The toxic underbelly of journalism coming out to appease their masters?

Disclaimer: I am NOT talking on behalf of Sushant Singh Rajput’s father (my father-in-law). This is an independent opinion.

It’s Saturday here in the US and I received several messages regarding an article by one Jyoti Yadav which said that “the way Sushant’s family has reacted says a lot about the burden of being a son in a Bihari family”. It also said, “What has escaped popular attention is the toxic family structure of cow-belt India, especially Bihar, and how it treats its precious sons”. I wanted to let it go since, despite the tragedy in the family, I have to work just like many of Sushant’s other family members and after a long work-week, I was reluctant about addressing these issues. But decided otherwise since I found out that this was affecting not only my loved ones but people from Bihar in general.

Let me say at the outset that the aforementioned article is unintelligent in many ways and is extremely offensive, not only to Sushant’s family but to Indian families in general. I will address them one by one. Let this be a warning to the unsophisticated writers to not indulge in a disingenuous analysis of the situation.

First, let me handle the mental health piece. 

I have already written a long blog post chiding Barkha Dutt on her handling of the situation here: Barkha, Sushant is NOT the opportunity to spread awareness about mental health! I explain why.  In my post, I had written a paragraph that was fairly kind to Susan because many others don’t even believe her credentials or her story.  Quoting the paragraph here- “My third point is a question on the validity of Susan’s claims. Diagnosing mental disorders is an arduous task and diagnosing someone Bipolar (I or II) is even more so. Not only do you have to observe the person very closely, but you also have to observe them over long periods of time (it takes six years on average to diagnose after the onset of symptoms). Susan very conveniently diagnoses Sushant in less than two months (perhaps over a couple of appointments), with a life-changing diagnosis. And then she has the audacity to disclose this information in the public domain. If we are to believe Susan, another thing which does become clear is that it was Rhea indeed who was seeking treatment for Sushant and not Sushant himself. Prior to October/November 2019 (and certainly prior to meeting Rhea), as far as I know, no one who has lived with Sushant has ever complained about his mental health, nor has Sushant himself.”

Jyoti interpreted it to say that Vishal cannot believe that Sushant was depressed. She also adds, “The fact that the family doesn’t want to accept that their son could have been depressed even after his death, shows how little they know about this issue”. First up, please read my post more carefully to understand what I have said about mental health. Mental health is an outcome of biology and the environment. Let’s just assume for a second (hypothetically) that Sushant was biologically predisposed for depression. You still need to understand the environmental factors which led to his alleged depression. If hostile environmental conditions are brought out in the FIR, that’s because Sushant’s family in India were aware of the situation created by Rhea and her stooges, as exposed in their complaints to the Bandra DCP in February 2020 and SOS calls Sushant gave to his family in November 2019, January 2020, and June 2020. Those hostile environmental conditions could include gaslighting, blackmailing, alienating, covert medication, overt overmedication, and so on. I am not saying that a very hostile environment is necessary for people to fall into depression but in this case, the presence of a hostile environment seems to ring true. If it is proven in the court of law without foul play that Sushant suffered from depression without any hostile conditions created by Rhea, then I will be the first one to accept it with dignity.  

The second aspect of mental health which Jyoti needs to learn about is what leads people to commit suicide. Depression does not necessarily lead people to suicide. There are millions of depressed people who live their lives without taking their lives. People who take their lives need to have three things in common according to the research done by famed scientist Thomas Joiner- capacity to inflict lethal harm to oneself, thwarted belongingness and perceived burdensomeness ( leading to hopelessness).  Jyoti writes- “Sushant’s sister posted a picture on Instagram and wrote that he was not suffering from depression.” For starters, my wife Shweta did not say that. She shared a picture of Sushant’s near future plans from June end and mentioned that he was planning ahead. Planning ahead is a very positive sign of hopefulness. Though it does not guarantee, it still questions the prerequisite condition of hopelessness.

Second, let’s talk about the generalization of toxic Bihari families that can’t stand ‘girlfriends’

This is a preposterous generalization on many levels. Let’s start with Sushant. Many people know that Sushant dated Ankita for at least six years and they lived together for a good portion of that relationship. People have seen great pictures of Ankita and Sushant’s family together and almost everyone knows that some members of Sushant’s family, including my wife, are in constant touch with Ankita.

