save a sinking nation, have scarred them for life. We would prefer not to talk. They got sabotaged (and even jailed) for fighting for the people who define the abstract idea of a nation, by those who reduce the nation to the state. The police, when they thought they were breaking their bodies, were probably breaking their spirit as well.
The naivety of arguments which claim that individual efforts can defeat mental illness becomes evident only when the structural and systemic mental harassment is exposed. I hope that our determination to battle depression and other illness will not end when the mourning ends. It has to go on until every institutionalised way of causing psychological damage is destroyed. We should acknowledge that material conditions must be improved not just for the sake of better physical survival but also for the sake of better mental health.