Since actress Jiah Khan killed herself, her relationship with Suraj Pancholi has been under the scrutiny of the authorities and media. Days after her death, her mother Rabiya Khan released her suicide note to the press – an act that is troubling in itself. Of course, it should have been handed over to the police to aid them in their investigation into the incident, but should it have been released to the media?
Now, Jiah Khan's ex-boyfriend has been taken into police custody, vilified by Shobhaa De. A Facebook campaign has also been sparked off demanding justice for the dead girl.
Among other evidence offered against him is the fact that her career was on its recovery path and therefore she had no other reason to kill herself. Yes, the girl had a dream debut with Amitabh Bachchan, and went on to act with Aamir Khan and Akshay Kumar in the next few years. But do we know why she was depressed? Even if she was driven to suicide by trauma over her broken relationship, is it fair to blame the ex-boyfriend?
Police now say they have recovered five more letters exchanged between the two, and that Suraj was accused of “physical abuse, rape, threats and cheating” in the letters.
There was a reference to rape in the suicide note that has been made public, but the framing of the sentence indicates that this had happened earlier – “I don't know why destiny brought us together. After all the pain, the rape, the abuse, the torture I have seen previously I didn’t deserve this”.
In the note, she did accuse him of cheating, saying “Things were looking up for me here, but is it worth it when you constantly feel the pain of heartbreak when the person you love wants to abuse you or threatens to hit you or cheats on you telling other girls they are beautiful or throws you out of their house when you have nowhere to go”?
The phrase Jiah used is “threatens to hit”. Elsewhere she says she was constantly afraid of being physically assaulted by him. But do we know that the bruises on her jaw that her mother speaks of were inflicted by Suraj Pancholi?
Clearly, he was not a good boyfriend. It appears he didn’t return her affection, and wasn’t moved by her presents or other displays of affection. It appears he slept with her, threw her out of his house and his car, and cheated on her. It appears he didn’t want to marry her, which is why she says she had an abortion. That is an ugly relationship. But does it qualify as abetment to suicide?
How many of us can say we have never been in a one-sided relationship? A relationship in which one person gives his or her all, while the other is cold and uncaring? Or, a loving relationship that has soured over time? A relationship in which one person cheats? If we, or our partners, were to commit suicide, should the survivor be held responsible?
If everyone who had an abortion because her boyfriend was not willing to marry her were to commit suicide, there would likely be several hundreds of cases across the country every day for that reason alone.
If a woman were to commit suicide because of unrequited love, should the man who didn’t return her love be held responsible? On the day Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai got married, a starlet claiming to be his lover slashed her wrists outside the venue. If she hadn’t survived, would the groom have been arrested? Should he have been arrested?
I’m not trying to belittle Jiah Khan, or brush aside the deep depression that caused her to take her life. Depression isn’t properly understood in this country, and less so depression among the urban elite. It is a very sad thing that a young woman, a woman who could have seen success in her professional and personal life in the coming years, decided her life wasn’t worth it. It is heartbreaking that she left behind a loving family. But is it right to blame a man whom she had a tiff with?
Even if it is true that Suraj Pancholi was physically and sexually abusive, he should be tried for those crimes, and not for abetment to suicide. It isn’t fair to equate him with a murderer, because he felt a certain way, or said certain things.
Perhaps we need to think about the interpretation of our laws. If a newly-married woman were to commit suicide after a fight with her husband, chances are that he – and his family – will be tried under the Dowry Prohibition Act. Similarly, the tag “abetment to suicide” covers a disturbingly long list of possibilities.
Jiah Khan’s death is tragic, but her suicide note makes it clear that it was her own decision. That she was “forced to” resort to it is a figurative, and not literal, allegation. If it is proven that she was being blackmailed, or in any other way actively pressured to take her own life, that puts a different spin on things. However, as it stands now, we should perhaps spare Suraj Pancholi the media trial.
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The author is a writer based in Chennai.
She blogs at http://disbursedmeditations.blogspot.com and tweets at @k_nandini