Tunisha Sharma death: We need to talk about mental health, not rant about ‘love jihad’

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Mental health disorders are unsparing in their grip. Deaths like Sharma’s, or that of Sushant Singh Rajput, should also open up debates about performance pressure in the entertainment industry

Spare a thought for young Tunisha Sharma, the television actor who chose the middle of a workday to steel herself for the terrifyingly lonesome decision of ending her life in a make-up room, almost as if her life had been a masquerade. Perhaps, going by the many reports on the subject, hers was a love unfulfilled. Maybe she was needy for affection, insecure, violated and uncomfortable in her career, possibly driven to be the golden goose for her family and most likely misunderstood for who she really was. On a crowded set, the 20-year-old hung herself, withstanding intense physical pain, for she was tired of failing herself the most. And it was over in a matter of seconds, without anyone in the crew suspecting that she had taken the extreme step.

Yet, the mental isolation that might have led Sharma to take her own life is the least discussed part of her death, even as the tragedy has become the focus of the intrusive sadism of our ever-curious millions. Everyone wants to know the salacious details of the young woman’s life. After all, a 20-year-old starlet must have more dangerous liaisons than real working girl problems. Overnight, her friends from the industry and her family appropriated her life, analysing what went wrong. Sharma’s mother blamed her ex-boyfriend and co-star Sheezan Khan for being the villain, even bringing the toxic political discourse of “love jihad” into the narrative. Khan’s mother and sister, too, usurped Sharma’s story, alleging she was pretty much exploited and abused by her own family and that she was happy with her adoptive family, even playing an audio clip of Sharma testifying to their generosity.

Since the girl is gone, her death absolves everybody of the need to question what they may have missed while allowing them to set the course of a national conversation. Everybody benefits, it seems, from using the “love jihad” angle — the right wing can justify its politics of hate, the media gets fodder for prime-time discussions and the families land a starring role in reality TV.

In many ways, Sharma’s case takes us back to the suicide of actor Sushant Singh Rajput in 2020, which continues to be used to spin conspiracy theories, despite an AIIMS report ruling out murder. We still have trouble accepting that despite his evident success, Rajput may have been broken inside, that he had a history of depression and that although he was a “hero” in public perception, he too was fragile and vulnerable.

Rajput’s suicide quickly turned into a murder conspiracy involving the actor’s family, embezzled money, black magic, an allegedly exploitative live-in partner, a political bigwig, Bollywood mafia and nepotism, insider-outsider debate, and whatnot. His tragedy was weaponised by political parties to settle scores among themselves, using his starry aura. For Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who was suffering from a severe image deficit, the case of a “son of the soil” exploited in faraway Mumbai couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. Since the aam Bihari considers Sushant his “hero”, the actor was iconised as “the pride of Bihar” although none of the politicians espousing his cause are known to have had any association with him. As for the BJP in Maharashtra, its troll army played up an alleged association his girlfriend Rhea Chakraborty had with Shiv Sena scion Aaditya Thackeray, raking up more muck than proof.

Chakraborty, another struggling actor in Bollywood like Sharma, was in one fell swoop assumed to be the femme fatale, who pushed the late actor to addiction, swindled him and entrapped him in a world of debt and drug cartels. She became a news story simply because legal evidence and the cold facts of the actor’s death were too dry to be juiced out. So her incarceration became visually more satisfying as a portrait of instant justice.

Both Rajput and Chakraborty, like Khan and Sharma, were appropriated as political tools. If the BJP fuelled the “justice for Sushant” campaign, Congress took up the “justice for Rhea” crusade. Self-appointed activists shouted slogans opposing the “vilification campaign” against the “daughter of Bengal” and held up placards that said, “We will not stop till she gets justice.” Bengal Congress chief Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury had even invested her with upper caste “respectability”, calling her a “Bengali Brahmin.” The right-wing fringe and trolls may well have ended Khan’s fledgling career now, vowing to keep him in jail so that he cannot prey upon Hindu women.

In all this, we miss what should have been the real conversation all along: Mental health disorders have become the new pandemic of our times, unsparing in their grip on individuals, from the ordinary to the extraordinary. These young deaths should also open up a debate on performance pressure in the entertainment industry where a slew of actors have taken the extreme step as they run into financial and personal difficulties. Let’s at least give Sharma some grace and dignity in death.

Source : Indian Express