by Katie Kaestner
It’s not been reported on here in the states, but in the world’s largest democracy the media is totally swept up in the suicide of a young, beautiful Bollywood actress.
Suicide is, of course, nothing short of a tragedy, but as a survivor and someone who watches Mental Health issues pretty closely I cannot help but hope there is an opportunity for education here. Bollywood actors are speaking freely about the case, and they have the ear of the whole nation and most importantly, the youth but what they are saying isn’t helping anyone.
There is currently a case being put together against Jiah’s former boyfriend Suraj Pancholi sparked by her suicide letter which details how it was the dissolution and dysfunctional nature of their relationship which pushed her over the proverbial edge.
Her mother is fighting questions about whether being so famous and living with the pressure of Bollywood stardom did anything to push Jiah to towards her tragic end- she wants instead, to arrest Jiah’s boyfriend and his father for abuse. I get that- I definitely believe that there should be serious questions about how women are treated in relationships, everywhere and certainly in India. I am 100% for examining the way contemporary relationships carried out in the context of conservative Indian culture can backfire and leave women in a scary place, but that can’t be the whole conversation.
In 2011, the WHO showed that at a rate of 36%, if that number is anywhere near accurate- India has the largest occurrence of Major Depressive Disorder in the world. Every news article about the suicide seems to be accompanied by a photo of Jiah in her role as an always sexy Bollywood starlet-it’s obvious this is about scandal and sex and not about the plague of mental health problems India faces. This is about more than slighted lovers, a ruined woman, and a public breakup- this is about the reality of mental illness and the ways it is provoked and surfaces.
There is a battle being waged between two camps, the family of Jiah and the family and friends of the influential Pancholi family. When the suicide letter was released, Jiah’s mother wrote an introduction in which she said “Some sections of the media and some film industry people are speculating that my daughter Jiah committed suicide because of depression related to her career. However, the truth is that it happened only because of the trauma and the abuse she suffered at the hands of Suraj Pancholi and his father Aditya Pancholi.”
Aditya Pancholi being confronted by the media at Jiah’s funeral in Mumbai last Friday. (Photo: AP)
The letter is heart-wrenching and anybody who’s had a really bad breakup has felt these things temporarily, but there is a lot of other scary stuff in that same letter. One line reads “I don’t know why destiny brought us together. After all the pain, the rape, the abuse, the torture I have seen previously I didn’t deserve this”. I have to ask- how are we not talking about Jiah as a survivor of rape and abuse? She then spirals into desperation –
“I have nothing left in this world to live for after this. I wish you had loved me like I loved you. I dreamt of our future. I dreamt f our success. I leave this place with nothing but broken dreams and empty promises. All I want now is to go to sleep and never wake up again. I am nothing. I had everything. I felt so alone even while with you. You made me feel alone and vulnerable”
This girl was sick. This girl was a survivor, living through rape and an abortion. This girl didn’t have a chance in a world that emphasizes chastity and sexual attractiveness simultaneously. There is an apparent vacuum in the Indian media- nobody wants to confront the problem of mental illness. Actress Sonam Kapoor spoke out and briefly mentioned the need for the treatment of depression, but turned almost critical when she mentioned the allegation that Jiah took her life as a result of her breakup. “I can’t judge anyone who is going through depression. It’s something I will never understand…I think no man is worth it and you don’t want to do that to your family. I can never pretend to understand what that person feels and at times such conditions are medical. All I would say is that get help and depression should be treated.” Naturally, she followed it with “I think it’s important as she was a beautiful girl and very young.”, reminding everyone that what antlers is that she was lovely and famous, de-emphasizing, I think her illness.(Sonam Kapoor to the Times of India)
This is an opportunity for people to talk about depression and abuse and rape, not to paint a woman who is already dead as the tragic, pathetic victim. Perpetuating the trope of the hysterical, slighted woman with too much invested in a relationship isn’t going to bring justice for the death of Jiah Khan– but opening avenues to talk about mental illness in Bollywood just might.
(All Photos: AP)
- Jiah Khan suicide: Suraj Pancholi to be produced in court (ibnlive.in.com)
- LATE BOLLYWOOD ACTRESS, JIAH KHAN’S SUICIDE NOTE (asotechm.wordpress.com)