The fumes from Kangana Ranaut‘s recent debacle on a news interview hadn’t even died down that the actor has stoked yet another controversy. In what is becoming a weekly ritual, on September 21, Ranaut made another insensitive remark, this time directed towards actor Deepika Padukone. Previously,  Ranaut had gravely insulted rape survivors by likening the demolition of her office to “rape” and called Urmila Matondkar a “soft porn star”.

News channel Times Now, claiming NCB sources, reportedly accessed WhatsApp chats on the Bollywood “drug list”, and anchor Navika Kumar went on to name the “biggest name” on it – Deepika Padukone. Sharing this clip posted by the channel’s official handle, Ranaut wrote, “Repeat after me, depression is a consequence of drug abuse. So called high society rich star children who claim to be classy and have a good upbringing ask their manager ,” MAAL HAI KYA?” with the hashtags “boycott Bollywood druggies” and “Deepika Padukone”.

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Kangana Ranaut makes a careless comment

In her fight to seek “justice” for Sushant Singh Rajput, Ranaut has initiated a no-holds-barred retaliation against everyone who doesn’t fit her view of the narrative. And all this is coming at the cost of causing deep gashes to issues that require sensitivity and empathy. The statement “depression is a consequence of drug abuse” is highly uninformed, misleading, and above all, dangerous. It discounts the experience of the countless people in India – members of the common population – who are grappling with real-time drug addictions and substance abuse.

Surveys by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, as quoted by NCBI, have noted that drug abuse in India “continues to grow unabated”, posing very tangible threats. Over 2004 to 2019, opioid use has increased to 22 million, from 2 million. “More disturbingly, heroin has replaced the natural opioids” (especially in the state of Punjab), while abuse of “synthetic drugs and cocaine” has also increased significantly.

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While mental disorders and drug abuse may find a correlation at times, they cannot be compounded as a singular issue with sweeping statements as the one Ranaut has made. Depression is not always a consequence of drug abuse, and neither is the vice versa always true.

Given the state of affairs, should Ranaut not exercise restraint while making public comments? In a bid to reaffirm her own theories, should she be allowed to make such misinformed remarks? Should she not have the good sense, and decency, to refrain from exploiting two issues as rampant and life-threatening as drugs and depression?

Kangana Ranaut Using Deepika Padukone As A Punching Bag?

Her ideologies notwithstanding, Ranaut is regarded among the few outspoken ones from the film industry who aren’t afraid of speaking their mind. While that is usually laudable, her grit shouldn’t always be allowed to overshadow the content of her speech. Especially when it maims, punches, and picks at another individual with the intent of defamation on no solid grounds – the treatment Ranaut has been meting out to Padukone these past few months.

Also Read: The Conversation Around Depression Shouldn’t Be Derailed In Light Of Sushant’s Death Investigation

On July 28, when the CBI hadn’t intervened and the discussion around Rajput’s death was centred around mental health issues, the Queen actor took to Twitter to write, “Bollywood’s “repeat after me”gang, depression ka dhanda chalane wale should be remanded @deepikapadukone.” She was taking a dig at Padukone, who in the days following Rajput’s death, had been posting mental health notes on social media, each affixed with the catchphrase “repeat after me.”

Then on August 19, her account reshared a clip of Ranaut from a news interview, where she slammed Padukone and questioned her stance on her own battles with depression, almost making a mockery out of them. And now, come September 21, another “repeat after me” dig has been made. 

What Ranaut has been doing is not an exposé of wrongdoings in Bollywood, and neither can it be counted as activism of any sort. Most arguments she has made against the film industry – from its alleged “drug nexus” to it being a class of bullies – has involved bringing one or another of her colleagues down through namecalling or insults. And she has used Padukone and her issue of mental health as a punching bag often.

We Can’t Afford To derail conversation on Mental Health

Padukone was diagnosed with depression in 2014 and has been vocal about her battle with the mental illness even at the highest points of her professional career. Padukone’s public admissions instantly gave a boost to positive conversation around depression in India, since a megacelebrity using her voice to talk about her personal vulnerabilities was a rare instance. It was an encouraging cause, significant also because mental illness is taboo in the country, despite the World Health Organization (WHO)’s study that “Indians are reported to be among the world’s most depressed.”

Also Read: Coverage of Rhea Chakraborty Signals New Low for Indian Media

To see all those efforts towards change being ridiculed by Ranaut in 2020 is disheartening, to say the least. Diatribes such as the ones she has been making are taking India back by several years on mental health issues. With her misinformed statements, she is telling her followers that it is okay to fling “depression” and “drug abuse” around at will. Can we, given the large-scale depression we are reportedly susceptible to especially with the stress of the coronavirus pandemic, afford loose talk around mental health by public figures?

Discourse around mental health and drug abuse need to be treaded on lightly, and backed with proper information. It has taken India a long time to get to the tip of the iceberg we’re at, to even acknowledge that these two social issues are deserving of being taken seriously. Ranaut’s recent comments pose a severe blowback to all the development that has been made in these aspects. This should affect each one of us personally, and motivate us to question and call her out.

Views expressed are the author’s own.

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