Is Deepika Padukone paying for her courage and ability to speak up?

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Did it all begin with the event that happened on January 7, 2020?Deepika Padukone, leading actress of India went to the campus of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) amidst student protests against the government and violence to show solidarity for their cause. In a moment when everyone else was silent, especially the Bollywood industry, Deepika courageously made a statement by visiting the JNU campus. Other top actors in India were all silent including Akshay Kumar, Shah Rukh Khan, even the Bachchans. Somehow, Kangana Ranaut who has been vocal during the recent nepotism debate also stood silent then. Speaking up in India comes with consequences that silence does not bring. Deepika is paying for her courage and ability to speak up. 

We knew Deepika had risked a lot to be there at JNU. 10 months down the line Deepika is allegedly involved in a drug scandal, where her chats concerning drugs are highlighted in the media. Even though Deepika has done movies like Padmaavat and Bajirao Mastani where she is dressed in a traditional Indian attire, her images in bikinis and revealing clothes are highlighted by media anchors. Is it hard to tell why? The media is trying to portray women who do drugs as witches who need to be burned. And the media has turned into the jury which has been burning these women alive in front of the population of the entire country. 

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India is not trying to solve its drugs problem. If it really was, countless other star chats would be exposed, not just Deepika’s. It’s not hard to miss the correlation between Deepika making a statement at JNU and her being caught into the drugs scandal this month. Among the names of stars which have been accused of allegedly abusing drugs – there is no man in the list which the media is extensively covering. Shraddha Kapoor, Sara Ali Khan, Deepika Padukone and Rakul Preet are summoned by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB). With all the media noise, it is hard to notice that there is no man on this list. 

Some media experts are even alleging that the publicity around Deepika’s drugs scandal is a way to diverge focus from other issues in the country. Rising coronavirus cases, the crumbling economy and the controversial farm bills – amidst these Deepika’s drug cases takes up the highest media space on news channels. According to a recent tweet by journalist, Andre Borges, “An all India farmer protest is also happening on the 25th. Deepika has by sheer coincidence been called before the NCB on that day. It won’t be too hard to guess what the media will be covering all day.”

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The Bollywood industry has had some strong male personas. Their avoidance of the limelight when the industry is having special debates is unethical. I want to ask lead actors in India – Shah Rukh Khan, Amitabh Bachchan, Akshay Kumar, Ranvir (Deepika’s husband), Shahid Kapoor and every other actor who is in a position of power to influence people. Why are you not speaking up? Maybe we all already know the answer. Speaking up has consequences in India. None of them want to be the next Deepika Padukone who is involved in a scandal ten months down the line. Everyone wants to maintain friendly relations with our leaders in power. 

A good question to ponder over during the current situation is – “Are drugs the real problem or is it the women doing drugs?” Looking at the current media approach, I believe that young girls in the country will grow up believing that female actresses are abusing drugs whereas male actors are leading moral lives. I still remember, as a child, I was told that “Being an actress is immoral. They wear short clothes and lead dirty lives”. Growing up, I have realised that it is not actresses who are immoral, we just have sexist opinions which drive this society. A man is not held accountable for his actions. 

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I am certain that young women who are sitting at home watching the news will grow up believing that “actresses are immoral” because that is the current portrayal by the media. When the lockdown was announced PM Modi said that if we don’t stay at home for these 21 days, India will go behind by 21 years. I would like to tell the media who is engaging in this organised witch hunt that “If we don’t stop targeting women, we will go back to where we never want to go back.” Nobody should pay a price for standing up for what they believe in. We need to support our actresses who have entertained us for so long and see them as people. They are not immoral people, they are human beings who are currently made media targets.

Vidhi Bubna is a contributor at SheThePeople.TV