The sexist defence of Suraj Pancholi: Let's scapegoat Jiah

"So this note is likely to piss off many of you, but still. Can someone tell me why exactly  Jiah Khan's ex-boyfriend is being blamed for her suicide?" begins the first of two online rants penned by Pinstorm founder Mahesh Murthy. It's a good question and one many are raising around many a water cooler. Suraj Pancholi was hardly a catch but being a crap boyfriend doesn't amount to abetting suicide, and is hardly a valid ground for arrest.

So who do we blame for this injustice? Murthy's answer: the victim. In the name of protesting Pancholi's arrest, he slams Jiah Khan in his first Google+ post as an "over-wrought girl" and "foolish adult." The follow-up ups the ante by offering an elaborate defense of Pancholi who he paints as a "poor kid," reserving his unreserved scorn for Jiah instead: "What surprises me through all this is the girl is vain / foolish / crazy / vulnerable / whatever enough to take her life over this guy?"

Jiah Khan. AFP

Jiah Khan. AFP

Yeah, what a bimbo, right? Too bad she is dead and unable to defend herself. But never mind, Murthy is determined to stand up for all the men who may end up behind bars because of the legions of lovesick women like Jiah who don't know how to take 'no' for an answer. The threat, he assures us, is very real: "So now after seeing this news play out, we have a nation of unstable 25-year olds going around forcing their partners into matrimony at the gunpoint of 'do it or I'll commit suicide and you'll go to jail like Aditya Pancholi's son'?"

While Murthy claims this both women and men can be targets, his love bhashan is solely directed at the former:

And, yes, sorry to break it to you but there is no one-man-one-woman-walking-into-the-sunset-together-forever Mills & Boon bullshit that happens either. If your parents or your convent schools or some M&B you read or a chick flick or a YashRaj or KJo film told you that it is the way and it will happen to you — please understand that those are pretty unreliable sources. For starters, it didn't happen to the authors of such propaganda: the nuns and KJo are still single. The apparent importance of marriage is just propaganda — and you're better off not depending on it. If it happens, cool. And if it doesn't, that should be cool too.

Through it all, Murthy adopts the tone of a no-nonsense guy telling it like it is — because no one else has the b**ls to do so. In a sense, he is right because it takes a certain kind of masculine parenalism to blame Suraj Pancholi's arrest on love-addled chicks.

If we are indeed keeping it real, we should perhaps pay little closer attention to reality.

One fact is that overall suicide rates are higher for Indian men than women, but the female suicide rate is 16 percent higher between the ages of 15-29. The primary cause is not, however, romantic heartbreak but domestic violence and forced marriage. Another is that death by romance accounts for only 3 percent of suicides, and there is no evidence that women are more likely to kill themselves for love than men.

But it's only the guys who end up in hot water, right? Wrong again. Sensational suicide cases inevitably build pressure for an arrest, irrespective of gender. Last year, Sriraj Subramanian suffocated himself to death all because a girl he met online turned down his marriage proposal and refused to meet him in person. "The duct tape wrappings were an attempt to grab media attention," the police said at the time. And he certainly did. The 23-year old telemarketer was lynched by the press and arrested for driving him to suicide. Her crime: She'd been leading him on using a false identity.

There is no indication that Sriraj read Mills & Boon novels or had a penchant for chick flicks.

Pancholi's arrest is not an example of the perils of lovesick women, as Mr Murthy would like to argue, but yet more evidence of an irresponsible police force. The police authorities have a pavlovian tendency to arrest people willy-nilly in headline grabbing suicides in full knowledge they will never be able to build an actual case. And this despite strict guidelines issued by the Supreme Court in a 2011 case:

Without a positive act on the part of the accused to instigate or aid in committing suicide, conviction cannot be sustained. In order to convict a person under section 306 IPC there has to be a clear mens rea to commit the offence.It also requires an active act or direct act which led the deceased to commit suicide seeing no option and this act must have been intended to push the deceased into such a position that he/she committed suicide.

It is absurd to believe that Pancholi will be held guilty in a court of law when past judgements have ruled out abetment in far more serious cases where the evidence included: the verbal harassment of new brides; compromising photographs used for blackmail; and most pertinently, dying declarations that alleged harassment.

Rabia Amin's campaign to indict Pancholi is entirely wrong-headed, but it is the police which chose to act on her accusations without firm evidence. There is also no evidence that Jiah intended to accuse Pancholi for her death, or is in anyway culpable for the fallout of her suicide. "A scapegoat does not need to be found," declares Murthy even as he scapegoats not just Jiah, but young women in general for Pancholi's arrest.

To use Jiah's death to paint women as suicidal romantics is absurd. To use it to pass sneering judgement on her character is unconscionable. It may be a tired cliche, but two wrongs don't make a right. And Murthy's rant is very, very wrong.


Published Date: Jun 13, 2013 04:34 pm | Updated Date: Jun 13, 2013 04:43 pm

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