Indian police have arrested the girlfriend of late Bollywood star Sushant Singh Rajput for alleged drug offences in a drama that has transfixed Indians since his death in June. Activists say partisan media coverage of the affair could deny Rhea Chakraborty a fair trial.
Chakraborty has been held in a Mumbai jail since Tuesday for allegedly giving drugs to Sushant Singh Rajput, who was found hanging in his Mumbai apartment on 14 June in what police ruled a suicide.
NDTV said Chakraborty was incarcerated in a cell without fan and denied bed or pillows in the Byculla prison.
A court on Thursday denied bail to the 28-year-old actress, who in recent interviews said the Rajput was suffering from depression, smoked contraband marijuana but also took prescribed medicines.
Indian officials and police from Rajput's home-state are investigating Chakraborty.
A majority of Indian TV channels have branded Chakraborty as a silver-tongued seducer and a drug-peddler, while Rajput's father accused her of swindling his son's savings and abetting his alleged suicide.
Amnesty calls for fair trial guarantees
Amnesty International said Chakraborty's right to fair trial was being impeded.
“The right to a fair and impartial trial is paramount to ensuring justice. Denial of this right is as much an injustice to the accused as it is to the victim,” said Avinash Kumar, who heads the Indian chapter of the UK-based group.
“The manner in which certain individuals including Chakraborty and her family have been vilified by media channels impedes this right,” he added.
Chakraborty's WhatsApp chats – some of them three years old – her Instagram posts, call history and phonebook were leaked to the media even as the investigators were investigating her links to the narcotics industry in Mumbai, India's entertainment capital.
The Swaddle, a gender and culture magazine in its 10 September online edition said Chakraborty has been made a “scapegoat”.
“In the diversionary circus that is #JusticeForSSR, India found a scapegoat in Rhea, enabled by a patriarchal society that teaches us to ascribe deviance and cunning in every woman who dares to do as she pleases,” it added.
Women rights activists, such as Mumbai-based Subarna Ghosh, told RFI the case could be seen as a reflection of a society that loves to hate its women.
“Even very simple, things like when you are driving a car and you take one wrong turn – that can happen to anyone, but if a woman does it then she is instantly discarded,” added Ghosh, who runs a women's rights organisation.
Celebrity saga on TV masks pandemic surge
The marathon celebrity saga has shifted some public attention from the Covid-19 numbers which grew by 97,570 in 24 hours to Saturday, taking the total number of infections in India past 4.6 million with 77,472 fatalities.
Public health experts said India must ramp up daily testing for a true picture of the outbreak among its 1.3 billion people.
The country has posted a recovery rate of 77.7 percent.