A tale of the fail­ure of the me­dia, po­lice forces

Ra­jput’s death should have trig­gered a con­ver­sa­tion on men­tal health. In­stead, it has been politi­cised

Hindustan Times (Chandigarh) - - Comment - YASHOVARDH­AN AZAD

Sixty-five days af­ter the death of Bol­ly­wood star, Sushant Singh Ra­jput, the Supreme Court on Au­gust 19 re­moved the un­cer­tainty over the out­come of in­quiries into the case. Ma­ha­rash­tra and Bi­har, which were pit­ted against each other, were wait­ing for the ver­dict with bated breath.

Ra­jput’s fam­ily was ag­grieved with the Mumbai Po­lice over the slack pace of the probe, while his for­mer part­ner Rhea Chakrabort­y and her kin con­sid­ered the charges lev­elled against her as fab­ri­cated and po­lit­i­cally-mo­ti­vated. The con­stant bar­rage of state­ments from var­i­ous politi­cians only added to the con­fu­sion. The Supreme Court used its ple­nary pow­ers to or­der the Cen­tral Bureau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion (CBI) probe to en­sure jus­tice, in view of the vi­ti­ated at­mos­phere sur­round­ing his death.

In­deed, Ra­jput’s death has raised some un­com­fort­able is­sues for In­dia’s democ­racy. It has also ex­posed the dis­tor­tions that ex­ist in ev­ery in­sti­tu­tion, par­tic­u­larly the me­dia, which has flouted ev­ery edi­to­rial and jour­nal­is­tic norm in its re­portage, and po­lice and in­ves­tiga­tive agen­cies, which have al­lowed the politi­ci­sa­tion of what should have been a straight­for­ward in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

For one, there has been a de­bate on the is­sue of juris­dic­tion. Ma­ha­rash­tra laid claim to it be­cause the in­ci­dent took place in Mumbai, while Bi­har ar­gued that the con­se­quences of the in­ci­dent en­su­ing in Patna en­ti­tled its po­lice to file the first in­for­ma­tion re­port (FIR).

The Supreme Court de­cided that the Patna po­lice had the right to reg­is­ter the FIR and in­ves­ti­gate, on the ba­sis that crim­i­nal breach of trust could take place both in Patna and Mumbai. The de­ci­sion will have reper­cus­sions for the fu­ture. FIRS will be filed across the coun­try, in places far from that of the oc­cur­rence of crimes, forc­ing courts to set­tle the juris­dic­tion is­sue.

There are is­sues per­tain­ing to the FIR lodged by Ra­jput’s fa­ther, par­tic­u­larly the si­lence right af­ter the in­ci­dent in a state­ment to Mumbai Po­lice. But this is not to ab­solve the Mumbai Po­lice. The Mumbai Po­lice sys­tem, which is of 1864 vin­tage, failed to strike the bal­ance be­tween a rig­or­ous, im­par­tial in­ves­ti­ga­tion while re­main­ing at­tuned to the grow­ing at­ten­tion to the case.

Ra­jput’s death touched a chord in many peo­ple. Fur­ther, there was huge em­pa­thy for Ra­jput within Bol­ly­wood and out­side, due to his film con­tracts al­legedly be­ing ter­mi­nated.

And of course, there was the Bi­har elec­tion and the fact that his death rapidly as­sumed political over­tones in a state starved of film icons.

This is not to en­dorse the pop­u­lar mood, nor is it to sug­gest that po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion should be guided by the pop­u­lar mood. But an aware­ness of the wider ecosys­tem is im­por­tant be­cause of its im­pli­ca­tions on a par­tic­u­lar case. That is where Mumbai Po­lice fal­tered.

With re­sent­ment build­ing up, the case could have been handed over to the crime branch, and an of­fi­cer from Bi­har in the Ma­ha­rash­tra cadre in­ducted into the team to li­aise with Ra­jput’s fam­ily. Reg­u­lar brief­ings should have been con­ducted to al­lay mis­giv­ings, just as it was done in the Sheena Bora case. The po­lice com­mis­sioner’s brief­ing was held in Sushant’s case, but it was a case of too lit­tle too late. And the treat­ment of a Bi­har In­dian Po­lice Ser­vice of­fi­cer on duty in Mumbai took away what­ever sup­port Mumbai Po­lice had in the mat­ter, arous­ing sus­pi­cion and dis­trust.

Some dis­turb­ing sig­nals emerge from this case. The first is that of po­lice lead­er­ship ced­ing space to political masters on a purely pro­fes­sional mat­ter of juris­dic­tion. The Bi­har chief min­is­ter, Ni­tish Ku­mar, in­ter­vened to get the FIR filed. The po­lice chiefs of the two states could have re­solved this mat­ter among them­selves. If the Mumbai Po­lice had re­sponded favourably, the Bi­har Po­lice may have for­warded the zero FIR to Mumbai for in­ves­ti­ga­tion. The ab­sence of po­lice co­or­di­na­tion al­lowed politi­cians to air their views on mat­ters which should have been strictly within the po­lice’s do­main.

Sec­ond, tele­vi­sion chan­nels played a deeply ir­re­spon­si­ble role, un­der­min­ing the men­tal health di­men­sion in the case, vi­o­lat­ing the right to pri­vacy of many in­di­vid­u­als, act­ing as the pros­e­cu­tor and judge and hold­ing peo­ple guilty, be­smirch­ing rep­u­ta­tions — ei­ther be­cause they were mo­ti­vated by political con­sid­er­a­tions or com­mer­cial con­sid­er­a­tions or both.

Third, new-age polic­ing in­volves big­ger re­spon­si­bil­i­ties for the po­lice. In the Right to In­for­ma­tion era, where trans­parency and ac­count­abil­ity are the hall­mark of a democ­racy, peo­ple need to be kept in­formed. And the peo­ple’s po­lice must be ac­count­able only to the law. In this case, while one set of po­lice of­fi­cers was too vol­u­ble, an­other was too ret­i­cent. What the public wants in such cases is in­for­ma­tion based on facts at reg­u­lar in­ter­vals.

Last, a case of sui­cide, ir­re­spec­tive of who it in­volves,should have trig­gered a coun­try­wide de­bate on men­tal health — and the need to un­der­stand the na­ture of the health chal­lenge, have em­pa­thy for those who suf­fer from it and re­move the stigma as­so­ci­ated with it, and cre­ate a sup­port­ive en­vi­ron­ment for its treat­ment.

In­dia’s public dis­course, and in­sti­tu­tions man­dated to han­dle such sen­si­tive mat­ters, have fallen short.

Sushant Singh Ra­jput de­serves dig­nity and peace in death, not ac­ri­mo­nious de­bates or shrill cam­paigns of calumny and divi­sion.

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