The tragic suicide of young actor Sushant Singh Rajput has stirred a conversation across the country about complex issues ranging from mental health to the work environment in the film industry, which is not only enormously popular in India but also the source of a significant part of its soft power internationally. While this widespread public interest is linkable to the anxieties generated by the pandemic, it is also a preexisting fact that suicide has been a leading cause of death among Indians aged 15-39.
This goes on to emphasise the weight of responsibility on the police investigation into the actor’s suicide. There is the responsibility to find out what actually happened on June 14 at his Mumbai home and what led up to it. Justice must be done. But it must also be seen to be done. Responsiveness to genuine public anxieties is a key part of maintaining law and order – although not to be confused with populism.
An orderly investigation, with thorough forensics including in its financial form, regular police press conferences that update the public on the probe and offer clarity, coordination between different departments – these are just some of the basic expectations in this case. Instead it seems to be fracturing along political lines, with Bihar police and Maharashtra police pulling in different directions, each backed by their respective governments, as if to probe in prejudged directions.
The unholy politicisation of police work seen in this case is of course emblematic of a wider malaise. Other high profile cases such the Delhi riots earlier this year are similarly affected. But of course a police force actively enervated by political interference in some cases will let citizens down in other cases as well. Its lack of independence hobbles its professionalism deeply. Supreme Court made a powerful case for police reforms way back in 2006. Removing the mothballs, the reforms must gather pace now. Otherwise the chasm between what citizens need and what police deliver will keep widening towards breaking point.