At least 60 organisations and 2,500 individuals including Bollywood personalities such as Sonam Kapoor, Zoya Akhtar, Anurag Kashyap and Gauri Shinde have penned an open letter to the media, condemning the coverage of the Sushant Singh Rajput case and the ‘witch-hunt’ against his girlfriend Rhea Chakraborty.
The letter, signed by personalities from the film industry, advertising and academic, and published on a blog called Feminist Voices, starts with, “Dear News Media of India. We, are worried about you. Are you feeling ok?”
It questions the media on professional ethics of journalism and the reason why the young actor was “assaulted” with camera crew and her privacy endlessly “violated” to in a “Rhea of phasao” campaign.
The letter accuses the media of painting Rhea as a ‘morally dubious character’ without any proof, only because she is a young woman who makes her own decisions, lived with her boyfriend without marriage and spoke up for herself instead of acting like a “damsel in distress”.
Drawing parallels with the media coverage of cases related to actors Sanjay Dutt and Salman Khan, the signatories say much slack has been cut in the case of men while Rhea’s character has been assassinated without mercy.
“We know you can be different — because we have seen you be kind and respectful to the Salman Khans and Sanjay Dutts of this world, urging us to think of their families, fans and careers. But, when it comes to a young woman who has not even been proven to commit any crime, 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 says.
A section of news media has come under flak for targeting the actor who is being probed by three different agencies in relation to the death of her beau. Incessantly trolled, she has been given monikers, ranging from ‘gold-digger’ to ‘vishkanya’ to ‘dayan’.
Pointing out the same, the letter says, “In a pandemic which has seen a disturbing rise in domestic violence, in a society 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 — is promoting damaging stereotypes of vishkanyas and dayans, which have endangered women for decades, the best role you found to play?”
Rhea was sent to 14-day judicial custody (till September 22) after her arrest by NCB for arranging drugs for Sushant. She is currently lodged in Mumbai’s Byculla Jail. Ever since she was summoned by the investigating agencies, she and her family have been under the prying eyes of the media, vilified online and mobbed in public.
The letter urges media organisations to stop the “unfair witch-hunt of Rhea” and to “to stop fuelling moral polarities of good women to be deified and bad women to be crucified which endangers all women.”
“Hunt news, not women,” it adds.