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The Misogynistic Media Trial Of Rhea Chakraborty: Is This The Only Way Left To Gain TRPs Now?

The sad and untimely demise of a young rising star Sushant Singh Rajput has created an uproar among Bollywood fans. The actor was found hanging in his apartment on 14th June 2020, seven days after the actor’s live-in partner Rhea Chakraborty left the apartment. This bereavement of a so-called ‘happy-go-lucky successful man’ shocked the nation. While speculations about his death were doing the rounds, the mainstream media came up with new stories and fuelled the fire.

Patriarchal beliefs of society often hold a woman accountable for a man’s suffering, following which, out of all other dominant notions that could have led to Rajput’s suicide, Rhea’s role caught the audience’s eyes. Over the course, we saw the death of journalism and a frightening side of humanity, especially where a gendered and class-based mentality of the media takes over.

The media turned into vultures on a witch hunt, vilifying and torturing Rhea’s family to a breaking point. Human rights have been taken away and privacy breached. The media played a jury and executioner, wherein the practice of demonising woman swiftly took hold over the internet and soon, the agenda shifted from #justiceforssr to #hang/kill/raperhea.

In the first instance, the police reported that Sushant Singh Rajput was suffering from bipolar disorder. Without any evidence, the media blamed nepotism in Bollywood as the reason for his depression and demise. But this did not last long, and the internet exploded with comments blaming Rhea for the actor’s depression. The ritual of blaming a woman for a man’s fate is not new. Rhea was questioned for not being able to take proper care of him, exploiting him, and then leaving him. Never was Rhea, who is also a model-turned-actress, considered a victim of nepotism in this debate, nor was her hard work and struggle praised.

Photo Shared by Twitter user @iShahrukhPathan

Instead, the media and public trolled her as a “prostitute” and “gold digger”. The actress received rape and murder threats on Instagram and other social media platforms. Such claims were validated to an extent where Rhea had to turn off commenting on her Instagram and Facebook page to prevent harassment. Rhea pleaded for safety, but again, the media’s narrative of demonising women prevailed, and no one raised a voice.

The blame game turned a turn for the worse when SSR’s father filed an FIR, accusing Rhea of witchcraft, money laundering and cheating. The infamous Indian fallacious contention “Dayan mere bete ko kha gayi (the witch engulfed my son)” got prominence and Rhea was called a “witch” and “vishkanya (poison girl)”.

A few weeks later, Rhea released a video statement, saying that she refrains from reacting to any horrible comments on electronic media on the advice of her lawyer and that she would get justice. The video went viral and her clothing, way of speaking, and line “Satyameva Jayate (Truth shall prevail)” was horribly dissected, and she was ridiculed as a “drama queen”.

Any anti-Rhea narratives were glorified, and her actions were called out for magnanimous to prove that she cared for Sushant. Every time she attempted to put her voice out to public through various news channels or social media, she was questioned and wronged for portraying herself as a sorrowful woman to get some soulful attention and “playing the victim card”.

While the blame game continued, another section of Sushant’s fans started questioning his death as a case of suicide. Numerous images started flooded on social media, claiming it to be a deliberate and well-planned murder. Once again, without any evidence, Rhea was cursed for being the one who influenced or even conducted the murder. Her visit to the morgue where Rajput’s body was kept was rendered ‘suspicious’ and her statement “Sorry babu (sorry dear)” construed as evoking a sense of conspiracy and murder implicated in the late actor’s death.

Rhea accused of being a witch
A prominent media house discusses the possibility of Rhea being a witch.
Credit: Aman Sharma/Twitter

The case worsened when the drug angle came in. The social media lynch mob was at its worse and the anti-Rhea agenda became a sensational story for news channels to ponder over and compete for TRPs. The fan culture turned toxic, humiliating and violating extreme borders. Rhea’s private WhatsApp chats were made public and news channels worked as 24-hour surveillance cameras at her family. Their lifestyle, education and property became a matter of public discussion, and they were eventually named as a “family of crooks”.

The enforced rhetoric of class and gender has become prominent in this case. Rhea has been alleged to have a lavish lifestyle, while Sushant spending Rs 70 lakhs (approximately $95,000) on a trip with his male friends and co-star Sara Ali khan (considered as the epitome of royalty), was not catechised. But him spending on a trip to Europe with the ‘not so successful’ and ‘middle class’ Rhea and her brother Souvik was slammed. SSR’s relation with Sara-Ali Khan was called “childlike”, “innocent”, “totally in love”, “inseparable”, but with Rhea, it was called “strained” and “disturbed”.

The misogynist and classist media questioned Rhea’s authenticity and interviews, calling her statements “baseless” and “useless”. It seems as if she is being victimised by evidence-free conjectures in the media just to distract from the real issues of Covid-19, the India-China border stand-off, total failure of the government in handling the lockdown, and the collapse of the Indian economy. Anti-feminine narratives are serving the media’s and public’s needs and becoming a way to settle personal scores and satisfy others’ eges through external validation. Rhea is being bullied, harassed and wronged, and made a scapegoat.

A tone-deaf attitude persists throughout the fraternity against the injustice faced by Sushant Singh Rajput. Selective voices and biased narratives are trivialising mental health and fuelling the media and public’s vilification of Rhea. This is consequently serving the social needs of the patriarchal society, leading to increasing misogyny and complete violation of human rights.

Media trials in the absence of any evidence cannot be justified. Is shaming a woman the only escape for media and society, and the only way to gain TRPs and satisfy egos? Especially in a mediated era, when the media plays an important role in shaping people’s notion, such vilification and misogynistic expressions can cause an intense negative impact on society. This needs to be controlled.

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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.

Read more about his campaign.

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.

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Read more about the campaign here.

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.”

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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.

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

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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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