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Opinion: Famous, but wanting to be forgotten

VENICE, ITALY - AUGUST 31: A film premiere at the Palazzo del Cinema in Venice, Italy.
Chris Jackson
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Getty Images
VENICE, ITALY - AUGUST 31: A film premiere at the Palazzo del Cinema in Venice, Italy.

When Ashutosh Kaushik was young and famous, he did something stupid and risky he says he regrets. In June 2009, he was arrested in Mumbai, for riding a motorbike under the influence of alcohol. He served a day in jail, paid a small fine, and had his driver's license suspended.

Which sounds like the kind of crime and punishment that may occur many times a day, without much notice, in a nation of more than a billion people.

But it got a lot of attention because Ashutosh Kaushik was the winner on two Indian reality shows — MTV Roadies and Bigg Boss.

He was a celebrity: famous for being famous.

More than 12 years later, Ashutosh Kaushik is married and has had roles in a few Hindi films, including Zila Ghaziabad and Shortcut Romeo. But he says his life and career are still hampered by the persistent public presence on the internet of a foolish, dangerous thing he did when he was young, and besotted by his own celebrity.

"I got everything I wanted so early in life," he told the BBC this week. "I was inexperienced and made a mistake and I was punished for it. But I'm 42 now, and I feel I'm still paying the price.

"I have lost out on work," he said. "I've been rejected for marriage several times, and every time I move, my new neighbors look at me strangely."

Fame can shine a harsh light.

Ashutosh Kaushik isn't asking for cash damages from any platform where you can find the news about his drunken motorbike ride in 2009. But he says he would like that story, photos, and video removed from those sites.

"When a court sentences an accused, it's for a 'term,' " he told the BBC. "So the digital punishment should also have a time limit."

He is asking an Indian high court to recognize what's called in some countries, including the European Union, "the right to be forgotten": to ask to have personal information about you removed from internet sites. Most companies say they just post what's publicly available.

The right to be forgotten is not the law in India, or the U.S. But it's hard to hear the phrase and not wonder about some foolish thing almost any of us have done while young, or not so young, and would like to forget, and by which we would not want our lives to be judged.

Ashutosh Kaushik wanted to be famous when he was young. Now, he longs to be anonymous again.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.