Not Just A Joke

The unfortunate and heart-breaking demise of Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput triggered debates and dialogues manifold. While there is definitely an urgent need for us to create mental health awareness, what I found appalling is that in an attempt to do this, a lot of us have missed the point leading to a counter-productive endeavour.

At the outset, I want to state in bold that this post is neither about determining whether or not Sushant Singh Rajput was suffering from depression nor is it about analyzing the cause of his death. I know nothing about him personally to make any claims and I pray he gets justice and his family finds closure.

For the last few days, I have been reading all over about how an intelligent and jovial person cannot be suffering from a mental health issue. People have been sharing ‘happy’ videos as proofs of the absence of depression. Today, a meme which I came across on social media was the final nail in the coffin and I had to make some points related to mental health which we, as a society, fail to comprehend and acknowledge.

The meme which was supposed to be taken in ‘good humour’ had the picture of Ranveer Singh in an outfit apparently deemed fit only for women alongside a photograph of Late Sushant Singh Rajput in a spacesuit. The caption of the post read – ‘Deepika Aunty’s Logic’ and the content in the meme conveyed that “According to Deepika Aunty, this joker Ranveer is normal but Sushant, who got training from NASA is mental”. Not surprisingly, many found this cringe inducing post to be comical, without even realising that the premise of the meme itself is faulty. I made an attempt to engage with the page admins on why I felt the post was distasteful and problematic on so many levels and I would also like to list down those thoughts here because there are too many erroneous ideas that get passed off as acceptable in the name of a joke.

First things first, the page sharing this meme is supposedly by women and for women, and it resorted to a veiled jibe on Deepika, a ploy adopted by many to put women down. Making posts about the importance of mental health one day and attacking someone at the drop of a hat without legitimate reasons on another is hypocritical. It is similar to how we said something during our MBA classes just for the sake of our CP (Class Participation) score. So, are we only trying to add to our SMP (Social Media Participation) score here? If not, how do we find it funny to laugh at the expense of someone else’s insult which is uncalled for?

Now, coming to the facts presented in the meme which leads me to my next grouse about distorting information to suit one’s narrative. I was told by the page admin that Deepika Padukone declared Sushant to be mentally unstable, hence she deserves to be condemned in this manner. When I requested them to share videos or articles to substantiate this averment, I received nothing in response to it because truth to be spoken, there is actually nothing! I checked her tweets and did not spot the name of the deceased anywhere. When there were conversations on social media around mental health, all she did was post a series of vital tweets on the topic which contained nothing offensive. I am sure majority of those who positively reacted to the post would have assumed Deepika has made such a statement and this despicable meme would spread without any verification or fact check.

Now comes the part which I actually found hilarious. I was told that Deepika Padukone is my “role model and my favourite actor”, hence I am voicing out my ‘displeasure’. So, there is no place for objectivity in calling out what is wrong? Taking a stand for the right thing automatically means it is for a favourite? Though this is immaterial in the larger scheme of things, I think it is imperative for me to mention that am not a Deepika or Ranveer fan. They aren’t related to me. They aren’t going to pay my bills. Such accusations on anyone raising a valid point are just means to divert the attention from the actual matter being addressed. We will make glaring assumptions about others but will not budge from our line of thought, because our one-upmanship is above a significant cause that is plaguing humans everywhere.

For a moment if I keep all the above aside, my biggest bone of contention with the post is how it does utter disservice to the cause of transgender people as well as mental health. Ranveer Singh is labelled ‘abnormal’ and ‘mental’ because of his choice of clothes – which are traditionally female. Something routinely done to put down trans people. This is judgemental and this attitude arises out of a place of privilege.

So, are we trying to imply that trans people are ‘abnormal’? How many of us have even heard of gender fluidity? Do we care to read and educate ourselves?

Sushant Singh Rajput is declared to be ‘intelligent’, and hence ‘not mental’. Just imagine how someone suffering from depression or any other mental health disorder would feel after reading this post!

This is exactly what perpetuates the stigma around mental health. Intelligence, clothes, gender, qualifications, accident of birth – none of this determines your mental health. Just like none of this determines your physical health. How difficult is it for us to understand this? How many more do we want to lose to mental health before we shake ourselves up and in all seriousness bring this subject to the forefront when it comes to our well-being?

Mental health problems creep in surreptitiously and they do not come announced. There is no fixed time or place for them to create havoc with our systems. Do we ever say “Oh! One month back you did not have appendicitis, so how can you have it suddenly?” Do we ever say, “You are devouring a crunchy pizza in this video from 3 months back, so you cannot be having a toothache today?” Realise how silly it sounds? What we truly need is a complete overhaul of systems as well as sensitization workshops to understand mental health for what it is. Let us leave the diagnosis and treatment to the professionals, because am sure none of us will get into an operation theatre to fix a broken bone without being qualified for it.

I have no qualms admitting that I have come a long way from being a homophobe, transphobe and a mental health illiterate to being an ally today. I am not proud of it, but the fact is that we all have started at level zero at some point in our lives. It takes sincere disposition and receptivity to learn to become more empathetic and supportive of problems that are burning us. This ring of fire is expanding by the day, and insensitive and discriminatory jokes only add fuel to this fire. The admin of the page dismissed genuine concerns by asking us to just take it as a joke or ignore the meme. Sorry, but it is not just a joke when you reduce an entire community to its clothes. It is not a joke when you discount the struggles and mock the aptitude of every person suffering from a mental health issue. It is definitely not a joke when the foundation of your joke itself far away from the truth. It is these jokes that have entrenched many a biases and regressive mentality in our society.

When someone is trying to educate us, the least we can do dump our egos to listen and not react. Is this too much to ask for?

Selective empathy is an oxymoron because it is a result of our inherent prejudices and falsifies the very core of being compassionate. We are all learning and evolving, and it will help us immensely if we try to open our minds to all voices and pleas to be better and more responsible human-beings instead of getting defensive. This applies to me too because am not an expert but just an imperfect citizen who is trying to learn, unlearn and re-learn every day.

// This post was also published on Women’s Web and can be found here. It was chosen among the top 10 finalists in the Wellness/Fitness category at the Orange Flower Awards 2021 //

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