Murdering a suicide: Jiah, Depression and Misogyny

Should a suicide case that has led to an arrest be decided in the media? Are lawyers permitted to discuss the possibility of a police case holding up in court or its outcome?

When actress Jiah Khan committed suicide, I did anticipate the electronic media rushing for sound bites and social networking sites transforming from RIP factories into warring camps. What I did not expect was the judgmental, callous attitude towards abuse and depression. Those who look down upon Bollywood were quick to jump in with their supposedly contrarian views.

I have desisted from commenting, but now I shall because all barriers have been broken. The first shocker came from Jiah's mother Rabiya. Her pain, anger and suspicion about who was responsible are understandable. I only felt that she should not have called a press conference. A police case had been registered. Jiah's boyfriend Suraj Pancholi was arrested.

Immediately, the experts — real and fake — passed their judgment: It was too hasty, they said, anyone can make such accusations. The accusations were in the form of a six-page letter written by Jiah

It really does not matter when she wrote it. Relationships grow over a period of time and spoil just as slowly.

The latest news is here:

Sooraj Pancholi, arrested for abetting actor Jiah Nafisa Khan's suicide, has allegedly confessed that he had beaten her up following a fight in Goa eight months ago, after which she slit her wrist. According to Juhu police, Sooraj has admitted to being in a live-in relationship with her. Police are contemplating adding additional charge under Section 498-A (harassment of a woman by husband or in-laws) of IPC. Police have also received the medical report from a Juhu hospital where Jiah, also known as Nafisa Khan, had undergone abortion.

I will only repeat the reasons these same lawyers gave about it being tough to pin him down — he has admitted to abuse and a live-in relationship. The law can recognise it as domestic violence.

It is time to visit a pathetic little post that was uploaded on Facebook by an intellectual of sorts. Let me add here, that he is not the only one who thinks this way, although his ‘courage' to stand out and be counted has been lauded. Seriously. Mahesh Murthy's note has made way into the Indiatimes website. It starts with a typical masala formula:

"So this note is likely to piss off many of you, but still...So it's the usual story. Boy meets girl, they fall in love, they are happy, then they break up. Then he sees someone else. At which point over-wrought girl decides her life isn't worth living. Seriously - this is a 25-year old who co-starred with Aamir Khan in a hit film and then later thinks her life is value-less without the continuing attention of some unemployed star-kid?! How the heck was she brought up? What kind of foolish adult mind thinks that someone else's attention is so important that her own life pales in comparison? How dare her parents blame her ex for this ridiculous state of mind? Who gave her these values where "death before losing in love" is a virtue?"

By beginning with a 'this contains adult content' type warning, he grabs eyeballs. He bases his thesis on assumptions about his boy-meets-girl thesis. Was Suraj an ex-boyfriend already? And since when has a young woman with one hit begun to be considered a success? She debuted with 'Nishabd', an unusual story about an April-December relationship. Her co-star was Amitabh Bachchan. The film flopped, partly because of its content. Later, she acted in 'Ghajini', where Aamir Khan hogged the show and she was the second lead.

Curiously, and I shall divert from the bilge here, director Mahesh Bhatt compared her situation with Parveen Babi's. Bhatt was in a relationship with the late actress and has been 'inspired' to make more than one film on her life. The first, 'Arth', had agitated her. She was successful, though, and together with Zeenat Aman, became the face of the 'modern' film heroine. She was also the first Indian movie star to appear on the cover of Time magazine. Her depression was severe, seeking solace in the Church, to the extent of complete isolation where her neighbours did not even see her. They had to break open the door to find her dead body.

Clinical depression is different from mood swings. These may have to do with personal loss or a sense of failure, but not always so.

To return to Murthy's questions about her upbringing, it is clear that he, like quite a few men, are filled with dread of dealing with "difficult" women. Has he ever met a psychiatrist or a psychoanalyst to understand that people are not brought up to take their lives? When children commit suicide after failure in exams, do we read reams about 'How dare anyone blame the parents'? In fact, parents are never held culpable, although there is tremendous pressure from them on the kids.

At what point in that letter does he get the idea that Jiah thought taking her life was a "virtue" that her supposedly bad upbringing taught her? Would it be fair to ask why he is so concerned about the moral dimension? She lost self-esteem, and although she also lost her baby she was not pining for that loss. Indeed, she was obsessive, and enough to fall for an unemployed guy. (A small omission is that he was to be launched in Salman Khan's production.) But, what about him? There is not a word about his upbringing, and I raise it only because the other side is being rubbished.

Aditya Pancholi, the father, has had several affairs, is known for his public spats, and his wife, the older Zarina Wahab, had accepted his philandering. This is in the public domain. Although it is a choice between two people, if someone decides on pop psychology it might help addressing this as well.

