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Opinion: Sushant Singh Rajput’s Death Is The Death Of A Common Man

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Death is hard. We know it’s the eventual reality, yet whether it comes like a prince or a thief, it unnerves us. The current COVID-19 crisis has taken a toll on everyone physically, mentally, and emotionally. Many have died at this time. A friend’s father. A colleague. A school teacher. A doctor. The news which makes headlines are the ones of celebrities, soldiers, and doctors. And we are just close to half the year. How long will this uncertainty around the coronavirus last? How many will get affected, and how many will survive this phase? No one knows.

Some try to find solace in God. Some in their astrologers. Someplace their hope in science—some in the ruling government and their leader. Sushant Singh Rajput was found dead in his home on June 14, 2020, in Mumbai. The police suspect death by suicide. No note was found. As I write this article, investigations by the Mumbai police are still going on.

Sushant Singh Rajput died by suicide on June 14 in his house in Mumbai.

Pandora’s Box opened when celebrities like Karan Johar and Alia Bhatt posted their condolences. But people have watched the group mock the deceased actor on various shows. It felt like a slap. It took years for Karan Johar to look out of his star-struck coterie and invite actors like Ayushmann Khurrana on his Koffee with Karan show. A show that reeks of nepotism and privilege. A show that I quit watching for its pretence and elitism.

Here’ are a couple of tweets of people asking some hard questions to the top director:

‘Do you really care?? If you really do!!! Pls, stop what you’ve been doing for years!!! Learn from your mistakes. Maybe people can get a better tomorrow.’

‘Did you ever invite Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Irrfan Khan, Sushant Singh Rajput, Rajkummar Rao, Sonu Sood, KK Menon, Radhika Apte, Manoj Bajpai, Sohum Shah, Kapil Sharma, etc.?’

On Entitlement, Hypocrisy And Problematic Stances

People felt the need to defend the late actor. The rage is understandable and palpable. Sushant Singh Rajput was an exceptional actor. If he were born as a star kid, he’d be the current ruling superstar. No doubts there. There was a problematic comment I came across when the public called out on Alia Bhatt and her manipulations. The defence was, “Why blame Alia Bhatt for being born with good karma?”

Good karma doesn’t give the entitlement to anyone to misbehave or manipulate others. The truth about Karan Johar and the likes is this: they run blinds against actors whom they don’t like, spread nasty rumours about them, while their names never figure in these columns. You will never see a blind on Karan Johar in any of these popular columns. There were attempts made to frame Sushant Singh Rajput for sexual harassment. The new artist redrew the charges. She didn’t name who compelled her to make these false allegations. There were fake tweets that the late actor is supposed to have written just before his death. He has never signed into his Twitter account since December 2019.

There were a lot of campaigns against him. And it’s not hard to see why. Watch his performances in Kai Po Che, MS Dhoni: The Untold Story, Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!, Sonchiriya, Chhichhore, and you’ll understand why. He was a genuinely good actor. The good looks, physique, and dancing skills were an add-on. Calling out on Karan Johar, Alia Bhatt, and their hypocrisy is not equal to blaming them literally for the actor’s death. The murder of the body and soul was done. But the assassination of the late actor’s character is rife.

Suddenly everyone is the actor’s best friend. Everyone’s talking except his family. The Bhatt brothers have made a lot of allegations around the late actor’s mental health. Kangana grabbed the opportunity to hit out against the nepotism gang. Did she leave a cryptic message when she asked, “Yeh suicide thha ya planned murder?” She’s now the undisputed queen with a string of million more followers. Some are giving sermons on overcoming adversity, and how suicide is not a solution. Who is to deny these allegations? The dead man cannot come back to defend himself.

Who is to know if it was a suicide or a murder? If it’s the latter, will the truth ever be revealed? I doubt.

Suicide: Is It Cowardice?

