Sensational reportage by few television news channels and the relentless social media attacks on Rhea Chakraborty makes one wonder about an individual’s rights to defend herself/himself in our country.
In Rhea’s case, despite several assumptions, it hasn’t been proven that SSR didn’t die by suicide.
In fact, though subject to scrutiny for its lack of professionalism and disrespecting client confidentiality, SSR’s therapist and friends have pointed out that he suffered from mental illness. Yet, the whole attack seems to be centred on Rhea.
Criminal lawyer Aniket Nikam condemns the incident as irresponsible and unfair.
“Media has the right of freedom of speech and fair reporting of the investigation. But that doesn’t give them the right to invade someone’s privacy. Right from the beginning of this case, the Supreme Court has said to restrain the self-rule behaviour in a manner,” says advocate Nikam. “Media need to ensure they do not breach the code of conduct.
This is very unfortunate for a healthy and vibrant democracy.”
Trial by media and people
In the last few weeks, Rhea has been subjected to media trial even as the probe by three different agencies has been ongoing — the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Enforcement Directorate (ED) and Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB).
Rhea was arrested by NCB on drug charges on September 9. However, it still doesn’t give anyone the right to spew venom against the actress, overtaking the judiciary to convict someone who isn’t yet proven guilty.
According to advocate Saurabh Dubey, the reporters collecting evidence and discussing it in their newsrooms is clearly a case of invading someone’s privacy.
“Let the accused defend herself, for it’s her right. What the media needs to do is report the proceedings fairly,” he says.
Rhea has been seen as supportive of the inquiry proceedings, yet, SSR’s family too, has been behaving unfairly with her.
For instance, while the family had initially claimed they were unaware of SSR’s mental health issues, the chats unearthed between SSR and his sister Priyanka showed that the latter was indeed trying to get him prescription medicines for anxiety.
(And strangely, for all the claims of fair trial that some news channels have been screaming hoarse about, none of them considered debating on the above chats, despite how they thought it their right to tear down Rhea ‘drug chats’ with her brother Showik, who is also in NCB’s custody now.)
Some also see SSR’s sisters’ gathering support of the actor’s fans and followers to join in their #justiceforSSR rallies as possibly creating a bias in the minds of people.
Human rights lawyer Anand Upadhyay explains that conducting media and people trials on the basis of allegations is unlawful.
“There are only allegations and FIRs have been filed. The investigation is still going on. We don’t know what is beneath the line, so one can’t hold an accused guilty until proven,” states advocate Upadhyay.
This is not the first
In this entire episode, Rhea has been subjected to widespread social-media hate campaigns that have been unabated sexist slurs against her, all of them largely fuelled by media channels. However, it is not the first.
In the past, when television actress Pratyusha Chatterjee committed suicide in 2016, her ex-boyfriend Rahul Raj Singh too went through the similar harassment by media and people.
The trial by media, however, is not restricted to the actors alone. MP Shashi Tharoor was at the receiving end of media trials after the death of his wife Sunanda Pushakar in 2014.
“No one can express what they feel and go through when you are faced with weird questions. They break you completely but only your honesty and your courage to fight keep you alive,” says Rahul Raj Singh. “People start hating you and when you are a public face that’s all you have. In this case, news channels are glamorising the suicide and that’s the worst thing.”
In both the above cases, as also in the case of actor Suraj Pancholi, who too is the accused of his ex-girlfriend and actress Jiah Khan’s alleged suicide, have fought against the media trial for their right to silence, which certainly prejudices the investigation. In Rhea’s case, however, she has been denied even that right by the SSR ‘warriors’.
Advocate Ishta Saxena reveals that in cases of trial by media, justice is often derailed and at times denied as well.
“Media influences the public’s opinion and that delays the course of proceedings. There needs to be some strong body that can guide the media — not regulate them on the freedom of press but at least check their mechanism and balance it — to let the truth come out,” says the advocate.
Supporting with one foot out
The harassment meted out to Rhea as well as others in the past is shameful, and several Bollywood celebrities have taken to social media to support Rhea.
However, none of them or others has come out to speak in Rhea’s support, just as they did not for Sushant after questions surrounding his death began rising.
It would seem everyone in Bollywood is playing safe and letting even their own fight their battles alone. Yet, Kangana Ranaut, who has been fighting her battle alone, has time and again been criticised and ridiculed for her comments by the very same industry people.
“Everyone is scared of public criticism. If anyone comes out in support he is gone. You are jobless after speaking out. There is no unity in the entertainment industry. Everyone is only using the opportunity. I know because the same thing happened to me,” says Rahul Raj Singh....