"So she writes a latter (sic) saying she had an abortion when she got pregnant, presumably by him - again, no one told her about contraception? And even if they decided to forswear protection - it's his fault she got pregnant? Wasn't she equally part of it?"

This is such a load of rubbish, besides being libellous. Who is he to cast doubts about the parentage of the aborted child? Perhaps, his own obsession with "virtue" rears its head when he puts the onus of contraception on the woman. Her letter talks about him forcing her to abort, which is different from saying, "I did not want to have sex with you because I was not on the pill". Did he bother to ask why Suraj was not wearing a condom?

"So yes, she had an abortion, she set her mind to have him, but he moved on after they mutually broke up - but she wanted him back, and he said no, so she took her life?"

Oh, Sherlock Holmes decides they mutually decided to part. There is never a definitive moment when both people decide at the same time and with equal determination to go their separate ways. It may happen technically, but in this case they were meeting. And it is for the cops to decide whether they have a case. Why is he jumping the gun?

Part of the reason for this sort of thinking is insecurity, and it becomes evident soon enough:

"So what's a guy to do if he doesn't want to marry a girl? Or vice versa actually. Report to the cops when he's been proposed to? Take anticipatory bail before he says "No, I don't want to marry you"? Call the counselling lines so they make outbound calls to the partner in advance of him saying no?"

I do hope he has seen more of the world and couples who have broken up and moved on. Not everyone commits suicide. At this point I'd like to know what happens in cases of marriage. The law would immediately come into the picture. So, why can it not in an intimate relationship? Is it the good old "virtue" where a legitimate relationship has more value? Would he say the same about dowry deaths, wife battering, suspicious spouses, womanising all when a couple is married? He has said elsewhere he does not think much about the institution, yet he does not realise that intimate relationships mimic marriage more often than not.

His take on marriage sounds just like what he dismisses:

"In India, you don't need to be married to have a child legally. Or even to inherit and pass on property. Marriage is just a social custom where a bunch of old people shower rice on your head and believe they're giving you their permission (or direction, in some cases) to sleep with someone. As you can imagine, it has little or no legal necessity or significance."

The couple being discussed were not married. They did not seek anyone's permission to get intimate. And, again, why does he assume Jiah wanted the baby? Very conveniently, it makes it appear as though it would have been her responsibility. She did not pop the pill, remember?

In what he probably thinks is his philosophical contribution to this debate, he writes:

"No one grows up with a right to be loved. It's a privilege you earn for yourself. It doesn't come naturally. You earn it. And very often, love comes. And love goes. And love comes back. And goes again. And so on."

People are born with the right to life and to dignity. If either or both are abused, it can cause harm, physical and mental. Not everyone breaks down. And you cannot earn love. This is just too calculating a way to look at it. Of course, love does go and there is new love waiting. But there can be extreme situations.

It is stupid to believe that Jiah Khan lived for marriage. In fact, she wanted a career, until she fell in love and was abused, something her boyfriend has admitted to.

Acting as a PR agent for Suraj, he asks people to stop the "witch hunt", while himself hunting for prey.

"And let's stop glorifying suicide in the name of unrequited love."

Just as people have a choice over their bodies, they have a choice over their lives. It may be a wrong choice, just as getting into idiotic relationships is. It is not about glorifying anything. And it was not unrequited love. It could be that idea of love differ.

I would like to address the issue of depression. I've read celebrities and others discuss this case. It is assumed that women are more prone to it. It's time for a reality check. Many men suffer from bouts of depression. They are suicidal. How is jumping from the terrace of IIT more respectful of life? Is this not about rejection and despondency, too?

What has made some men so concerned about this particular suicide? Are they worried that their rejection will result in suicide and they'd be trapped? Unlikely. For there are many more examples of people who don't. The survival instinct of men can whiff out signs of trouble and they scoot. Men resort to emotional blackmail before getting into a relationship. It is to 'capture the booty'. Depending on how well they mesh, there is an attempt by women to aspire for an equitable equation.

And let us not forget that men too want marriage. They want their sperm to spread and 'create' the world. (There are men who are reluctant to use condoms even when they visit sex workers. Why? Because they will not return to haunt them?)

I will flip the coin. What if a desperate young man who is yet to prove himself in his career, woos a woman, loves her enough to live with her, but is tortured by the pressure to perform as well as his peers and in this state abuses the one he shares a close relationship with? She acts as a buffer against the outside world. He cannot flex his muscles outside, so he tries it within the four walls. There are the usual passive-aggressive moments.

So, who is the one who is sick?

Think about it. I really don't have the inclination to be glib and discuss marriage portals and Karan Johar films. Nor will I resort to the one-line tokenism of, oh, it is sad a life is lost or oh, I feel sorry for the poor guy but...