The suicide epidemic is around us in our community, workplace, and pop culture. I’ve been hearing so many cases of suicide among common people in the last two years alone. It’s a demon that our generation is battling with. When I hear people calling those who commit suicide as cowards, I’m not entirely convinced by the argument. Strangely, the cases I’ve seen up close are of people who believed the same.

An ex-colleague’s fiance, who preached against suicide to his peers, hanged himself from the ceiling fan in his home. A prominent blogger who wrote with powerful conviction how suicide was wrong, and an act of cowardice, died by suicide two years later. A popular figure in the city who was brimming with positivity and inspiration died by suicide. All of them were achievers, positive, and had everything going for them. They had so many dreams to achieve. At least, seemingly so, on the surface. Then, we speculate, it must be depression.

I speculate why would people who call those who die by suicide cowards, do exactly the same. What has caused the shift? A weak moment? A dark moment? In two cases, I know that their curiosity led them in search of the dark forces. An interest in the occult. But this may not be the case for all its victims. Is suicide a cowardly act? Every individual is different, and so are their motives for suicide.

Let me take a case in point where taking one’s own life is seen as an act of courage, liberation, and enlightenment. The act of taking one’s life or Samadhi means to evolve life to another dimension; not a means to end suffering. Was Sushant Singh Rajput spiritually enlightened, and took his life for the sake of evolution? It is a fact that every religious scripture in the world condones suicide. It’s an act against the Creator and comes from the evil forces.

This belief system is the primary reason for the stigma around mental health, depression, and suicide. If you had a mental condition in the past, it was believed to be demonic possession. Thus, the hesitation in taking professional help. Many succumbed to suicide for the absence of professional treatment.

I have a friend who battled with depression for years. She had it all on the surface—a loving husband, two healthy and beautiful children, financially well-to-do, and nothing wanting. Yet, she felt blue and empty. Talking to her husband, family, and friends didn’t help her cause. Her husband asked her to meet a psychologist, and she hesitated for years because of her mental block. When her mental health went spiralling down, she took professional help. She calls it one of the best decisions of her life and wishes she got herself treated earlier. She didn’t need to take any medications.

In the other case, a relative who had immense faith in God, sunk into depression, when her life took a beating on all fronts—personally and professionally. Reading the Bible and visiting the church didn’t help anymore. She piled on weight, couldn’t sleep for months, and lived in perpetual agony about the future. Her inner circle listened as much as they could, but nothing helped. It got worse until her closest friend gave up and asked her to seek professional help. The friend accompanied her to the clinic. The treatment with medications worked wonders and got her life back on track. She’s now back to her old self. She shed the pounds and sleeps peacefully—her faith’s back on track and stronger than before.

When we call those who’ve committed suicide as cowards, aren’t we reinforcing the stereotypes around mental health conditions, and setting up barriers for those who genuinely need professional help, even if that’s not our intent? There is a disturbing and misleading message from Amitabh Bachchan on mental health issues, suicide, and IQ. He writes, “Excessiveness can ‘often’ lead to extremes”. 

What’s ‘excessive’ intelligence? Is it the fault of the common man to be so intelligent? A privilege reserved for the elite? Excessiveness can often lead to extremes. It is offensive to those who are highly intelligent and those who have to cope with mental health conditions. His statement is as misleading as ‘those who commit suicide are cowards’ or ‘rape is the victim’s fault’.

Then there is the other extreme of the romanticization of suicide commonly seen in pop culture. Think ’13 Reasons Why’ and ‘Aashiqui 2’. Many artists are accused of romanticizing mental health issues, the latest being Billie Eilish and Joaquin Phoenix in ‘The Joker.’ A fan of Sushant Singh Rajput died by suicide a few days ago. I rest my case. The romanticization of suicide perpetuates this belief that the world doesn’t care for you for when you are living. It reinforces this lie that the world will remember you forever only when you die via suicide. This disturbing trend is all over pop culture.

