On June 14, 2020, Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput died by suicide. He was 34 and hailed from Patna. He started his career on television, slowly progressing to movies like MS Dhoni: An Untold Story, Kai Po Che and Chhichhore. An entrepreneur and philanthropist, he had many awards to his name and was widely appreciated as a ‘thinker’ whose passions extended to life beyond the arclights.
Rajput’s death sent shockwaves among the country and triggered a debate around depression, a malaise that has been exacerbated during the lockdown. However, unfortunately, Rajput’s death also showcased not only media insensitivity, but also the depths to which right-wing trolls could sink.
Soon after Rajput’s death, news channels camped outside his apartment in Bandra, Mumbai and also to his parents’ home in Patna. A lot of media houses, Aaj Tak in particular, were pulled up for their insensitive behaviour and lack of empathy. The media took it upon itself to solve the mystery behind his death – throwing out all theories, from a financial crisis to depression to finding links to the suicide of his ex-manager who jumped to her death last week. In light of the incident, Live Law reported that a practising advocate of the Delhi High Court has served a legal notice of defamation to India Today’s Chairman and Editor-in-Chief for the demeaning coverage of the actor’s tragic death.
At his family home in Patna, a reporter from Aaj Tak kept prodding his bereaved father for a response regarding his son’s death. The channel also shamed the actor for his suicide by describing it as ‘Hit Wicket’ and broadcasting the details of the death, in an obvious bid to garner TRPs.
Other news channels that acted like a part of a pack of vultures hungry for eyeballs were India TV and Zee News.
Zee News, a serial hate offender, used a ticker with the words, “Patna Fail” to describe Rajput. India TV joined the brigade with unsympathetic words that are too malevolent to be put to print.
The actions of these news channels received a lot of flak from Twitter users who led #ShameonAajTak to trend widely. However, none of the erring channels have sent out an apology for their insensitive reportage.
— Nonsense (@BeingNonsense) June 14, 2020
Hindi news channel Aaj Tak on Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death:
‘How did Sushant get hit wicket?’
— Norbert Elekes (@NorbertElekes) June 14, 2020
— An Open Letter ? (@AnOpenLetter001) June 14, 2020
Another channel, News Nation, went a step ahead to show an image, though blurred, of Rajput’s lifeless body.
— Saif Siddiqui (@SaifSiddiquiINC) June 14, 2020
The lack of sympathy and disregard for the deceased actor’s family and friends prompted many to say, ‘let him go in peace’. The World Health Organization’s guidelines on responsible reporting on suicide suggest that people be educated about avenues where they can seek help to talk about their issues and that particular caution be applied when reporting about celebrity suicides and interviewing grieving friends and family members. The guidelines also suggest that details about the site and location shouldn’t be provided, the act shouldnt be ‘normalized’ and sensational headlines shouldn’t be provided.
#depression is a mental illness
— Dr. Srinivas M.D (AIIMS) (@srinivasaiims) June 14, 2020
However, with the post mortem report still awaited, the reports by most of the Indian news channels are only maligning the actor’s integrity. Apart from this, the India news media is completely ignorant of the guidelines for responsibly reporting an act of suicide set by the WHO, and if not, they only continue with their despicable reporting in a bid to climb the TRP ladder.
Right-wing hate speech
If the media reporting was not enough, the right-wing extremists ensured that Rajput was robbed of his dignity even during his death. Rajput, who had dropped his surname on Twitter in a sign of protest against the attack on Padmavat director Sanjay Leela Bhansali by members of the Karni Sena in 2017, was heartlessly trolled by right wingers after his death.
Hate offenders like Updesh Rana used unmentionable words against Rajput saying that he was relieved to hear the news and it was better for people like him to be dead.
— Sohel Ansari (@SohelAnsari_) June 14, 2020
The hatred spewed by the right wing only shows their intolerance towards anyone expressing their views, an act depicting their unwillingness to extend empathy, an act that is highly condemnable.
Social media violations and police intervention
Post Rajput’s death, pictures of his deceased body were leaked and went viral on social media. Everybody from news channels to civilians, without using their better sense, distributed these pictures and some went a step further to create private social media accounts which held these pictures and were willing to sell this for gains.
These acts were so abominable that the Maharashtra Cyber Police had to intervene and issue warnings saying that the circulation of such pictures was against legal guidelines and court directions and were liable to invite legal action against the people circulating them. The police also urged people who already received these pictures, to delete them and not forward them to others.
A disturbing trend has been observed on Social Media platforms by Maharashtra Cyber that pictures of deceased actor Shri. Sushant Singh Rajput are being circulated, which are disturbing and in bad taste. (1/n)
— Maharashtra Cyber (@MahaCyber1) June 14, 2020
Sushant Singh Rajput’s death is untimely and unfortunate. It is sad to see that at a time when there should be support for the family and more openness and acceptance to talk about mental health issues, the lead for which should be taken by the media to disseminate help to a larger audience, there is instead callousness, sensationalism and vilification of a distressing event only to be reduced to a mere eyeball grabbing incident.