An expansive list of signatories has written an open letter to the Indian news media condemning their coverage of Rhea Chakraborty, urging them to stop their “witch-hunt” of her. Published on a blog titled Feminist Voices, the letter accuses the media of abandoning “every professional ethic of journalism” and siding with “social violence and control”. With 60 organisations and 2547 individuals, the signatory list includes members from the fields of film, journalism, activism, and academia.
The letter begins by asking the Indian media, “We, are worried about you. Are you feeling ok?” It goes on to charge the media and reporters for choosing to “physically assault a young woman with your camera crews, endlessly violate her privacy and work overtime on false accusations and moralistic innuendo for a drama of ‘Rhea ko phasao’.”
Chakraborty was arrested by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) on September 8, over drug charges linked to her former boyfriend actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death case. Both her and her brother Showik’s bail pleas were rejected on September 11, extending their 14-day custody in Mumbai’s Byculla Jail. Several names from the film industry have been demanding her release and asking “justice” for her.
Condemning Media For Character Assassination
The Indian media has drawn flak during the past weeks, with industry experts and senior journalists noting that Chakraborty’s trial by media in Sushant Singh Rajput’s death case has caused journalism to “hit a very low point”. Read our interview with four senior journalists here. We also reported how a female journalist quit a certain news channel, claiming that it was running an “aggressive agenda” to “vilify” Chakraborty.
Condemning the media’s “witch-hunt” of Chakraborty, the open letter too emphasises upon this point, stating that it has been “obsessed with creating only one narrative: a young woman who makes her own decisions, who lives with her boyfriend without marriage and who speaks up for herself instead of acting like a damsel in distress, has a morally dubious character…”
Recalling the way media was “kind and respectful to the Salman Khans and Sanjay Dutts of this world,” the letter calls out how the media has been prejudiced in its aggression towards a female actor. “You have assassinated her character, egged an online mob on demonise her and her family, fuelled wrongful demands and called her arrest your victory. Victory over what? Young women daring to make their own lives in a society that grudges them their freedoms?” it reads.
Jeopardising Women’s Mental Health
The letter also makes a larger point in the perspective of Chakraborty’s villainisation – that of gender prejudices against women in India, with regard to moral policing, slut-shaming, rape crimes, and mental health. Making a point, it emphasises, “Their laughs are too loud for everyone, their freedom too free for families and communities… their sadness not real, their questions, their concerns, their ambitions, their clothes choices, all scrutinised, trivialised…”
In the context of Chakraborty, and society at large, the signatories have criticised media for promoting stereotypes of women as “vishkanyas and dayans”, during a time where “women don’t report sexual violence to the police, because they are likely to be told they were somehow ‘asking for it’ — ‘it’ being assault, rape, harassment.”
Bringing focus to the alleged mental health issues faced by Rajput, the letter accuses the media of choosing to “trivialise depression and perpetuate the most regressive stereotypes about mental health.” The pressing issue of female suicides too has been pointed out, asking the media, “Why do you not want to acknowledge that India accounts for one third of female suicides in the world — and that family violence and social ostracism is a major reason for their suicide attempts?”
Notable People Who Have Signed The Letter
The letter ends by asking the media to “stop this unfair witch hunt of Rhea Chakraborty and to stop fuelling moral polarities of good women to be deified and bad women to be crucified which endangers all women. We write to ask you to do the right and responsible thing. Your jobs. Hunt news, not women.”
Alongside notable organisations like LABIA, Satyashodhak Feminist Collective, Dalit women collective, and Democratic Teachers’ Front that work with gender issues, the letter credits an exhaustive list of well-known individuals. Signatories include Bollywood actors Sonam Kapoor Ahuja, Dia Mirza, Anju Mahendroo, Shibani Dandekar, Rahul Bose, Farhan Akhtar, and Ranvir Shorey; directors Anurag Kashyap, Zoya Akhtar, and Reema Kagti, etc.
Picture Credit: Twitter/NDTV