This is where the role of parents, teachers, and mental health experts comes into play. I am reminded of my brief teaching stint as an assistant professor, where I encountered two students who had suicidal thoughts owing to various reasons. Their minds were impressionable. I remember one incident, where a female student came up to the staff room and told me, “Maam, X is talking about suicide. Please talk to him. I’m scared he will do something”. The female friend was a genuine one, and so she came up to me in concern.

I knew the background and the reasons too. I went up to the boy and spoke to him. I patted his back while making him realize his strengths. He felt like a loser, and I reminded him he was not. That he wasn’t at fault, and I could see his efforts to change for the better. And how he has so much potential and all his dreams to achieve. I wasn’t merely saying it to pep up the boy, but I genuinely believed in him. I’d seen how the college administration had driven some students to the brink of depression and a feeling of worthlessness.

Another boy was raised in a very strict environment at home, and he was in a strict college too. The boy found some freedom and a place to breathe with his gang on the last benches. They were the notorious ones—blacklisted. Deemed as ‘gone cases.’ Shunned by their classmates and the administration. Their families didn’t understand them. He had an authoritarian father, and they rarely talked. When pushed against the wall by the college authorities, I stood in defiance much to the staff’s displeasure. A fellow teacher derided, “Why are you standing up for them when they will not bother to acknowledge your goodness?”

That was when it hit me. The divide between ‘them’ and ‘us.’ The college authorities vs. students. I was now seen as one with the enemy camp -the students. That’s when problems arise. Prejudices, mistrust, lies are all some downsides of groups. Anyway, I stood up for the boy when I understood his situation. Years later, he messaged me saying that Rani Mukerji’s role as the teacher in the movie, Hichki, reminded him of me.

So, when it comes to mental health conditions, including suicide, one size doesn’t fit all.

Is Boycotting A Solution?

Image used for representational purposes only.

I understand the current rage against Bollywood and its elite groups. The hypocrisy on display. And that must be called out. But I don’t understand boycott or ban as the solution. It’s not fair, practical or sustainable. There is some incredible talent in the star kids too. We can’t hold it against them for being born in a privileged home? And aren’t we, the people, responsible for making the stars who they are? Irrespective of whether they are star kids or outsiders?

Sushant Singh Rajput had no qualms about nepotism. He was the kind who lived and let live. He didn’t complain. There is no problem if Karan Johar capitalizes on the looks and the talent of the star kids. The problem arises when they all gang up and run smear campaigns against outsiders. The problem is the group/mob mentality against outsiders by the nepotistic gang or the elite clubs. That is something we need to raise our dissent. Against group politics, and malicious attempts to slander others they see as threats.

Groups are good, but they can also blindside people in the names of loyalty, brotherhood, sisterhood, and the likes. Groups can bully, slander, outcast people, and drive them to the point of suicide. Bullying is also kind of killing somebody. Jiah Khan’s mother Rabia Khan has asked Bollywood to stop the practice of bullying. Rabia Khan lost her daughter Jiah Khan to suicide in 2013.

It is my personal conviction that Sushant didn’t die by suicide. You may choose to believe otherwise. Fabricated sexual harassment charges, and consecutive deaths, including his manager’s, and other questionable incidents leading up to and after the suspected suicide. Does Kangana Ranaut have a point when she calls the death a ‘planned murder?’

There are many mysterious deaths in the media and entertainment industry. Heath Ledger, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Divya Bharti, Sridevi, and more. Sushant Singh Rajput’s case will be closed in no time. He will be a poster child for suicide, depression, and nepotism. Life will move on. The same people asking for a boycott and ban will watch the next Salman Khan, Karan Johar, and Alia Bhatt movie. All will be forgotten.

I hope not.

My Final Thoughts

Sushant Singh Rajput represented the power of the common man. He was intelligent, self-made, and a brilliant actor. Was his brilliance, his worst enemy? Did it threaten the elite cabals enough to do away with him? Or did they drive him to his death with smear campaigns against him? Does Sushant’s death have any connection with his upcoming movie and its promotions? Or is there a sinister concoction of national politics involved? Or does the popular narrative of suicide because of depression hold water?

You decide.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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