Sushant Singh Rajput and Rhea Chakraborty
Sushant Singh Rajput and Rhea Chakraborty Image Credit:

“They burn witches don’t they” - the Salem witch trials, Massachusetts, 1692.

The spirit of Salem is alive and thriving in 2020 India as Rhea Chakraborty, actor and last partner of Sushant Singh Rajput, (the star, actor who committed suicide) is metaphorically hung, drawn and tarred in a despicable campaign by sections of the Indian media.

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They have appointed themselves judge, jury and executioners. It would be comical if it were not so tragic - a young woman defamed, slandered and bullied in full public gaze by a campaign that ostensibly seeks justice for Rajput, but has no compunctions in throwing Rhea Chakraborty to the wolves.

One hysterical woman anchor rants about millennial phase “imma bounce” (I am leaving) as evidence of Chakraborty wanting to bounce cheques. Another deranged editor foams at the mouth screaming some nonsense about drugs. A two-year-old would be ashamed of such a tantrum, but our middle aged “anchor” has no shame.

The government has thrown the book at Rhea Chakraborty - three separate central agencies are treating her as the accused number one. These are the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB).

As first reported in a SWAT analysis, a cynical attempt has been made to frame the upcoming Bihar elections as justice for the son of the soil Rajput (he was Bihari) against Maharashtra state. A huge effort was made across mediums to drag in Aditya Thackeray, minister in the Maharashtra Cabinet run by his father Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray in alliance with the Congress and the NCP.

The family of the late actor has made serious allegations against Rhea. They say he had no mental health issues, she fed him drugs to control him and cut him off from all of them. Allegations have been made that she siphoned off Rajput’s money and controlled him through black magic practised by “Bengali women”.

She has been called a “gold digger”, a “vishkanya” (poison woman) and a “dyan” (witch).

Just a small point. Rhea is 28 years old and is yet to be convicted of any crime. Yet, in the eyes of avid spectators she is already a villain and seems to deserve zero privacy (her what’s app chats are flashed across a million screens) as anchors virtually stick pins into her in their version of the medieval witch trials.

What Rhea really represents is a cautionary tale about Indian attitudes to women. You are either a mother, wife or sister deserving of patronising protection or you are a threat and temptation. You have to either be a goddess or a slut. You can’t simply be a woman. Patriarchy and sexism bred in the bone won’t allow it. So Rhea had a live in relationship with a man and has to pay a price. Because a 34-year-old man hugely successful and intelligent was a toy in her hands. She could keep Rajput helpless and feed him drugs.

Read more from Swati Chaturvedi

The desire to blame a woman for a tragedy in India is universal and if you are a woman you are one step away from retribution. If you commit the crime of falling in love with an actor and are ambitious, well you will be made to pay a price courtesy of a media trial and circus.

The Rajput family is unwilling to accept that Rajput had mental health issues even after his well-known psychiatrist has gone on record. In India, attitudes to mental health are primitive - if you go to a psychiatrist you are dubbed “pagal” (mad). And the Rajput case with the family insisting that he was “happy” and had no depression is dragging mental health issues and attitudes back by several decades.

Ludicrous claims such as “I saw him smile” so he couldn’t have been low are made on national television and swallowed whole by gullible viewers. The trope of a vengeful, unscrupulous woman having her way with our poor “innocent Raja beta” (darling son) is rife, but what about Rhea’s vulnerability?

Punish her by all means if she’s guilty. But, let’s prove the guilt. Being a woman is not a crime. Though sections of the Indian media, including some misogynistic women will seem to believe it is.

Swati Chaturvedi, Special to Gulf News-1592296808900