(Trigger Warning: Mentions of depression, suicide, domestic violence and rape)
Dear Nawazuddin Siddiqui,
Given that India is the most depressed country in the world and Indians have the highest suicide rates, it would be an understatement to say that mental health attracts heaps of stigma in the country.
What I ask of you is to, please, not add to the already-piling taboo.
Apart from being a massively celebrated actor in India, you are especially revered by rural audiences for your humble beginnings. Many look up to you and use your work ethic as a yardstick of success; which is precisely why hearing your dismissive remarks is both hurtful and harmful for many.
When you first spoke about depression in an interview with Mashable India, and claimed that, “Nobody gets depressed in the village, everybody is happy (translated from Hindi)”, many flocked to your defense – assuming you were trying to highlight the lack of awareness surrounding mental illnesses in rural India.
Because you couldn’t have just outright denied the existence of depression in villages, right?
Well, seems like that's what you did.
When given a chance, in another interview by NDTV, to defend yourself from the online criticism, you doubled down on your dismissal of mental health issues…and garnered even more disappointment and backlash.
You clarified, “Kisi ko hota hi nahi, depression naam ki koi cheez hoti nahi waha pe. Fact hain, aap ja ke dekh lijiye, kisi ko nahi hota (Depression doesn’t exist in villages. This is a fact, you can see for yourself. No one is depressed there).
For starters, you began the interview by stressing on how this is strictly your experience growing up in a village, and there’s a possibility that you may be wrong – and then swiftly started calling your claims ‘facts’.
Do you know that the state of Maharashtra alone witnessed 2,942 farmer suicides in the country last year. Moreover, domestic violence, child marriage, alcoholism and other issues majorly plaguing women’s lives are reported to be much more widespread in rural India.
Of the 337 cases of rape, murder, suicide and suspicious death (recorded in Manipur from 2019 to 2020), 229 cases were from rural areas while 108 were from urban areas.National Family Health Survey-V
Do these statistics still point out that mental health issues are an urban trend? Or have these problems been so normalized in rural India that you fail to consider them to be direct byproducts of mental health issues?
Depression doesn't discriminate based on demographics, but the stigma and lack of awareness does, in fact, make it worse for people in rural areas. And when someone like you, who is admired by scores of people, goes on to talk about depression so loosely, it only trivializes mental disorders further. It also makes it significantly harder for your rural audiences to seek help if they're living with a mental disorder.
Not only are you minimizing the massive and often debilitating effects of depression, you even blamed the ones suffering from it. You went on to say, "In cities, we glorify every single emotion. We have everything that we need, and yet, we suffer from such illnesses”.
Let me correct you. Depression isn't a glorification of an emotion. It's like any other illness, and there are therapists and psychiatrists who prescribe proper treatment and medicines. Money, luxury and comforts don't equate to someone suffering or not suffering from depression.
And do you know what's most hurtful? That these remarks are coming from a celebrity wielding such huge influence. They hold a lot of responsibility, albeit you considering them casual remarks.
In a country where more than 43% of citizens are living with depression, an actor of your stature should instead use your privilege and platform to educate people about mental health and create awareness around it.
We must ensure that depression is seen for what it is: a serious mental disorder, not a casual choice.
And for someone who keeps repeating how city-dwellers ‘glorify’ their emotions, you also glorified issues plaguing rural India. In both the interviews, you repeated how beggars and homeless folks in the village dance when it’s raining, and that is a sign that depression doesn’t exist there.
India has fallen six positions on the 2022 Global Hunger Index (GHI), ranking 107th out of 121 countries.Global Huger Index 2022
Hunger and poverty are on an all-time high in India, and, in my opinion, it’s irresponsible to glorify footpath-dwellers and their alleged lack of mental disorders.
Bollywood's highest paid female actor opened up about dealing with depression when she was at the peak of her career; Deepika Padukone went onto dedicate her platform to mental health awareness.
Statements like yours also discredit actors and public figures like her, who are navigating through volumes of stigma and making their stories heard on a global scale.
By now, it’s clear that the real reason behind such stigmatization of mental health is an utter lack of awareness or understanding.
I sincerely hope that you will reflect on the feedback and return more informed about such a serious issue.
One of India's 43%.
If you feel suicidal or know someone in distress, please reach out to them with kindness and call these of local emergency services, helplines, and mental health NGOs.
(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)