Times are such that every new day brings fresh dread. Today, it floated in as a picture. This morning, news came of crossfire between Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) soldiers and terrorists in the Sopore town of Jammu and Kashmir. The report was accompanied by an image from the site of the attack, one that I vehemently wish to never see again. It was of a young child, sitting atop the belly of his blood-splattered grand father sprawled lifelessly on the street.
It was reported that the 60-year old man, survived by his 3-year old grandson, was a civilian killed in the terror attack. The J&K police rescued the boy to safety, away from the site. By afternoon, social media erupted in hashtags and indiscriminate sharing of the disturbing image. Amidst all the lamentation, politician Sambit Patra posted the image with the caption “Pulitzer lovers??” It was a snide reference to the two Pulitzer-prize winning Kashmiri photojournalists who had faced severe backlash by the public at large for portraying India in a bad light through their harrowing pictures of Kashmir. Twitterati, including other public figures, rained down on the politician for his insensitive remark, and for using the tragic event to further his agenda. He has been attempting to do damage control since. But the question is, does the buck really stop at him?
Have We Forgotten What it Means to Grieve?
Social media is filled with thousands of people echoing the politician’s thoughts. This means that he has simply added ghee to the burning log, and given words to what scores of people were feeling quietly. His remark gave people the courage to malign the photo further. So should he be the only one held accountable?
People feel at their own individual discretion – there is no one directive for emotion. Some feel more, and some, not so much. And that’s fine. What’s ugly is when someone projects their lack of empathy by using a tragic event to push agendas, take jibes, or just be voyeuristic. Why is it that when someone dies, they have to undergo a social media trial, where every inch of their identity is scrutinised from beginning to end? Why are we running so fast in this futile race of likes and retweets that we don’t even remember what it was like to stop and grieve?
Similar questions were raised last month with the passing of Sushant Singh Rajput. They were asked even when Sridevi died. They keep cropping up time and time again, every time news of someone dying rages across media. And then they cool down as quickly as they boiled.
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Call Out the Media, And Call Out Yourself
We lose no time in blaming the media shutterbugs when the now-familiar loss of empathy issue is raised. Yes, their crass insensitivity needs to be called out – loud enough for them to hear. They need to stop barging into the deceased’s house to grab the first byte from their family to win the most eyeballs for their channels. Their roving cameras need to stop clicking for TRP.
But before that, we must shift the lens inwards, and ask – who is this content for? Haven’t we all, willingly or unwillingly, consumed their sensationalist headlines and yellow journalism at some point in our lives? Blind items, gossip, controversy, boycotts – don’t we fuel our social media feeds with these every day under the garb of light humour? The media and the public have always been in a symbiotic relationship – they are monsters of gluttony, feeding off each other. And they don’t know when to stop.
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The only antidote to it is sensitivity. We still haven’t quite gone past the stage of learning the first meanings of it. It begins with inculcating kindness, online and off, in our actions, words, movements, silence, everything. Judgment is an important faculty, one that can dictate right from wrong. We must use it. Because every time we judge grave matters – of death, depression, anxiety, violence, rape – as opportunity to troll someone or hurl abuses at someone on the internet, especially from behind nameless, faceless accounts, we are placing one extra brick in the wall that separates us from humanity.
Tanvi Akhauri is an intern with SheThePeople.TV. Views expressed are the author’s own.