Sushant then presumably dated Kriti (although he did not explicitly mention that they were dating, so they might be just very good friends) and the last time we met him in July 2017, Kriti met with us as well. We were fond of Kriti too.

This is where Jyoti’s stereotypical “toxic Bihari family” trope gets debunked. The FIR didn’t say that my father-in-law couldn’t stand Ankita. He actually adored Ankita and even stayed over in Mumbai with Ankita and Sushant. The FIR mentions one specific person called Rhea and giving it an anti-feminist flare is toxic journalism. 

Moving on to my family. I am from Bihar as well and my parents don’t have any toxic attitude towards my wife, who was also my girlfriend for nearly four years before I got married and we have been married for thirteen years.

Moving on to the state of Bihar in general. There are millions of well-educated middle-class families in Bihar where there is no toxic attitude towards their son’s girlfriends and spouses. I am sure there are some families with these attitudes but taking the experiences of some and painting it with a broad brush is another toxic journalism masterstroke. This perpetuates false narratives and incorrect stereotypes about families from Bihar and is cringeworthy and outright disgusting.

Finally, let’s talk about the familial disconnect

Jyoti writes, “A family cannot believe that a grown man doesn’t need a woman to tell him about his interaction with the world. A grown man can decide if he wants to distance himself from a toxic environment.”

Let me give you a perspective about human relationships Jyoti Yadav. A grown man can decide independently to distance himself from a toxic environment but a grown man can also be pressurized to distance himself from a healthy environment if there are enough incentives for the pressurizer and there are enough limitations on the part of the pressurized. Giving the FIR an anti-women color is not going to help women Jyoti Yadav.  This FIR is anti-Rhea and not anti-women and let it be proven in the court of law if it stands the ground. 

 

Barkha, Sushant is NOT the opportunity to spread awareness about mental health! I explain why.

Disclaimer: I am not making any criminal allegations and I am NOT talking on behalf of Sushant Singh Rajput’s father (my father in law). This is an independent opinion and is a response to what was presented by Barkha Dutt (allegedly an audio recording of Susan Walker Moffat, who is alleged to be Sushant’s psychotherapist).

I have been watching everything from the sidelines and analyzing the discussions happening around my brother-in-law’s death.

sush2

Sushant and I in 2014. I saw him last in person in July 2017 on my trip to India.

Sushant and I had a very healthy relationship and most of our conversations were around books and movies. I have known him since 1997 (my 8th grade) since his sister Shweta (my wife now), he and I went to the same school. Shweta and I were in the same grade and he was a grade junior. Whether you believe it or not, he was charming but shy and was known more popularly as Shweta’s little brother amongst my batchmates. Shweta and I had a little bit of chemistry and some batchmates teased us as “Jija-Saala” when we sat together on the school bus. That eventually was proven true in 2007 (thanks to the amazing coincidence that I went to IIT Madras for my undergrad and my wife went to NIFT Madras for hers, which gave us the opportunity to stay in touch and we eventually tied the knot in 2007).  I had moved to the US in 2006 but stayed in touch with Sushant until early 2019 and then we lost touch. Now I can make sense of perhaps what transpired and his loss has left me with immesurable grief.

I am a feminist and I care about women’s issues. My first point is that caring about women’s issues is not incompatible with filing criminal charges against a female suspect. Calling criminal charges against Rhea misogynistic is an incorrect assessment of the situation. While on average, more men tend to engage in criminal behavior, criminality is not outside the purview of women.

My second point is that I do personally believe that there should not be a “special” stigma around mental health issues. Just like physical health, mental health is also an outcome of biology and the environment. The reason I said “special” is that it’s nearly impossible to completely eliminate stigma from health issues. For eg., if there is a person suffering from diabetes, there will be some amount of stigma about his/her lifestyle even if this person was genetically predisposed. Similarly, whether we like it or not, there is no country in the world where stigma around mental health is zero. I live in the United States and there is a tremendous amount of stigma around mental health here. So, even if we are able to bring down the “special” stigma, we might not be able to completely eliminate it. However, since there is an enormous amount of stigma today, mental health information is protected by the law of the land. Disclosing mental health information by a psychotherapist/psychologist is not only unethical but also illegal (except for certain circumstances which don’t apply here). I leave it to my father-in-law to press charges on this matter.