There will be ifs and buts in everything. Life is amorphous. It does not mean that we abuse what it meant to a woman we do not know.

© Farzana Versey


  1. FV

    1. Jiah Khan was a public personality and a glamorous one at that. Reckless, intense speculation about her tragic end was a given. Come to think of it, it can be argued that you are perpetuating the melee by writing a passionate critique of what paparazzi wrote post her death. This is not to say that nothing should be written about it. But surely, pompous, heartless idiots are best ignored. No?

    2. Given a choice, I would have liked to leave her family alone in their hour of grief. But if they choose to invite media and throw the house open, so to speak, what meaning does my compassion have?

  2. FV, I don't follow bollywood much but if I remember right Pancholi Sr. being the same sort of abusive sphincter when he was younger, so maybe this runs in the family. I feel sad that she chose to take a her own life, but she must have been hurting very bad to do so...and maybe she did not ask for help from people who loved her for whatever reason. But I am not surprised that an ad exec like MM gets all uppity (for publicity's sake) and judgmental about some person he never knew. it is really easy to be judgemental about someone you never knew and never will, as these "Sherlock Holmes" cum "Karl Jung"s on the net demonstrate when they talk about her reckless and wanton personality and what not -- as if it is any of their goddamn business. How about these geniuses give some respect for Ms. Khan at least now that she is no more rather than flap their lip about her personality and whatnot? Too much to ask maybe?


  3. Its not hard to comprehend why a debating nation would simply not sit back and watch any minor/major proceedings that come to their attention through the media. The catch is how tolerant we are in expressing opinions. Some of us may be an authority or enthusiast of say North East India issues and resourcefully feed the thought process, if not policy making, in those areas. Ppl however shudnt fail to recognize the need for openness and fairness when contemplating on issues which I unfortunately didn't find in MM's posts. The author of this blog has made an effective attempt to draw out this virtue of rational thinking which I deeply respect.

  4. F&F:

    I made it clear why I came in, although I don't have to. I have always written about what is broadly called pop culture and the only reason in cases such as these is sensitivity. I have not responded to the paparazzi. Had you cared to look beyond that at the subject, it might have helped.



    I did not know MM was an ad exec, I've been pulled up for calling him an intellectual. Even after reading his note the first time, I was unsure. It was when Suraj confessed to beating her that I realised that there are many cases which probably don't see the light of day.

    We still have people get legalistic and don't seem to understand that not every case is the same.

  5. Megha:

    I tried...in fact, for one who has worked with women from different strata at various times in my career, I've been exposed to more than what the media portrays and know how it works, too.

    I agree that openness is important, but unless it has substance or there is a counterpoint to it there is a possibility of the subject remaining at the superficial level.

    I have been accused of misandry, which only shows how black&white the ways of seeing are.

    Thank you.

  6. Many of you would be aware of the Gopal Kanda case, where he, a minister, was arrested for abetting the suicide of one of his employees he was in a relationship with. She left a note.

    Here was my post on it:


    A unrelated to this subject post on the SC initiative on the dying declaration:


  7. Obviously Jiah Khan's religion and the author's religion being common has had no impact on the writer penning these words.

    BTW if Suraj Pancholi is behind bars, shouldn't Mahesh Bhatt too be behind bars for leaving Parveen babi which ultimetely led to her suicide?

  8. Of all the things, religion of the writer. It says a lot about *you* that you notice such things. But, perhaps you forgot that the boy's mother is of the same faith. Anyway, you have to deal with these issues yourself.

    Re. Parveen Babi, please educate yourself on subjects like schizophrenia. She and Mahesh Bhatt broke up several years ago, she was in rehab, and she died due to various ailments and organ failure.


    And to the others who want to be holier-than-thou, please go ahead. I am not answerable to anyone just as I've made no one answerable to me,

  9. FV

    I am a little confused about this piece of work. First I didn't understand what purpose did Mr. Murhty had to write that note on Jiah Khan.

    Secondly, I didn't understand why after his note people like you, are just writing about his note and not Jiah.. The debate isn't on what was right or wrong.. Debate is how can he, unfortunately he's a male commenting on a female's suicide, write something like this. I am sure if Mrs. Murthy would have written this then it would have been acceptable to lot more people.

    How are people concerned about what mahesh murthy writes or opines, he doesn't make law, he doesn't have following that will shift belief and behaviour of this nation... And at the end of the day... It doesn't make a difference to anyone on what his personal opinion about any matter is..

    So simple question, why give him what he seeks ? You write more about the post and he'll tweet it, post it on facebeek... He thrives on that...

    Write what you believe in, don't write on what he wrote unless you also thrive on the same thing.. Attention !

