It is most evident in the case of Sushant Singh Rajput—a family in grief, and perhaps feeling the guilt all of us feel when one of our near and dear ones departs by choice, has been searching for someone to blame. The first target of family, friends, and fans was Bollywood and its nepotism, its culture of bullying and its concentration of power around particular centres. Of course, this is true of any industry, and most apparent in the richest ones—cinema and sports.
The second target of ire was the Girlfriend. At first, fans lashed out against the women who were known to have dated or have been dating Sushant Singh Rajput, for not live tweeting or Instagramming their grief. Once some of them made appearances at his funeral, they were immediately forgiven and fawned upon.
The one woman who was absent then became the Girlfriend, also equal to Temptress, also equal to Seductress, also equal to Vamp, also equal to Honey Trap. Rhea Chakraborty shared some pictures of happier times with Rajput, and then sent out an appeal to the government asking for an inquiry by the CBI and signing off as Rajput’s girlfriend.
With no regard for the fact that many of Rajput’s friends and former girlfriends had spoken of the darkness and depression from which they had unsuccessfully tried to “save” him, the hysterical television media and social media sought to place the blame on Rhea Chakraborty. Not only had she failed to save him, she had in their minds succeeded in killing him.
The law enforcement authorities seem to have responded to this hysteria by leaking purported chats that Rhea Chakraborty—allegedly hardened criminal but also novice enough to leave evidence of her murderous intent and manipulative moves—had exchanged with the kingpins of Bollywood nepotism.
Through all this, we only know that her brother smoked weed and that her relationship with Rajput had its wild swings between elation and despondence.
Yet, the Central Bureau of Investigation, the Enforcement Directorate, and the Narcotics Control Bureau have closed in on the Chakraborty family and Rajput’s household help.
In the meanwhile, sensationalist news channels and former longtime girlfriend Ankita Lokhande have sought to prove that Rajput was never depressed, and that Rhea Chakraborty had driven him to suicide with a careful combination of drugs, extravagance, and emotional manipulation.
News anchors prone to insulting experts invited to their talk shows turned behavioural experts themselves, claiming that his life-affirming chats were proof of his conviction that life was worth living. It did not occur to any of these loud anchors that they might have been attempts to convince himself, along with his interlocutors, that the darkness would go away one day and that life was worth living after all.
No one wants to believe that Rajput was driven to suicide by depression. The fact that people would rather believe he was murdered—by the underworld, by Bollywood, by toxicity in his relationships, by financial ruin—than that he killed himself shows just how strong the stigma against suicide and the mental illnesses that are its underlying causes is.
Unless someone had absolutely no agency in it and someone else had absolute agency in it, one’s death cannot be classified as homicide.
But every time somebody turns to suicide as a means to escape the world, we would rather find a person or idea or event to blame it on. Whether it is poor examination results, failure in competitive common entrance examinations, crop failure, indebtedness, false accusations, or a career downturn, we like to draw neat lines to directly correlate cause and effect.
If this were the case, there would be millions of suicides every time there is a drought and every time examination results are announced and every time pink slips are issued.
Yes, all these things can be triggers, as can break-ups and the loss of loved ones and pressure at work and many, many other things. But one is driven to suicide by depression, by the conviction that one’s life is a desert, that nothing good could possibly happen to one.
We need to remove the stigma around suicide and the mental illnesses that could be its main causes. We need to understand that “psychiatrist” and “counsellor” and “therapy” and “mental health” are not words and phrases that must be whispered. Perhaps all of us need a psychiatrist or a psychologist, because we live in times when personal and professional and parental and filial pressures can be overwhelming.
The news anchors will continue to scream at the viewers and at their fellow talking-heads.
But we need to stop feeding their frenzy by ignoring mental illness, and choosing to see crime where there is none. More than anything else, we need to ensure that we don’t neglect our own mental health.
More Columns by Nandini Krishnan:
Nobel for economist, tailspin for economy
Why the Diaspora has so much love to give
Hindi debate: We are all obsessed with homogeneity
We are choking the earth
The delusionary Indian intellectual
India's culture of worship has to end
Nandini is the author of Invisible Men: Inside India's Transmasculine Networks (2018) and Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage (2013). She tweets @k_nandini. Her website is: www.nandinikrishnan.com