My third point is a question on the validity of Susan’s claims. Diagnosing mental disorders is an arduous task and diagnosing someone Bipolar (I or II) is even more so. Not only do you have to observe the person very closely, but you also have to observe them over long periods of time (it takes six years on average to diagnose after the onset of symptoms). Susan very conveniently diagnoses Sushant in less than two months (perhaps over a couple of appointments), with a life-changing diagnosis. And then she has the audacity to disclose this information in the public domain. If we are to believe Susan, another thing which does become clear is that it was Rhea indeed who was seeking treatment for Sushant and not Sushant himself. Prior to October/November 2019 (and certainly prior to meeting Rhea), as far as I know, no one who has lived with Sushant has ever complained about his mental health, nor has Sushant himself.

My fourth point is questioning Rhea’s role in the matter. I am not using any special information and I am quoting everything available in the public domain. The FIR claims that Sushant was perhaps given psychotropic drugs by Rhea (maybe even without his knowledge). Covert/Surreptitious medication is also perhaps illegal in the 21st century. There could be many explanations of this sudden onset of mental health issues in October/November of 2019. This could be a result of covert medication and withdrawal of psychotropic drugs (perhaps the covert medication stopped during their Europe trip in October 2019 [perhaps because of eating out mostly so no opportunity to covertly medicate him with food? or perhaps intentionally not medicating?], which led to withdrawal symptoms).  And then, he was perhaps taken to the psychotherapist under the pretext of care. Another surprising thing is that setting up appointments and being present at the appointments (both done by Rhea) could be a sign of keeping a tab on Sushant’s conversations with the psychotherapist and keeping evidence of mental health issues so that it can be used later for blackmail or to justify the firm control on his resources. If what was bothering him was Rhea’s gaslighting and blackmail, Sushant probably was not given that privacy to discuss. The more important mental health discussion here could be that of Narcissistic Personality Discorder and/or sociopathy/psychopathy for Rhea.  Sushant seemed to have suffered gaslighting at the hands of Rhea, based on the information in the public domain. Antisocial Personality Disorder is the more technical term for sociopathy/psychopathy and could be potentially diagnosed for Rhea (I am not diagnosing, only suggesting). Based on what happened, gaslighting seems to fit the bill, in addition to other methods of confinement and control. Again, I have every right to question based on the information in the public domain and unlike Barkha Dutt, I am NOT privy to the statements from Rhea’s psychotherapist and I am not disclosing private mental health information. Based on the evidence in the public domain so far and the claims in the FIR, Rhea is the prime suspect in this case. It will indeed be a shocking surprise to the entire nation if it is found in the court of law that she was a loving partner and not an opportunist who eliminated most of Sushant’s ties with his family and friends. 

My final point is that of disappointment in Barkha Dutt in this matter. Please understand that I am not attacking all her work. I am very disappointed with the path she chose in this matter. Unless proven in the court of law that Sushant took his own life because of a mental illness that happened without any foul play (gaslighting, blackmail, covert medication, or overt overmedication), this is NOT the example to use to create awareness around mental illness. Even if proven in the court of law, the only thing that can be even remotely used is the awareness aspect of it with the intention to help and never the intimate details of the diagnosis or disclosure of diagnosis from the mental health professional.

Barkha Dutt could have chosen to emphasize the financial angle. Most crimes have a financial angle and when there are so many pointers (from regular cash withdrawals and large expenses to shell companies), she chose to NOT focus on them and that does reek of agenda.

As a fellow feminist and an intellectual, I am very disappointed today and you will lose a lot of credibility amongst your readership. You still have an opportunity to amend by reflecting on the choice you made and perhaps apologizing for not deliberating on this enough before hitting publish. Perhaps, that will restore some trust in your journalism. Please understand again that this is not a personal attack but an expression of disappointment in the approach you took in the aftermath of our beloved Sushant’s death.