  10. DK:

    I do not know what motivated him, but I gave my reason in the few paras before responding to him. I've also stated that this is the way some others think, too.

    If you read what I have to say, you will realise that constitutes my opinion. In one of my comments, I've posted links to 2 earlier posts on related subjects. They too were responses to news stories, much as this individual's piece was responding to Jiah Khan's note. And my views would be the same had that piece been written by a woman. I did not say 'Rejoinder' in my headline; in fact the title is exactly what the piece is about.

    I hope you read the bits about depression, abuse. These are important.

    I only write what I believe in. You wrote this comment because it was your belief, right? But it was in response to mine. Belief in anything does not exist in a vacuum.

    If what I say on an issue gets attention for that issue, then I am very happy. As for thriving on attention, I get much more when I write about Modi, Mallika Sherawat, Baba Ramdev, and also for my random thoughts. Why, occasionally just for posting songs. I should imagine some people figure out my beliefs. (I do not know what anyone else thrives on, so shall refrain from conjecture.)

    Perhaps one day you'd like to take a quick look around at my work, or just stop by at the tags below the masthead and find out?

    PS: This comment is also for the others asking/wondering/abusing.

  11. FV

    I just read comment by anonymus above and your reply thereto. I think I have class! :)

  12. No man (or woman) is worth throwing one’s own life away – people are never as perfect as one imagines them to be nor are people as imperfect in reality as they might imagine themselves to be. I only saw this actress in a couple of movies (in one of which her role was rather prominent) and am very sorry at her death – she obviously had a lot of potential and probably would have had a stellar track record in the long run. People really, really need to take depression and associated conditions more seriously.

  13. I agree with you that the possibility of abuse needs to be investigated as being the cause for Jiah committing suicide, but the chances of a conviction are very slim (seen even recently in the Naveen Nischol case where he walked away free despite his estranged wife leaving behind a suicide note specifically naming him). Judicial precedent in this regard is very clear: The Supreme Court has held that unless there is clear mens rea by one party to cause the other party to commit suicide (deliberate causation)- such person cannot be held guilty to have caused suicide. So unless Suraj can be convicted that he abused her etc with an intent to abet suicide, he will be let off. He can be guilty of being abusive, callous, not being caring - but Jiah should have pressed charged under Domestic Violence Act (which protects women who are not married as well). In this case, there is a lot of information that has come from Rabia Khan that points fingers towards Suraj's abuse - but the aspect of her not doing well in her career leading to suicide also deserves investigation. Further, the stress in her suicide note on her buying Suraj gifts and material benefits and him not reciprocating equally is symptomatic of perhaps a deeper malaise.

    I would like to condemn an earlier comment bringing in the deceased and author's faith in focus. Does he know that Rabia's second husband is a Hindu and her other two daughters Karishma and Kavita have been raised Hindus or that Suraj's mother is Zarina Wahab, a Telugu Muslim. How does religion feature in this present tragic case? And what has the author written that betrays a bias against Suraj (half-Muslim himself)?

    Having lost my own cousin at the young age of 18, I can understand the pain of Jiah's family. I hope they find closure soon. And hope Suraj (who in all probability will be let off) goes on to become a more sensitive man.

  14. The post has raised lots of probables including quite a few by FV herself . Apparently the direction of convictions propounded by each is born out of their own conditioning and orientation , again including that of the author . So what really happened ? God only knows , maybe not even the persona dramatis considering the power games each of us plays to gain advantage .
    Regarding the position of Suraj P in the soup , if his confessions have been properly recorded he should soon be stewing for 2-7 years in the cooler under provisions of the Domestic Violence Act

  15. Anon 2:

    I can sense a deep empathy in your comment, and can imagine how losing a loved one means to an illness like depression that few even recognise and fewer still think needs to be treated.

    I particularly liked your last line where you hoped Suraj would become a more sensitive man. This is precisely how we should look at it.

    For me, it was a mother's cry. I find it strange that while quite a few people are rushing to say that the letter found in her house was forged (wrong to call it a 'suicide note' - I did mention that it does not matter when it was written), they are accepting those found at his house as genuine.

    The idea of my post was not to get too legalistic, because I am ill-equipped to deal with these issues. It reminds me of the Paris Jackson case that followed soon after. Her suicide attempt has been termed a "cry for help", and she did manage to get it in real time and terms. Wish we had such avenues here.

    PS: Regarding the comment about religion, it seems par for the course in a divisive society. And in this space, it seems absolutely essential to aver to mine irrespective of the subject.

  16. Sasu:

    From afar, conditioning and background only work as perspective. It can be the one expressed here, or by the myriad others, including of those involved and those that may never be heard - that of Jiah.

    Anon 1:

    True. It is about understanding the deeper causes. Why do people fall off the edge? There can be as many external factors as internal.


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