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It’s been two weeks since Aryan Khan, along with a few other young people, was taken into custody by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) for the alleged possession of drugs. All of them were together at a party on a cruise ship when they were apprehended. But for the last few days, I've not been thinking of Aryan Khan, the son of superstar Shah Rukh Khan, but of Aryan, a 23-year-old young Indian. And I've been thinking about his mental health.
I've been thinking about his mental health because this case, much like the Rhea Chakraborty case barely a year ago, is being played out more in the media than in the courts, and in exactly the same way: with insensitivity, with indignity, and with inhumanity. No charges have been proved yet, and by all accounts so far, no charges may ultimately get proved.
But his innocence is almost besides the point at the moment, because Aryan has already been reduced from a young Indian man to a shiny, exciting news item that elicits endless gossip and water cooler conversation.
I've also been thinking of his mental health in particular, because, I cannot imagine what it would, at 23, do to his spirit: to be made a spectacle out of, to have your misdemeanour amplified more than horrendous crimes and scams, to be publicly shamed, to be held accountable far more than those with public offices are ever held, to be made the target of cruel memes and angry WhatsApp forwards, to be discussed relentlessly every single day on national news. And what would it do to his mind?
No, Aryan Khan’s mental health is not more important than that of any or every other young Indian, who is facing oppression or marginalisation, who does not have the high profile he does, and who has never found even a fraction of space in the news, or in our minds. But his mental health is just as important, because he is a young Indian too, and being a part of the Bollywood ecosystem as a function of birth and blood should not make him any less human to us, and any less deserving of our empathy. Because what’s happening with him – and to him – is precisely because of his high profile, and not despite it.
There are hundreds of things more urgent and more significant than his alleged misdemeanour: from the steep price of diesel, petrol and LPGs, to the deaths of farmers in UP, to the murder of civilians in J&K, to the violence against women in many parts of the country, and yet, they don’t receive daily, frantic news coverage on primetime debates.
So why are we making an example out of a 23-year-old, who has essentially been apprehended, from everything we know so far, for ‘partying’ like many, many other young people his age do (moral judgements aside)?
Let me make this clear – this is, in no way, condoning or minimising the usage of drugs. Drugs are a societal menace, and drug addiction is a very real issue, outside of the fact that consumption of drugs, even for recreational purposes, is very much illegal in India. Yes, he must face legal ramification but shouldn’t it be commensurate with the scale of his offence? Because at this point, the most dreadful part of this discourse – and what could very well be a debacle – is that, at its centre, is the very public shaming of a young person in our media for what is, for better or worse, a ‘mistake’ (if proven).
And in participating in this public shaming, what we are essentially normalising in society is the idea that in the formative years of your life, if you make a mistake and get caught for it, the price you will have to pay for it, more than punishment by law, is a humiliation that you must live with forever.
And that’s a terrifying case study: that in the conservative cities we hail from, where parents supervise and sanction every move of their children well into adulthood and where mistakes have always been held and used against the young, the consequences for a minor wrongdoing can be so incrementally major, that perhaps it is okay for some parents to be stricter, harsher, crueller, so as to not end up as an ‘Aryan’. What of the mental health repercussions that this will cause?
Add to this the fact that he is a Muslim young man (which may be the point of this), at a time when crimes against Muslims have become so regular and routine, that most of the country has been desensitised to it; so what kind of triggering, hateful narratives and incomplete stories will we be weaving about him and the community for days and weeks and months to come?
For the last few days, I’ve also been thinking of Shah Rukh Khan, not the superstar, but the father of a 23-year old in India. What of the mental health of this father, whose son is being character assassinated, harassed and crucified, for a crime greater than the offence he has allegedly committed: of being Aryan Khan, son of Shah Rukh Khan?
(Nikhil Taneja is the co-founder and CEO of Yuvaa (@weareyuvaa), a socially conscious youth content, media and data insights organisation that works on empowering young Indians. He also serves on the Global Advisory Board of Goalkeepers, a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation community of emerging leaders. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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